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
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.