Just about every berry on earth brings us health benefits. But one could argue the cranberry has the distinction of being the most drinkable berry. This gives it added prowess as a flavonoid and phytonutrient superfood.
The cranberry can be consumed in many popular ways, in fact, from sauces at Thanksgiving (or anytime) to fresh cranberries tossed into salads. Dried cranberries make for a delicious, on-the-go tart treat.
Flavonoids and antioxidants are compounds in berries that convey certain medicinal properties. Flavonoids, which give berries their color, have an antimicrobial effect. In cranberries, the flavonoids are called anthocyanins. Antioxidants in cranberries, meanwhile, boost the immune system, which fends off illness.
A 2018 study published in the journal Food Research International found an unusual use for cranberry extract as a natural meat preservative.
“New natural alternatives are needed for synthetic antioxidants due to the controversy regarding their possible negative health effects and consumers’ demand for more ‘natural’ food additives,” the authors concluded. “Berries are a good source of phenolic compounds, especially anthocyanins, which can be used as the potential alternative.”
Cranberry Nutrition Facts
Cranberries are bursting with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C, B6, A, E, and K.
Minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc.
And don’t forget, you can drink it all down in a glass of cranberry juice, toss dried cranberries on a salad, or have a side of cranberry sauce with a favorite meal. The possibilities really are endless.
Cranberry Health Benefits
“Early sailors used to take cranberries on long journeys to prevent scurvy, because they contain such high amounts of vitamin C,” reports Utah State University Cooperative Extension. Here are some cranberry health benefits that you may not know.
Cranberries May Help Prevent and Treat Diabetes
A 2018 paper published in Clinical and Experimental Medicine explained that scientific evidence shows how anthocyanins, the flavonoids in cranberries, actually combat type 2 diabetes by helping to decrease insulin.
“These compounds reduced the inflammation status in the body,” reported the authors. “Studies conducted on humans and experimental animals showed that anthocyanins decrease insulin resistance.”
The paper reported that studies show blood glucose is lower in meals with anthocyanins than meals sans anthocyanins. The versatility of the cranberry makes it easier for diabetics to wedge anthocyanins into their diets.
Cranberries May Help Prevent and Treat Urinary Tract Infections
This is not to say that someone with a urinary tract infection should not go to the doctor and obtain antibiotics to treat the UTI. However, people at high risk for urinary tract infections, such as women and seniors, can help prevent UTIs by adding cranberries to their diet wherever possible.
A 2016 paper published in Advances in Nutrition warned cranberry juice may not work the same for all groups at risk for UTI. “Results from several clinical studies have suggested that cranberries may decrease UTIs in healthy women,” concluded the research, which was supported in part by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.
The paper reported that scientific experiments conducted on people and in test tubes have “suggested that cranberry-derived compounds .. may interfere with adhesion of bacteria (including multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli) to epithelial cells of the urinary tract ….”
Cranberries Improve Cardiovascular Health and Even Prevent Metabolic Disease in the Obese
A 2018 clinical trial published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that low-calorie cranberry drinks reduced blood sugar, lowered inflammatory biomarkers, and increased “good” cholesterol among overweight patients. Seventy-eight randomized volunteers consumed 450 ml daily of either cranberry extract or placebo for eight weeks.
Cranberry Extract May Help Fight Gum Disease
A study published in Material Science and Engineering showed a cranberry juice concentrate gel of 500 mg/ml worked just as well in a laboratory experiment as a leading commercial periodontal treatment.
Cranberries May Preserve Digestive Health
Scientists are calling for more research in general into the benefits of cranberries. “Cranberry juice or cranberries have been shown to inhibit the colonization of H. pylori in stomach, and protect against intestinal inflammation,” writes Zhao et al in a 2018 paper, “American cranberries and health benefits, an evolving story of 25 years.”
The paper appears in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
“For future research, clinical trials with improved study design are urgently needed to demonstrate cranberries’ benefits on urinary tract health and cardiometabolic diseases,” concluded the authors. “Hypothesis-driven studies using animals or cell culture are needed to elucidate the mechanisms of cranberries’ effects on digestive health.”
So whether you like them juiced or whole, it’s never a bad idea to crank up your cranberry consumption!