Are cranberries healthy? 6 Surprising Benefits – Cleveland Clinic
You might only think of eating cranberries around Thanksgiving, but this fruit can add zest (and plenty of health benefits) all year round.
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Cranberries, which are primarily carbohydrates and fiber, are about 90% water. They also contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K and manganese.
But fresh cranberries tend to be sour and are rarely eaten raw. You’ll mostly see cranberries in juice form, but cranberry juice tends to include added sugars as well.
So is it worth adding cranberries to your diet? And what’s the best way to eat them?
Registered Dietitian Candace O’Neill, RD, LDN, talks about the benefits of cranberries and how to incorporate them into your meals.
Health Benefits of Cranberries
Cranberries can be very nutritious. “They’re an antioxidant powerhouse,” O’Neill says. Here’s how cranberries can benefit your health.
Prevent urinary tract infections
Probably the most well-known benefit of cranberry juice is that it can prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). But O’Neill points out that cranberries don’t cure the infection once you have it.
“Type A proanthocyanidins prevent the binding of E. coli in the bladder, which is normally the first stage of a UTI,” says O’Neill.
If you often have UTIs, adding cranberries to your diet may help.
“If you’re someone who struggles with UTIs, including cranberries in a healthy diet is something you can do that won’t hurt you,” O’Neill says. “That could be a proactive approach.”
You might not immediately think of cranberries as a way to prevent cavities, but research shows that the same type-a proanthocyanidins that help prevent UTIs can help in other ways.
“Researchers believe that type-a proanthocyanidins are also responsible for preventing bacteria from forming in the mouth,” says O’Neill.
By controlling these harmful acids in your mouth, cranberries could help prevent not only cavities, but also gum disease, tooth decay and oral cancer.
Cranberries have anti-inflammatory effects, thanks to their high amounts of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins and flavanols, which give cranberries their dark hue.
“Antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases because they can help reduce inflammation in our bodies,” says O’Neill. “That’s why it’s recommended to eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables, as these foods will use up antioxidants.”
Maintain digestive health
If you’re on an animal-based diet, cranberries can help introduce good bacteria to your digestive system.
“Type A proanthocyanidins, which are only found in cranberries, can help reduce the bad bugs that live in your colon,” says O’Neill.
More research still needs to be done, but it’s possible that cranberries help prevent colon and gastrointestinal cancers.
Improve heart health
From lowering blood pressure to improving your cholesterol levels, cranberries can help improve your overall heart health.
“There is limited evidence that cranberries can potentially help improve a person’s lipid profile by raising their HDL (good) cholesterol,” O’Neill notes.
Cranberries can also help lower your LDL (bad). O’Neill says it’s important to know that many of these studies used low-calorie cranberry juice.
As you have probably already learned, type a proanthocyanins are a powerful antioxidant. Researchers are therefore beginning to study if and how they may have anti-cancer properties.
“We generally know that eating enough non-starchy vegetables and getting enough fruit in your diet lowers your risk of certain cancers,” O’Neill says.
Are cranberries healthy?
That’s a tough question to answer, says O’Neill. In their raw state, they can be healthy. But if you get your cranberry fix with juice or dried cranberries, be aware that there’s a lot of added sugar used in both forms.
“Typically, a serving of dried cranberries has about 25 grams of added sugar,” says O’Neill. “That’s actually the amount of added sugar that some people can consume in a day.”
This sugar is added to offset the tart flavor of the cranberries. “They need that sweetness to be a little more palatable,” says O’Neill.
But that doesn’t mean you should avoid cranberry juice or dried cranberries. You just need to be smart about your sugar intake and pair cranberries with foods that contain less sugar.
For example, you can make a trail mix at home using lightly salted toasted walnuts and dried cranberries instead of the candy bits you typically find in store-bought trail mixes.
Pair plain yogurt or oatmeal with dried cranberries instead of honey for a sweet treat. O’Neill suggests looking for unsweetened dried cranberries, but says they’re hard to find. You may be able to find them at a health food store or online.
As for juices, most options are a “juice cocktail” which combines cranberry juice with apple juice to make it sweeter.
“When you consume it in this form, you’re not getting 100 percent cranberry juice,” O’Neill says.
And watch how much juice you consume. O’Neill says the recommendation is no more than 4 to 8 ounces of juice per day. You can try this trick from O’Neill: dilute the juice with sparkling or still water to add a sweet kick to your drink.
Cranberry Side Effects
Most people can eat or drink cranberries without a problem. But cranberries may be a risk factor for people with kidney stones.
Kidney stones are usually made up of calcium oxalate. Cranberries contain high levels of oxalate.
Additionally, those taking blood thinners should limit their intake of cranberries due to their vitamin K content, which can interfere with the medication.
“I would ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist whether or not it is safe for you to consume cranberry products,” advises O’Neill.
If you’re considering adding cranberries to your diet, O’Neill suggests buying fresh cranberries when in season, usually September through October. You can freeze them and keep them on hand for a variety of recipes like smoothies, sauce or dressing.
“Storing cranberries in your fridge or freezer is an easy way to add those antioxidants and boost your health all year round,” adds O’Neil.