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Cranberries: Top 6 Benefits of These Antioxidant Superfruits
November 28, 2018
Did you know that cranberries contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any fruit? That’s right — these incredible berries are loaded with health-promoting antioxidants, which help protect cells against free radical damage and aid in the prevention of chronic disease. (1) Cranberries should be a staple on every shopping list for many reasons, including their ability to reduce body-wide inflammation, boost immunity and more.
Ready to learn more about this powerful superfruit and how it can impact your health? Here’s what you need to know the cranberry.
1. Prevent and Treat Urinary Tract Infections
One of the most well-known cranberry benefits is its ability to act as a home remedy for urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are significantly more common in women than men due to the location of the urethra. They can affect any part of the urinary tract but occur most often in the bladder. (2)
Each year, it’s estimated that urinary tract infections account for about 7 million office visits in the U.S. alone. (3) The infection produces symptoms of frequent, urgent or painful urination, which is sometimes accompanied by abdominal pain or blood in the urine. Most UTIs are caused by a harmful bacteria called Escherichia coli (or E. coli).
Cranberry fruit is thought to contain specific compounds that prevent bacteria from attaching to the inner surface of the urinary tract or bladder. (4) For this reason, cranberry juice is considered one of the top healthy drinks. Many health professionals recommend drinking one to two glasses of 100 percent pure, unsweetened or lightly sweetened cranberry juice a day to aid in the prevention of urinary tract infections. Studies offer evidence that women who drink cranberry juice frequently may suffer fewer symptomatic urinary tract infections. (5, 6)
Cranberry juice, capsules and tablets are good alternatives to antibiotics, which come with a slew of adverse side effects like yeast infections, digestive issues and antibiotic resistance. When reviewers compared cranberry juice, capsules or tablets with a placebo or water for the prevention of UTIs in a variety of populations, results showed that over a 12-month period, cranberry products reduced the overall incidence of UTIs by 35 percent. They also cut the annual rate of new infections by 39 percent in women with recurring UTIs. (7)
2. Decrease Inflammation
Inflammation is at the root of many chronic conditions, including heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes and more. Fortunately, anti-inflammatory foods like cranberries can help naturally combat inflammation thanks to their rich content of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are compounds found in foods with vibrant colors, such as the dark red color of cranberries or the rich blue/purple color of blueberries. All berries help fight free radicals thanks to their antioxidant content, but cranberries are one of the top sources.
Inflammation can occur when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, working to rid the body of toxins that may come from an unhealthy diet, pollution or other factors. A diet low in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory foods results in an abundance of free radicals within the body. Free radicals are a type of compound that can build up over time, causing inflammation and oxidative damage to cells. Plus, they up the risk of chronic disease. Loading up on antioxidant-rich foods like cranberries is an easy way to fight the effects of free radicals and relieve inflammation.
3. May Help Prevent Certain Cancers
Research shows that cranberries contain cancer-fighting substances that may be helpful in preventing the growth of breast, colon, lung and prostate cancer cells. In fact, both human and animal studies show that cranberries may help slow tumor progression and block the growth of cancer cells. (8, 9) Coupled with their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, cranberries may help lower the risk of some of the most common types of cancers. That’s why they are considered cancer-fighting foods.
4. Improve Immune Function
According to some studies, cranberry extract can improve multiple aspects of immune function and may even lower the frequency of cold and flu symptoms. The high levels of proanthocyanidins that are found in cranberries help the body’s immune function ward off illness and disease. These powerful polyphenols are able to nurture the lining of the gut, where a large majority of the immune system is actually located. (10)
One of the biggest benefits of cranberry juice is its ability to ward off harmful bacteria and keep it from accumulating and growing in the gut lining. This allows healthy, immune-boosting bacteria to thrive and create a powerful defense against illness and infection.
Cranberries are also rich in vitamin C, supplying about 24 percent of the daily recommended value in a single one-cup serving. Vitamin C can bump up immunity. In fact, studies show that it could reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of conditions like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea. (11)
5. Benefit the Digestive Tract
Cranberries are believed to have cleansing, anti-diarrheal, anti-septic and detoxifying diuretic properties. They help the body eliminate toxins and buildup, plus aid in relieving water retention and bloating.
Recent research shows that cranberry benefits help optimize the balance of bacteria in the entire digestive tract. Cranberries act similarly to how probiotics found in kombucha, kefir or yogurt do to create an environment of healthy “gut flora.” (12)
Digestive health benefits from cranberries are undeniable because of the fruit’s ability to balance bacteria in the body. This decreases harmful “bad” bacteria and facilitates the growth of beneficial bacteria. This not only relieves symptoms like constipation, diarrhea and stomach acid, but also helps boost immunity and nutrient absorption by fostering the health of the gut microbiome. (13)
6. Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Studies show that adding cranberries to your diet could come with a number of benefits to heart health due to their ability to block blood clotting, reduce blood pressure and decrease inflammation. (14)
In one study, consuming low-calorie cranberry juice was found to reduce several risk factors of heart disease, including blood pressure, triglyceride levels, inflammation and insulin resistance. (15) Other research shows that cranberries and cranberry juice could also help lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, increase beneficial HDL cholesterol and prevent a stiffening of the arteries in people with heart disease. (16, 17, 18)
Related: 9 Health Benefits of Juniper Berries
Relatively speaking, cranberries include an astounding collection of phytonutrients, all for a low amount of calories and sugar and next to no fat or sodium. Many of these phytonutrients offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer health benefits.
Plus, cranberries are packed with fiber, vitamin C and manganese, as well as an assortment of other important micronutrients. One cup (about 110 grams) of chopped, raw cranberries contains approximately: (19)
- 50.6 calories
- 13.4 grams carbohydrates
- 0.4 gram protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 5.1 grams fiber
- 14.6 milligrams vitamin C (24 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram manganese (20 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams vitamin E (7 percent DV)
- 5.6 micrograms vitamin K (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (3 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram pantothenic acid (3 percent DV)
- 93.5 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)
Along with an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals, cranberries also boast high levels of phytonutrients. Some of the most powerful phytonutrients and antioxidants in cranberries include:
- Anthocyanins — This class of antioxidants found in cranberries has the ability to destroy free radicals in the body. In medical studies, it has shown benefits for promoting weight loss, lowering cholesterol and fighting breast cancer. (20)
- Quercetin — Possibly the most powerful phytonutrient in this fruit, quercetin is proven effective in reducing allergies, improving joint pain and reducing inflammation of the arterial walls. (21)
- Benzoic Acid — It has powerful antiseptic properties. It is the main compound in cranberries that reduces the risk of infection and can kill bad bacteria to naturally treat urinary tract infections, bladder infections and even acne. (22, 23)
- Epicatechins — These are a class of phytonutrients also found in green tea and red wine. They have been shown to have therapeutic effects against heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. (24, 25, 26)
Uses in Traditional Medicine
Cranberries have long been used in traditional medicine and are believed to treat a wide variety of conditions and ailments.
Historically, Native Americans used cranberries to manage bleeding, promote digestive health and treat conditions like urinary tract infections. Cranberries were also a dietary staple and often used in spiritual ceremonies. They also were harvested for their bright colors and used to dye clothing.
In Ayurvedic medicine, on the other hand, cranberries are used to stop diarrhea, relieve inflammation and strengthen the liver. They also act as a natural diuretic to flush out toxins and fluid, promoting regularity and providing relief from bloating.
Related: What Is a Huckleberry? The Surprising Immune-Boosting Benefits of Huckleberries
Cranberries vs. Blueberries vs. Raspberries
Cranberries, blueberries and raspberries are three of the most common varieties of berries. All of them are favored for their unique flavors and impressive nutrient profiles. Although they all share some similarities, there are also plenty of differences that set these three apart.
Blueberries and cranberries are closely related and actually belong to the same genus of plants. However, the two plants differ in their stems, leaves and flowers — as well as the two separate fruits that they produce. Raspberries, on the other hand, belong to the rose family and are related to other types of berries, such as dewberries and blackberries.
In terms of taste, cranberries have a slightly sour, bitter flavor while blueberries are considered much sweeter. Raspberries are also fairly sweet but have a subtle tartness that distinguishes them from other fruits. Additionally, while raspberries and blueberries are often enjoyed fresh as is, cranberries are typically dried or used in baked goods to take advantage of their incredibly unique flavor.
All three are rich in antioxidants as well as important nutrients, like vitamin C and fiber. They are all also very versatile and can be enjoyed in a number of different ways. For best results, include a good mix of all three in your diet, plus a variety of other fruits and veggies, to maximize the wide range of potential health benefits found in each.
Where to Find and How to Use
The cranberry tree is native to North America. It is farmed today on approximately 40,000 acres across the northern United States and Canada. Cranberries are commonly used in American, European and Middle Eastern cuisines and can be found across the world in dried cranberry form.
The cranberry plant is a major commercial crop in many different areas, but the fruit definitely becomes most popular around the holiday season. As many people are aware, it is in many traditional side dishes at Thanksgiving in the United States. Fall is usually the best time to get fresh cranberries, as they are harvested normally in September and October. This is the reason cranberries are used in many Thanksgiving and holiday season recipes. They tend to be most readily available and fresh through the late fall and early winter.
When choosing the best cranberries, look for fresh, plump ones that are a deep red color. This distinct cranberry color indicates that the fruit contains a higher concentration of the beneficial anthocyanin compounds. They should also be firm to the touch, as firmness can indicate good quality.
Cranberries can be found in 12-ounce packages, or they can be bought fresh and stored in a container. Dried cranberries are easy to find in any grocery store. Look in the dried fruit or nuts section.
You can refrigerate cranberries for up to two months, or you can freeze them for later use. Cranberries can be kept in the refrigerator for about 20 days, and they can be kept frozen for several years. Looking for frozen cranberries in grocery stores is a great idea, because frequently you are able to find them at less expensive prices and even in organic varieties.
Cranberries can be eaten raw, fully cooked or in dried form. The health benefits of cranberries seem to be present most in raw form, but any way of eating whole cranberries usually still provides great benefits. Just make sure they are not overly processed and mixed with loads of sugar, as they often are when used in many pre-packaged products and desserts.
Frequently, cranberries are processed into products such as juices, canned sauces, sugary jams and sweetened dried cranberries. This may make them convenient, but it also depletes them of their nutritional value and cranks up the sugar content. It’s a much healthier idea to cook your own cranberries from scratch if you can. This allows you to get the most nutrients possible and avoid excessive sugar intake.
There are plenty of ways to add this nutritious fruit into your daily diet. For starters, you can enjoy cranberries in a homemade trail mix by adding dried cranberries to a mixture of other health-promoting nuts and seeds. For a kick of antioxidants and nutrients, you can also add dried cranberries to salads, grain-free or sprouted grain cereals, smoothies, or oatmeal.
Cook with fresh cranberries to make sauces or baked goods like muffins, pies and cobblers. Although cooked cranberries have many health benefits, they retain their maximum amount of nutrients and taste when they are fresh, allowing you to maximize the potential cranberry juice benefits.
Cranberry Juice and Recipes
Cranberries can be used in endless ways, so don’t shy away from picking up a bag of fresh cranberries and using them in some familiar cranberry recipes any time of day. Here are a few classic cranberry recipes to try at home:
- Cranberry Apple Cider
- Healthy Cranberry Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies
- Pear Cranberry Salad
- Homemade Cranberry Juice
- Cranberry Sauce with Pecans
Pills, Supplements and Dosage
Cranberry pills and capsules are often used as a natural treatment for conditions like urinary tract infections. Why? They help flush out bacteria and provide quick relief from symptoms.
Although there is no official recommended dosage of cranberry pills, they have been studied in doses ranging from 500–1,500 milligrams per day. They have been shown to be effective in the treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections. (27)
Ideally, look for a product with a high concentration of proanthocyanidins. Proanthocyanidins are considered one of the active ingredients of cranberry pills and are credited with many of the potential health benefits. Aim for at least 25 percent proanthocyanidins, which translates to about 36 milligrams per serving.
Finally, check the ingredients label of products carefully, and steer clear of products with added fillers or extra ingredients to make sure you get the best quality possible. If you have any concerns or experience any side effects, consult with your doctor to determine the best course of action for you.
The word cranberry derives from “craneberry” because the early European settlers in the United States felt that the expanding flower, stem, calyx and petals resembled the neck, head and bill of a crane bird. In 17th century New England, cranberries were sometimes called “bearberries” because bears were often seen eating them.
In North America, Native Americans were the first to use cranberries as food. The Algonquian people may have introduced them to the Massachusetts settlers, who then incorporated the fruit into their Thanksgiving feasts.
It’s believed that even in early Native American times, cranberries were commonly eaten for their digestive support and ability to keep people from developing infections and becoming sick.
Since the early 21st century, raw cranberries have been marketed as a “superfood” because of their hefty nutrient content and antioxidant qualities. Henry Hall, an American Revolutionary War veteran, is known to be the first to farm cranberries in the Cape Cod town of Dennis, Mass., around 1816.
Today, regions in Cape Cod are still very well-known for producing a large amount of fresh cranberries, which are later sold all around the world. Typically, cranberries grow on low, creeping shrubs or vines up to seven or eight feet high. Cranberry vines have slender, wiry stems that are not thickly woody and have small evergreen leaves.
Risks and Side Effects
If you take the blood-thinning drug Warfarin (also known as coumadin), you may want to talk your doctor before adding cranberries to your diet. Some evidence shows that cranberries can enhance the drug’s effect on the body. In fact, several cases have been reported of patients who experienced an increase of bleeding due to suspected cranberry consumption while taking Warfarin. (28)
Consuming high amounts of cranberry products may also promote the formation of kidney stones because of the increase of urine oxalate excretion. (29) Cranberries are among a small number of foods that contain a measurable amount of oxalates, which are naturally occurring substances found in plants and animals. Although the amount of oxalates found in cranberries is relatively low, they are able to increase the amount of both oxalates and calcium in the urine, resulting in urine with increased concentrations of calcium oxalate.
Another concern that people commonly have is: Can dogs eat cranberries? While cranberries are considered generally safe for your furry friends, it’s best to keep intake in moderation to avoid digestive distress. Additionally, steer clear of processed cranberry products that may be mixed with grape juice or raisins, as these ingredients are considered toxic to dogs.
- Cranberries have one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any fruit. They are also an excellent source of many important vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin C, manganese and fiber.
- Some of the potential benefits of cranberries include reducing inflammation, boosting immunity, preventing and treating UTIs, benefiting the digestive tract, lowering risk of heart disease, and potentially even helping prevent certain forms of cancer.
- Some of the most powerful antioxidants in the cranberry include anthocyanins, quercetin, benzoic acid and epicatechins.
- Although cooked cranberries have many health benefits, they retain their maximum amount of nutrients and taste when they are fresh. Add them to trail mix, salads, smoothies and cereals to maximize the nutritional value and health benefits of this incredible superfruit.