For most of us, cranberries are a side dish you cook for Thanksgiving that often gets out shined by the green bean casserole or mashed potatoes. Cranberries sure taste great as a sauce and conjure up fond memories of fall and family feasts, but they also proffer up a plethora of health benefits.
Let’s find out what makes cranberries a superfood and its numerous nutritional benefits.
Chock-Full Of The Good Stuff? Really?
Yes! The USDA estimates that one cup of raw cranberries gives you 4% of your daily recommended carbs; 14% of your dietary fiber; and around 1% of your calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium intake.1
- Cranberries are a good source of vitamins A, C, and E, as per the USDA.
- These wonder berries are a low-calorie food, with 1 cup contributing only 46 calories but keeping you full due to the dense fiber content.
- They also contain none of the bad stuff – no saturated fat, no trans fat, and no cholesterol.
Fun fact: Americans consume about 400 million pounds of cranberries each year and 20% of that is eaten during the week of Thanksgiving alone!2
Because they are packed with so many nutrients, cranberries have multiple health benefits. Here’s a look at 8 key benefits of the berries:
1. Fight Cardiovascular Disease
Several studies have found that the phenolic acids in cranberries help reduce the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Other studies have shown cranberry juice to help lower triglycerides, glucose levels, and insulin resistance.3
2. Beat Diabetes
The phytochemical components help lower blood glucose and lipid levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. So if you or someone in your family is looking to prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes, there’s cranberry juice to the rescue!4
3. Ward Off Cancer
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends cranberries as a food that fights cancer. They help reduce the severity level and stop certain cancers from spreading. Many studies have found the berry effective in stunting the growth of cancerous cells in the liver, breast, oral, ovary, and brain tumor cells.5
Studies have shown that the phytochemicals cause cell death in prostate cancerous cells. So incorporating cranberries into your daily diet can help prevent prostate cancer.6
4. Beat Dental Issues
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that cranberries act as a non-stick agent on your teeth, making it difficult for cavity-causing bacteria to latch on. This, in turn, guards you against tooth decay. There’s more! Consuming cranberry juice may also reduce the buildup of plaque and tartar.7 On the flip side, the added sugar in cranberry juice and the natural acidity of the berry could contribute to tooth decay, so chugging down cranberry juice isn’t recommended yet. More research will help firm up how cranberries can fight tooth decay.8
5. Fight Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Quite possibly, the most commonly known health benefit of cranberries (especially cranberry juice) is that it may help guard against UTIs.
Researchers previously believed that the acidic content in cranberry juice made urine more acidic, which in turn kicked out E.coli, the bacteria that causes UTIs. But studies now show that cranberries contain specific substances (including antioxidants) that can help prevent E.coli bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract.9
But this is not all black and white. There are mixed opinions in the scientific community about whether cranberry juice really helps keep UTIs at bay.
In some studies, women who drank cranberry juice were found to have a lower risk of getting UTIs than those who didn’t.10 But in other studies, cranberry juice was not found to help with UTIs or UTI-like symptoms.11
Cranberry juice will not treat a UTI once you’ve got one – you’ll probably need antibiotics for that!
The jury may still be out, but having cranberry juice can’t really do you any harm and there is some evidence showing that it may lower your chances of contracting UTIs.
6. Thwart The Common Cold And Flu
Research shows that cranberry juice may make you less susceptible to the flu virus and the common cold due to its vitamin C content and antioxidant properties.
So when flu season rolls around, stock up on cranberries, which are conveniently also in season at the same time!12
7. Prevent Stomach Ulcers
According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, these berries can help prevent or suppress H. pylori bacteria, which cause stomach ulcers.13
8. Reap Antioxidant Benefits
Compounds called proanthocyanidins found in cranberries have antioxidant properties that neutralize the free radicals known to cause cell damage and clogged arteries.14
What’s more, an increase in the antioxidants in the body helps reduces wrinkles and promotes hair growth. A fresh, dewy complexion and Rapunzel-like locks? We’ll take it!
How Can You Enjoy Cranberries?
You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to enjoy the wonderful cranberry!
1. You can eat cranberries fresh after washing them thoroughly.
2. If the tangy flavor of fresh cranberries is not your thing, buy dried cranberries. But take a close look at the sugar content on product packaging to make sure you’re not consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar.
3. You can also consume cranberries in the form of readily available jams, jellies, sauces, or purees as a side for dinner. The acidic taste make it a good pair with chicken, turkey (obviously), and ham, not to mention that they taste a little bit like heaven when paired with chocolate desserts with walnuts or pecans!
4. Try alternating orange juice with low-cal cranberry juice for your breakfast. If the tartness of the juice bothers you (or the kids), mix in some apple juice to balance the tartness.
5. Keep a box of fresh cranberries in the fridge and simply toss some into a salad for extra flavor or add to your favorite fruit smoothie or trail mix recipe.
6. Dried cranberries taste great in oatmeal or cereal.
Of course, the occasional white chocolate chip cranberry cookie doesn’t hurt either. Just don’t get greedy!
Now, before you head to the store to buy cranberries in bulk, note that there are some precautions you need to keep in mind.
Fresh cranberries will keep fresh in the fridge for up to 6–8 weeks and can also be frozen. When buying fresh cranberries, choose ones that feel firm to the touch and are not wrinkled.
2. Reactions With Medication
- If you’re on blood-thinners, steer clear of cranberries. Although there’s no conclusive evidence, cranberries can magnify the effect of blood-thinning drugs on the body, leading to excessive bleeding in the event of an injury.
- Avoid cranberries if you are allergic to aspirin or if you’re taking ibuprofen drugs like Motrin or Advil. Aspirin and cranberry juice both contain salicylic acid. So you are allergic to aspirin, you could be sensitive toward cranberry juice as well.
- If you take a lot of medication for various health conditions, especially medications that are processed by the liver, ask your healthcare provider if cranberries are safe for you.
3. Health Conditions To Consider
- Researchers don’t know for sure yet if cranberries are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. Just to be safe, don’t go overboard with too many cranberry products if you’re pregnant or nursing. Use them as part of a balanced diet and check with your OB/GYN if in doubt.
- If you have a history of kidney stones, limit your consumption of cranberries. Cranberries contain oxalates, a compound found in kidney stones. So if you’re prone to developing kidney stones, check with your doctor before eating cranberries.
|↑1||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28, United States Department of Agriculture|
|↑2||Cranberries, Agricultural Marketing Resource Center|
|↑3||McKay, Diane L., and Jeffrey B. Blumberg. “Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and cardiovascular disease risk factors.” Nutrition reviews 65.11 (2007): 490-502.|
|↑4||Chambers, Belinda K., and Mary Ellen Camire. “Can cranberry supplementation benefit adults with type 2 diabetes?.” Diabetes Care 26.9 (2003): 2695-2696.|
|↑5||Cranberries. American Institute for Cancer Research.|
|↑6||Anticancer Nutrient Synergy in Cranberries. Nutrition Facts.|
|↑7||Duarte, S., Gregoire, S., Singh, A. P., Vorsa, N., Schaich, K., Bowen, W. H., & Koo, H. (2006). Inhibitory effects of cranberry polyphenols on formation and acidogenicity of Streptococcus mutans biofilms. FEMS Microbiology Letters, 257(1), 50-56.|
|↑8||Give Thanks for the Cranberry, Say Dental Researchers. University of Rochester Medical Center.|
|↑9||Pinzón-Arango, Paola A., Yatao Liu, and Terri A. Camesano. “Role of cranberry on bacterial adhesion forces and implications for Escherichia coli–uroepithelial cell attachment.” Journal of medicinal food 12, no. 2 (2009): 259-270.|
|↑10||Maki, Kevin C., et al. “Consumption of a cranberry juice beverage lowered the number of clinical urinary tract infection episodes in women with a recent history of urinary tract infection.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 103.6 (2016): 1434-1442.|
|↑11||Nicolle LE. “Cranberry for Prevention of Urinary Tract Infection? Time to Move On.” JAMA. 2016; 316(18):1873-1874.|
|↑12||Weiss, E. I., et al. “Cranberry juice constituents affect influenza virus adhesion and infectivity.” Antiviral research 66.1 (2005): 9-12.|
|↑13||Cranberry. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.|
|↑14||Cranberry. University of Maryland Medical Center.|