Cranberries are a recognizable holiday favorite native to North America, and readily available in grocery stores in fall and winter. Cranberries have become a staple at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but they should remain a staple in your diet year-round due to their health-promoting benefits! Fresh cranberries have the highest levels of nutrients, and are available during peak season, which lasts from October through December. You can keep cranberries in your refrigerator for up to 2 months. Unsweetened cranberry juice and dried or frozen cranberries are also good ways to keep this super berry in your diet throughout the year. Cranberries are well-known for prevention of urinary tract infections, but there are other conditions they may be effective in treating (and preventing), such as gastrointestinal and oral conditions, high cholesterol, and cancer.
Urinary Tract Health
Cranberries are probably best known as an alternative treatment for urinary tract infections, and multiple clinical trials have shown that they are effective in preventing the infections. The proposed mechanism for how cranberries prevent UTIs is that they block the bacteria from clinging to the walls of the urinary tract. This occurs via the urine after cranberries have been consumed. Because the bacteria cannot cling to the cells of the urinary tract, it is unable to grow and cause infections.
Studies indicate that polyphenols in cranberries reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce blood pressure. Cranberries appear to prevent the build-up of platelets which can clog arteries can cause heart attack or stroke, and may lower blood pressure due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Both animal and human studies point to an association between the consumption of cranberries or cranberry juice and a reduction in LDL (or bad) cholesterol and an increase in HDL (or good) cholesterol. Numerous studies have shown the favorable effects of cranberries on different populations of people, including patients with high cholesterol, obese men, patients with diabetes, and patients with low levels of HDL cholesterol. See more heart healthy foods.
Research shows that the cranberry is able to slow the progression of tumors and have beneficial effects on a number of cancers including prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. Continued research into the effects of cranberries on cancer provides more and more proof that consumption of cranberries is associated with a decreased risk of developing cancer, as scientists keep finding different ways in which compounds in cranberries have an anti-cancer effect, including inhibiting enzymes that cancer cells need to thrive, and triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells. Cranberries are also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that protect the body’s cells against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, which may be risk factors for developing cancer. Cranberries are a good source of vitamins C, E, K, and manganese, which are all powerful antioxidants involved in helping to protect the body from free radicals that cause harmful oxidative stress. One cup of cranberries contains 14.6mg, or 24% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.
Eating cranberries could also keep out of the dentist’s chair! The same mechanism that prevents urinary tract infections may also benefit oral health by preventing bacteria from clinging to teeth. Cranberries may also help to prevent gum disease and improve oral health by inhibiting the production of harmful acids in the mouth.
Consumption of cranberries is associated with a decreased risk of stomach ulcers. Cranberries contain phytonutrients called proanthocyanidins that prevent bacteria, such as Heliobacter pylori, from adhering to the walls of the stomach and causing infection and damage.
Ware, Meghan, RDN, LD. “Cranberries: Health Benefits.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 25 Nov. 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Blumberg, Jeffrey B. “Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health.” Advances in Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, 6 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
“Cranberries.” Cranberries. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2015. <http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145