Cranberries: Health Benefits, Facts, Research
Cranberries are often a popular part of Thanksgiving celebrations in the form of cranberry sauce, cranberry drinks and dried cranberries added to stuffing, casseroles or dessert.
No one knows for sure how cranberries became associated with holiday feasts, but historians guess that it had something to do with the Native Americans, who used cranberries not only for food and medicine but also to make dyes for clothing and blankets.
As far as healthy foods go, cranberries are at the top of the list due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content and are often referred to as a “super food.” Not to mention, half a cup of cranberries contains only 25 calories!
The possible health benefits of consuming cranberries include lowered risk of urinary tract infections, prevention of certain types of cancer, improved immune function, decreased blood pressure and more.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Possible health benefits of cranberries
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. The following health benefits have been associated with cranberries:
1) Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
Cranberries are well known for helping prevent UTIs.
The cranberry is perhaps best known for its role in preventing UTIs, especially for those with recurrent infections. The high level of proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries helps reduce the adhesion of certain bacteria to the urinary tract walls, in turn fighting off infections.
A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in February 2016 reported that while cranberry capsules have been shown to help urinary tract infections, cranberry juice is far less effective. The reason for this is that it takes an extremely large concentration of cranberry to prevent bacterial adhesion. This amount of concentration is not found in the juices we drink.
Working on the study, Dr. Timothy Boone, PhD, vice dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Houston, said:
“Cranberry juice, especially the juice concentrates you find at the grocery store, will not treat a UTI or bladder infection. It can offer more hydration and possibly wash bacteria from your body more effectively, but the active ingredient in cranberry is long gone by the time it reaches your bladder.”
2) Cardiovascular Disease
Some evidence suggests that the polyphenols in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by preventing platelet build-up and reducing blood pressure via anti-inflammatory mechanisms.4
Research has shown that cranberries are beneficial in slowing tumor progression and have shown positive effects against prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers.5
The same proanthocyanidins in cranberries that help prevent UTIs may also benefit oral health by preventing bacteria from binding to teeth, according to Researchers at the Center for Oral Biology and Eastman Department of Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Cranberries may also be beneficial in preventing gum disease.
Benefits of cranberries – video
On the next page we look at the nutritional profile of cranberries, how to incorporate more cranberries in your diet and the potential precautions you need to consider.
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Nutritional profile of cranberries
Cranberries are a good source of vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E.1
A powerful natural antioxidant capable of blocking some of the damage caused by free radicals, as well as boosting the body’s resistance against infectious agents, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Sailors once carried cranberries aboard their ships to avoid scurvy because of their high vitamin C content.
Cranberries contain vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E.
Image courtesy of Benjamin Tilberg.
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intakes are associated with significantly lower risks for developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
A fat-soluble antioxidant involved in immune function that may help prevent or delay the chronic diseases associated with free radicals.2
Cranberries also contain vitamin K, manganese and a large array of phytonutrients, naturally occurring plant chemicals that help to protect the body from harmful free radicals and offer anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventing properties.1
Nutritional report: Cranberries, raw 1/2 cup (55 grams)
|Water – 47.92 grams||Energy – 25 kcal||Protein – 0.21 grams|
|Total lipid (fat) – 0.07 grams||Carbohydrate, by difference – 6.71 grams||Fiber, total dietary – 2.5 grams|
|Sugars, total – 2.2 grams||Cholesterol – 0 grams||Calcium, Ca – 4 mg|
|Iron, Fe – 0.14 mg||Magnesium, Mg – 3 mg||Phosphorus, P – 7 mg|
|Potassium, K – 47 mg||Sodium, Na – 1 mg||Zinc, Zn – 0.06 mg|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid – 7.3 mg||Thiamin – 0.007 mg||Riboflavin – 0.011 mg|
|Niacin – 0.056 mg||Vitamin B-6 – 0.031 mg||Folate, DFE – 1 µg|
|Vitamin B-12 – 0 µg||Vitamin A, RAE – 2 µg||Vitamin A, IU – 33 IU|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) – 0.66 mg||Vitamin D – 0 IU||Vitamin K (phylloquinone) – 2.8 µg|
|Caffeine – 0 mg|
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Incorporating more cranberries in your diet
Cranberries are native to North America and are farmed on approximately 40,000 acres across the northern United States and Canada.3 Fresh cranberries are harvested in September and October, so fall is the best time to get them in season. They can be refrigerated for up to two months before using and can also be frozen for later use. Choose cranberries that are firm to the touch and unwrinkled.
Cranberries can also be enjoyed dried or in a can, but watch out for added sugars. Check the ingredient label and make sure that the product contains cranberries only. If you choose to drink cranberry juice, it is often mixed with other fruits and added sweeteners. Look for juice with cranberries as the first ingredient.
While cranberry sauce is an important part of any Thanksgiving meal, there are many other ways in which this fruit can be incorporated into your diet all year round.
More tips for enjoying cranberries
- Make a homemade trail mix with unsalted nuts, seeds and dried cranberries.
- Include a small handful of frozen cranberries in a fruit smoothie.
- Add dried cranberries to your oatmeal or whole grain cereal.
- Toss dried or fresh cranberries into your favorite muffins or cookie recipe.
- Include fresh cranberries in an apple dessert like pie or cobbler for an extra kick of flavor.
You may want to steer clear of a high intake of cranberries if you take the blood-thinning drug warfarin, also known as coumadin. There has been conflicting evidence on the potential for cranberries to enhance the drug’s effect on the body. Several cases of increased bleeding due to suspected interactions with cranberry juice and warfarin have been reported.
Cranberry products may increase urine oxalate excretion, which could promote the formation of kidney stones.5 Individuals with a history of kidney stones should talk to their healthcare provider before including any forms of cranberries in their diet.1