Cranberry: Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts, & Risks

by Raksha Hegde last updated -

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When you think of cranberries, you think of a Thanksgiving dinner table laden with delicious dishes like a roast turkey, gravy, corn, and a traditional cranberry sauce. But you don’t have to wait for the holidays to enjoy this berry and its health benefits. Let’s find out why the antioxidant power-packed cranberry should be a part of your diet, all year long.

What is Cranberry?

Cranberry is a tiny, deep red-colored fruit that is related to bilberries, huckleberries, and blueberries. Native to North America, it has a distinct tart and acidic flavor, which is probably why it is not as popular as the other berries. Most cranberry products are sweetened for consumption like dried cranberries and cranberry juice. Cranberries are also added to baked dishes like bread, muffins, cakes, and scones. While fresh cranberries are available during late fall to early winter, frozen as well as dried cranberries can be enjoyed at any time of the year. The berries are rich in healthy polyphenols and have been used since the eighteenth century to treat urinary tract infections. They are also traditionally used to soothe stomach ailments, nausea, and blood diseases.

a ladle filled with cranberry with a few cranberries on the wooden counter

Nutrition Facts

A cup of fresh, whole cranberries (100g) has only 46 calories, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. These tiny red, tart berries contain high levels of vitamins C, A, and K. They also contain minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. The best part of the berries is that they contain bioactive compounds called proanthocyanidins, which can help prevent chronic diseases. 

Health Benefits

Recent research has revealed that cranberry has the potential to slow the progression of certain kinds of cancer, treat urinary tract infection, and prevent ulcers. Let us look at the most important health benefits in detail.

Anticancer Properties

The findings of animal studies and clinical trials reveal that cranberries have the potential to inhibit the development of certain kinds of cancer. A 2016 study published in the Antioxidants journal stated that cranberry proanthocyanidins help reduce autophagy and apoptosis, both of which are forms of programmed cell death. Also, research published in The Journal of Nutrition found that quercetin, a flavonoid present in the tart fruit, limit the proliferation of cancer cells, including breast, colon, and pancreas. Other bioactive compounds such as triterpenoids, such as ursolic acid, help curb the growth of cells in leukemia and lung carcinoma. 

Anti-inflammatory

According to a study published in the Advances in Nutrition journal, the phytochemical profile of cranberries is distinct from that of other berries. Cranberry is rich in A-type proanthocyanidins as compared to the B-type proanthocyanidins present in other fruits, and these are known to have potent anti-inflammatory properties. 

Treats Urinary Tract Infection

Cranberry or cranberry juice is known to be helpful as a complementary therapy for urinary tract infections (UTIs). It helps reduce the presence of E. coli, one of the bacteria found in the body that is connected with UTI, according to a study in the Pharmaceutical Biology journal. Data from clinical trials reveal that cranberry extract or juice can also suppress the inflammation caused by E. coli infections. However, conclusive data on cranberry juice as a therapy for UTI is currently lacking and further research is required.

Oral Health

The findings of a research analysis of the PubMed database, published in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology, suggest that cranberries can help maintain oral health. The bio-compounds in the berry have the potential to slow acid production by the tooth decay-causing Streptococcus mutans. Furthermore, this can help inhibit the formation of oral diseases such as caries and periodontitis

Blood Pressure & Heart Health

A 2007 study published in Nutrition found that polyphenols in cranberries help reduce the risk of heart disease and may aid lower blood pressure. Phenolic acids like ellagic acid and flavonoids like anthocyanins decrease the chances of oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol) and platelet aggregation. This helps improve heart health.

Cures Ulcers

Research from a clinical study conducted in China shows that the proanthocyanidins in cranberries help suppress Helicobacter pylori infection, which is a major cause of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer.

Risks

There are no known major side effects or risks of consuming cranberries. Findings of a study published in the Urology Journal revealed that excess cranberry juice consumption (upwards of 1 liter per day) may increase the risk of the formation of calcium oxalate and uric acid kidney stones because of its acidic effect on urine. People who take warfarin should not consume cranberries in excess as it may interact with anticoagulants and cause an increase in bruising or bleeding. Also, cranberry juice available in most stores have a high amount of sugar – it is best to either consume in limited amounts or have a sugar-free version.

Takeaway: Cranberries are Healthy

Cranberries are best consumed fresh. You can enjoy it in traditional dishes like cranberry sauce or make a beautiful fall salad with dried cranberries. While research is still inconclusive that cranberry supplements or products can cure specific health conditions like UTI, consuming this antioxidant-rich berry is definitely a wonderful way of boosting immunity and overall health.

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About the Author

Raksha Hegde is the content director at Organic Facts and helps oversee a team of brilliant, dynamic content writers. A former business news journalist and editor, Raksha followed her passion for wellness to become a certified Yoga teacher and a wellness festival curator. She believes learning never really stops. She has completed her MS in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University and is currently pursuing “Introduction to Food and Health” e-course offered by Stanford University, US. 

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