Cranberries are a popular “superfood,” which means they are high in nutrients and antioxidants. People consume them as is, in a sauce, as juice, or added to stuffing, casseroles, or dessert.

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.

This article reviews the research on the potential health benefits of cranberries, their nutritional breakdown, and how people can incorporate them into a healthy diet.

This feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommends people eat a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Cranberries provide 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.

Some of the potential benefits of cranberries include the following:

Managing UTIs

Cranberries have played a role in traditional treatments for UTIs. The high level of antioxidant proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries may help prevent certain bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls. In this way, the PACs in cranberries may help prevent infection.

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. Another 2014 study of 516 participants found that taking a capsule of cranberry extract twice per day reduced the incidence of UTIs.

On the other hand, 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 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 the eradication of the most common bacteria, Escherichia coli.

Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease

A 2019 systematic review found that supplementing cranberries in the diet may help a person manage several risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). These include systolic blood pressure, which is the blood pressure during a contraction of the heart muscle.

The review also suggested that cranberry supplementation helped reduce body mass index (BMI) and improve levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol.

In another study from 2019, researchers examined 78 participants who were overweight or had 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.

These benefits included:

  • triggering the death of cancer cells
  • slowing the growth of cancer cells
  • reducing inflammation

The review also suggested 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. According to a 2019 study, PACs found in fruits like cranberries may help teeth against a strand of bacteria that leads to tooth decay.

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 (iu) 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 may also help a person reduce their risk of developing a range of health conditions, including:

Increased fiber intake may also help bring down blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for people who had obesity.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that plays a role in immune function. It may help a person prevent or delay the chronic conditions associated with free radicals, such as:

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 most times of the year.

A person can refrigerate fresh cranberries or freeze them and eat them later.

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 for a person to check the ingredients label and be sure to choose the product with the least added sugar.

Cranberry juice also 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 may be an important part of a holiday meal, but there are many other ways to enjoy this fruit all year round.

Here are some tips a person can try in order 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 (Jantoven) should discuss their intake of cranberries with their doctor. Conflicting evidence suggests it may interact with warfarin or other blood thinners and cause increased anticlotting effects.

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.

Cranberries are a natural food with potential health benefits, but it does not mean it is a good choice for everyone. Some evidence suggests it may not be good for everyone to eat. Some considerations a person should take include the following:

  • Pregnancy: It is unclear and little is known about whether cranberries have a negative effect on pregnancy. It is best for a person to discuss their consumption with their attending doctor.
  • UTIs: While cranberries may be good for a UTI infection, a person should get a formal diagnosis and follow recommended treatment plans from their doctor rather than trying to self-medicate with cranberries or their products.
  • Blood-thinning medications: Conflicting evidence suggests that consuming cranberries may increase the blood-thinning effect of prescription medications.
  • Nursing: It is unclear if consuming cranberries while nursing has an effect on the baby.
  • Stomach issues: Evidence suggests that consuming a large number of cranberries or products that contain them can lead to upset stomach and diarrhea. This is particularly true in young children.

Are any other berries as rich in nutrients as cranberries?

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all similar to cranberries in nutritional value.

What should I look for when buying cranberries?

Cranberries should be firm to the touch and unwrinkled. When selecting juice and cranberry products, a person should look for products with little to no sugar.

What are the benefits of eating cranberries for females vs males?

In females, they may help with preventing UTIs and oral health. Males may also benefit from oral health. Also, both genders with providing several nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.

Is cranberry a superfood?

Superfood is more of a marketing term than a scientific term. However, in terms of meeting the criteria of providing a lot of nutrients, they are a superfood that most people can safely add to their regular diet.

Are dried cranberries good for you?

Dried cranberries, like other dried fruit, are often made with added sugar. A person should check the sugar content if they are concerned about their sugar intake or make their own dried fruit at home without adding sugar.

Cranberries are a good source of several nutrients and antioxidants. They may have several health benefits including helping with oral health, preventing UTIs, and possibly helping with cancer care. Most people can safely add cranberries to their diet with no issue, but people who are pregnant or taking blood thinners should discuss increasing their intake with their doctor first.