Cranberries are a popular superfood. People can consume them in the form of a sauce or a juice. They can also add them to stuffing, casseroles, or dessert. These highly nutritious berries are also a staple of Thanksgiving dinner.
Cranberries are native to North America. They now grow on around 58,000 acres of farmland across the northern United States, Chile, and Canada.
Many people consider cranberries to be a superfood due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content.
In fact, research has linked the nutrients in cranberries to a lower risk of urinary tract infection (UTI), the prevention of certain types of cancer, improved immune function, and decreased blood pressure.
In this article, we look at the health benefits of cranberries, their nutritional breakdown, and how people can incorporate them into a healthful diet. This feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
All health and nutrition experts recommend a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Cranberries in particular offer a range of health benefits. They are a good source of various vitamins and antioxidants.
Historically, Native Americans used cranberries as a treatment for bladder and kidney diseases, while Early settlers from England used them to treat poor appetite, stomach complaints, blood disorders, and scurvy.
Nowadays, the benefits of cranberries include the following:
Cranberries played a role in traditional treatments for UTIs.
However, research into the effects of cranberries on UTI treatment has produced some conflicting results.
For example, one 2016 review found that medical professionals most commonly recommend cranberries for women with recurrent UTIs.
Also, a 2014 study of 516 participants found that taking a capsule of cranberry extract twice per day reduced the incidence of UTIs.
The high level of antioxidant proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries helps prevent certain bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls. In this way, the PACs in cranberries help prevent infection.
However, in one 2015 study, researchers found that although cranberry capsules can achieve this, cranberry juice is unlikely to have the same effect.
This is because it takes a high concentration of the cranberry extract to prevent bacterial adhesion. Commercially available cranberry juices do not contain such high amounts of PACs.
Meanwhile, one 2019 study found that although cranberries did not seem to get rid of the bacteria that give rise to UTIs, combining cranberry extract with caprylic acid derived from coconut oil and oregano essential oil extract led to eradication of the most common bacteria, Escherichia coli.
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
Some evidence suggests that the polyphenols contained in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A 2019 systematic review found that supplementing cranberries in the diet can help a person manage several risk factors for CVD. These include systolic blood pressure, which is the blood pressure during a contraction of the heart muscle.
A different study examined 78 participants who had overweight or obesity. It revealed that consuming a single dose of a low calorie cranberry beverage with a high content of plant compounds every day improved a person's regulation of blood sugar, chemical signs of inflammation, and increased levels of HDL lipoprotein.
Slowing cancer progression
A 2016 review of 34 preclinical studies revealed that cranberries or compounds in cranberries had several beneficial effects on cancer cells in test tubes.
- triggering the death of cancer cells
- slowing the growth of cancer cells
- reducing inflammation
The review also suggests that cranberries can affect several other mechanisms that promote cancer growth and spread.
Although testing on humans with cancer is limited, these findings show promise for the future management of some cancers alongside standard treatments.
Enhancing oral health
The PACs contained in cranberries may also benefit oral health. They do this by preventing bacteria from binding to the surface of teeth, according to researchers at the Center for Oral Biology and Eastman Department of Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
Cranberries may also be beneficial in preventing gum disease.
One half cup of chopped cranberries contains:
- 25 calories
- 0.25 grams (g) of protein
- 0.07 g of fat
- 6.6 g of carbohydrate, including 2.35 g of natural sugar
- 2 g of fiber
- 4.4 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 0.12 mg of iron
- 3.3 mg of magnesium
- 6 mg of phosphorus
- 44 mg of potassium
- 1.1 mg of sodium
- 0.05 mg of zinc
- 7.7 mg of vitamin C
- 0.5 micrograms (mcg) of folate DFE
- 35 international units of vitamin A
- 0.72 mg of vitamin E
- 2.75 mcg of vitamin K
Cranberries also contain a range of vital B vitamins, including:
- vitamin B-1 (thiamin)
- vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
- vitamin B-3 (niacin)
- vitamin B-6
They are also a good source of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is a powerful, natural antioxidant. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin C can:
- block some of the damage caused by disease-causing free radicals
- improve iron absorption from plant sources
- boost the immune system
- support collagen production for wound healing
A higher fiber intake can also help a person reduce their risk of developing a range of health conditions, including:
- coronary heart disease
- high cholesterol
- certain gastrointestinal conditions
Increased fiber intake can also bring down blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for people with obesity.
Farmers will harvest fresh cranberries in September and October, so fall is the best time to purchase them. They are also available dried, frozen, or canned.
A person can refrigerate fresh cranberries for up to 2 months or freeze them and eat them later. Cranberries should be firm to the touch and unwrinkled.
However, some cranberry products may contain added sugars. This is because cranberries are quite tart and may be difficult to consume without some added sweetener. It is important to check the ingredients label and be sure to choose the product with the least added sugar.
Cranberry juice often contains other fruit juices and added sweeteners. People looking for cranberry juice that provides the most benefit should consume juice that lists cranberry as the primary ingredient.
Cranberry sauce is an important part of a Thanksgiving meal, but there are many other ways to enjoy this fruit all year round.
Here are some tips to incorporate cranberries into the diet:
- 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 oatmeal or whole-grain cereal.
- Toss dried or fresh cranberries into a muffin or cookie recipe.
- Add dried cranberries to a salad.
- Include fresh cranberries in an apple dessert, such as pie or cobbler, for extra flavor.
People who use the blood thinning drug warfarin (Coumadin) should not suddenly increase their intake of cranberries.
Although there is conflicting evidence regarding the potential for cranberries to enhance its anticlotting effects, they could lead to increased bleeding.
Cranberry products may also lead to higher excretion of oxalate in urine. This could promote the formation of kidney stones in those who are susceptible to calcium oxalate-type stones.
Individuals with a history of kidney stones should talk to their healthcare provider before increasing their intake of cranberries.
Are any other berries as rich in nutrients as cranberries?
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all similar to cranberries in nutritional value.Kathy W. Warwick, RD, CDE Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.