Cranberries: Benefits, Recipes and Nutrition Facts
Did you know that cranberries contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any fruit? They are among the fruits and vegetables richest in health-promoting antioxidants, which protect our cells from free-radical damage, boost immunity and more.
The disease-fighting antioxidants found in cranberries outrank many other fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, spinach, broccoli and red grapes. This amazing fruit, which is sold fresh, frozen and dried, is commonly used in products like juices, sauces, jellies, baked goods and teas.
Researchers believe that cranberries contain substances that prevent infection-causing bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract walls, they are also an excellent source of many important vitamins and nutrients, including vitamin C, manganese and fibre. As you’re about to see, the health benefits of cranberries are incredible.
Top Benefits of Cranberries
1. Prevent and Treat Urinary Tract Infections
Cranberries are perhaps most widely known for helping to prevent or treat urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are about 50 times more common in women than men due to the location of a women’s urethra. They can affect any part of the urinary tract but occur most often in the bladder (cystitis).
Antibiotics are very effective in preventing and treating these infections, but the side effects of antibiotics — including antibiotic resistance, yeast infections, digestive problems and more — often deter many women from taking them.
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 per cent, and among women with recurring UTIs, cranberries cut the annual rate of new infections by 39 per cent. (3)
2. Decrease Inflammation
Inflammation is at the root of many common diseases seen in developed nations, including heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer, diabetes and more. Anti-inflammatory foods like cranberries help naturally combat inflammation due to their antioxidants.
Antioxidants are found in foods that are naturally deeply coloured, such as the dark red colour of cranberries or the rich blue/purple colour of blueberries. All berries help fight free radicals due to being high in antioxidants, but cranberries prove to be one of the best sources on earth.
Everyone produced free radicals, but when left uncontrolled, they proliferate and can cause damage to DNA, cellular membranes and enzymes. Frequently eating a range of whole food, anti-inflammatory foods is correlated with less cancer risk, better brain function, healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels, plus it reduces the incidence of diabetes and autoimmune diseases like arthritis.
3. May Help Prevent Certain Cancers
Research has shown that cancer-preventive substances found in cranberries are helpful in preventing breast, colon, lung and prostate cancers.
This is due to the fruit being able to help slow tumour progression in both human and animal studies. (4, 5) With their unique array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, cranberries seem ideally positioned to help lower the risk of some of the common types of cancers.
Antioxidants are essential to optimizing health by combating the free radicals that can damage cellular structures as well as DNA. Growing evidence from various studies suggests that the high content of antioxidant flavonoids found in cranberries and blueberries has the ability to help stop age-related diseases from developing thanks to their capability of limiting oxidative stress. That is why they are some of the top cancer-fighting foods around.
4. Improve Immune Function
According to some studies, cranberry extract can improve multiple aspects of immune function, and it can lower the frequency of cold and flu symptoms. The high levels of a specific substance called proanthocyanidins that are found in cranberries help the body’s immune function ward off illness and disease.
Proanthocyanidins refer to a larger class of polyphenols, which are commonly present in berries and other whole fruits and juices. These powerful polyphenols are able to nurture the lining of the gut, where a large majority of the immune system is actually located.
Because cranberry can ward off harmful bacteria — found in toxic food and viruses that enter the body — from accumulating and growing in the gut lining, healthy immune-boosting bacteria are able to thrive and create a powerful defence against sickness.
5. Benefit the Digestive Tract
Cranberries are believed to have cleansing, anti-diarrheal, antiseptic and diuretic detoxifying properties. They help the body eliminate toxins and buildup, plus they aid in relieving water retention and bloating. Our digestive system goes beyond just our intestines and stomach — it is actually made up of our entire mouth, gums and colon too.
6. Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
The cardiovascular benefits of cranberries come from the combined impact of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Studies involving participants who consume a normal dietary intake of cranberries, which is about one cup a day, show that the fruit can prevent the triggering of two enzymes that are pivotal in the development of heart disease. Cranberry has also been shown to prevent activation of these enzymes by blocking the activity of a pro-inflammatory molecule called tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha).
In animal studies, when low-calorie cranberry juice and cranberry extracts were consumed by rats and mice, the antioxidant benefits were clearly associated with decreased risk of high blood pressure. The cranberry extracts helped prevent over-constriction of the blood vessels, which can lead to cardiac arrest or other forms of heart disease. (6) Compared to many blood pressure or heart medications, which can cause complications in some people, cranberries are virtually free of any risky side effects at all.
Cranberry Side Effects
If you take the blood-thinning drug Warfarin (also known as Coumadin), you may want to avoid eating or drinking cranberries because some evidence shows that cranberries can enhance the drug’s effect on the body. Several cases involved patients who experienced an increase of bleeding due to suspected cranberry intake while taking Warfarin.
Cranberry products may promote the formation of kidney stones because of the increase of urine oxalate excretion. Cranberries are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, which are naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals and human beings.
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.
Final Thoughts on Cranberries
- 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.
- They’ve been shown to reduce bodywide inflammation, boost immunity, prevent and treat UTIs, benefit the digestive tract, lower risk of heart disease, and potentially even help 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. It’s believed that their delicate nutrients, including the vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes, are unable to withstand the temperature used in baking, which is typically around 350 degrees Fahrenheit.