Although they are harvested in the fall and firmly cemented in Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions, cranberries can be enjoyed year-round. These berries pack a dense, nutritional punch, which can offer some very unique health benefits.
Aside from decor and beauty, some other benefits cranberries may have to offer include:
- Prevention against urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Protection against Helicobacter pylori infection
- Better gut health
- Better heart health
A Few Facts about Cranberries
Let’s begin with some important things to note about cranberries:
Cranberries (genus Vaccinium, family Ericaceae) are the cousins of blueberries, bilberries, and lingonberries, and share their superfood status.
The round, red berries are not commonly eaten raw, due to their sharp, sour flavor.
Cranberries are often processed in one way or another, with common edible iterations including:
- Dried cranberries
- Cranberry sauces
- Cranberry juice blends
- Cranberry powders
- Cranberry extracts
Does all of this processing affect the nutritional value of cranberry? Sometimes. But there are still ways to get benefit from this nutritional and antioxidant-rich food source.
4 Cranberry Benefits for Your Health
1. UTI Prevention
Cranberry juice seems to have a unique effect in preventing urinary tract infections.
UTIs are the most common bacterial infection, especially among women. These infections are typically caused by an intestinal bacterium called Escherichia coli (E.coli) that attaches to surface of the bladder and urinary tract. They are highly uncomfortable, and one infection often leads to recurrence.
It’s possible, however, that tannins in cranberry juice can line the bladder and urinary tract to offer protection from UTI.
Multiple studies and systematic reviews have shown that either drinking cranberry juice daily or taking cranberry extract can lower the risk of a UTI.
Although not all studies have come to the same result.
The key seems to be the conservation of tannins during processing. Therefore, using an extract may be a safer bet than juice. Still, drinking minimally processed juice is likely safe.
It’s also important to note that cranberry will not treat an existing infection, but rather prevent one from forming or recurring.
2. Improved Gut Health
Some research has shown that cranberry consumption can promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria in people who eat animal-based diets. If your diet is rich in dairy, meat, or other animal-products, including dried cranberries into your diet may help to improve your gut health.
Healthier populations of gut bacteria can aid digestion, improve mood, fight inflammation, and potentially reduce the risk of colon and gastrointestinal cancers.
3. Anti-Stomach Ulcer Effects
Research has also indicated that tannins may reduce the risk of stomach ulcers.
One small study featuring 189 adults showed that drinking two cups (500 ml) of cranberry juice per day significantly reduced the risk of stomach ulcers.
It’s possible the tannins work much like they do for UTIs, coating to the stomach to prevent Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from attaching to the lining.
H. pylori is a common cause of stomach ulcers, inflammation, and, potentially, stomach cancer.
4. Heart Health Support
Although cranberries aren’t the centerpiece of a heart-healthy diet, they may offer some benefit to your total efforts.
The high antioxidant content of these fruits may help lower inflammation, reduce blood pressure, and more.
Other heart benefits that have been associated with cranberries include increasing “good” HDL cholesterol, reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol, decreasing arterial stiffness, and lowering levels of homocysteine.
To take advantage of cranberry’s benefits, you will need to consume them in moderation on a regular basis. Drinking a couple of cups of juice per day, taking an extract, or eating dried berries alone or with other foods are the best ways to do it.
The Nutritional Value of Cranberry
Cranberry can add a nutritious bite to your Christmas and holiday meals, provided it’s not in the form of a heavily sugared sauce. However, one sweet cranberry treat on a special occasion won’t derail a healthy diet.
Regular healthy consumption of cranberry would typically include adding some dried berries to oats, yogurt, salads, or mixed nuts.
Having a daily glass of cranberry juice or taking it as a supplement is also common.
Although dried cranberries are high in sugar, they are also rich in other nutrients, including fiber. Which gives them more benefit than harm—in moderation. Juices are usually sweetened, so finding options without added sugars is best.
On the other hand, raw cranberries are nearly 90% water and virtually all the calories—which are not many—are from carbohydrate, like virtually all other fruits and berries.
A 100-gram serving, which is about one cup, features five grams of fiber. Pretty impressive.
Once again, cranberries are rarely consumed in this way. Dried cranberries have the water removed, but still have fiber, and cranberry juice has no heart-healthy fiber whatsoever.
Here is a nutritional breakdown of what you’ll get from one cup of raw, chopped cranberry:
|Nutrient||Amount||% Daily Value (DV)|
|Protein||0.4 gram (g)||1%|
|Calcium||9 milligrams (mg)||1%|
|Vitamin C||15 mg||24%|
|Folate||1 microgram (mcg)||0%|
|Vitamin A||66 IU||1%|
|Vitamin E||1.3 mg||7%|
|Vitamin K||5.6 mcg||7%|
Cranberry Nutrients in Detail
Even though you may be missing out on some of the raw cranberry benefits, processed cranberry, in some forms, is no nutritional slouch.
Cranberries in either form are a good source of:
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a classification of fat-soluble vitamins that act as antioxidants. The most abundant of these vitamins (representing 90%) is tocopherol. Vitamin E may aid heart health by preventing blood clots and eye disorders, and may potentially reduce the risk and spread of cancer with its antioxidant capabilities.
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is abundant in cranberries. It helps with immune strength and maintaining tissue and organs.
- Vitamin K1: Adequate vitamin K1 intake is essential for blood clotting.
- Manganese: Manganese is a mineral that plays a role in growth, metabolism, and your body’s antioxidant system.
- Copper: Cranberries are also a decent source of copper, which is a trace mineral that’s often scanty in standard Western diets. A low copper intake may compromise heart health.
Aside from these vitamins and minerals, what makes cranberries most appealing are their diverse array of polyphenols. These antioxidant compounds provide unique benefits and are the reason cranberry juice is often associated with a lower risk of urinary tract infection (UTI).
The beneficial plant compounds in cranberries include:
- Condensed tannins: Also called A-type proanthocyanidins, these are likely responsible for cranberry juice’s effects on UTIs.
- Myricetin: This antioxidant may have a number of healthful antibacterial benefits. There is evidence it may be an effective treatment for bacterial eye infections.
- Peonidin: Cranberries are one of the richest sources of this polyphenol, which is partly responsible for the berries’ red color and appearance on many seasonal ornaments.
- Quercetin: Cranberries may be the best fruit source of quercetin, which offers protection from free radicals, potentially allowing it to fight inflammation, relieve allergy symptoms, lower blood pressure, and reduce cancer risk.
- Ursolic acid: Found in the skin of cranberries, it is used in many traditional herbal medications for its strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Most people will be fine taking a daily cranberry supplement or drinking some juice each day; however, there are a few things to watch out for.
If you’re predisposed to kidney stones, too much cranberry may boost uric acid levels and the risk of recurrence.
Supplementation may also have contraindications with those on blood-thinning medication, so talk to your doctor before taking.
Lastly, dried cranberries and cranberry juice are high in sugar, so portion control is a must.
Enjoy Cranberry Benefits All Year Long
You can enjoy cranberry year-round, and you’re more likely to experience any benefit when you eat the fruits daily and as part of a healthy diet.
Treat yourself over the holidays to cranberry sauce and muffins, but realize that these forms are essentially junk food. But once or twice a year, you owe it to yourself.
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