6 Health Benefits of Cranberries
These ruby-red beauties may reduce inflammation, prevent antibiotic resistance, and more
You may associate cranberries with the holidays, but there are good reasons to consume them year-round, either frozen, dried, or in juice form. Here are six cranberry benefits, including new research about how these gems may help counter the global threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Cranberries curb antibiotic resistance
In a new study from McGill University in Canada, researchers selected bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gastroenteritis. When bacteria are treated with antibiotics they typically become resistant to its effects. But in this experiment, scientists found that the addition of cranberry extract prevented resistance from developing.
The extract made the bacterial cell wall more permeable to the antibiotic, and it caused the bacteria to have a tougher time pumping out the antibiotic.
The finding is significant as the overuse of antibiotics, primarily in animal agriculture, has led to infections that are more difficult to treat in humans. While the study is new, stay tuned. It may prompt physicians to recommend cranberry juice or extract when antibiotics are prescribed.
Cranberries are anti-inflammatory and packed with antioxidants
Like other berries, cranberries are antioxidant powerhouses. In fact, when it comes to fruit, they rank just under blueberries (often called the king of antioxidants) in antioxidant potency. Cranberries also provide anti-inflammatory compounds. Research shows that people who consume cranberries have lower levels of C-reactive protein, a blood marker of inflammation, which is a known trigger of premature aging, chronic illness, and cognitive decline.
Cranberries boost circulation
Cranberries have been shown to help improve artery flexibility. This means enhanced circulation and blood flow, which takes pressure off the heart and can help lower blood pressure. Better circulation can also boost energy and cognitive function.
Cranberries offer disease protection
There’s evidence that cranberry juice protects heart health by reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol, trigylcerides (blood fats), and insulin resistance. What's more, certain compounds in cranberries have been shown to slow the growth of tumors, including cancer cells of the breast, colon, lung, and prostate.
Cranberries support gut health
Research shows that consuming cranberries can create a positive shift in the beneficial gut bacteria tied to immunity, mood, and digestive health. The fiber in whole or dried cranberries also helps prevent constipation and support digestive health.
Cranberries help with immunity
The vitamin C in cranberries supports immunity and is required to make collagen, so it plays a key role in skin and joint health and overall healing. You’ve probably also heard that cranberries help prevent and treat urinary tract infections. That's true. Cranberries help by interfering with the ability of bacteria to stick to the walls of the urinary tract. This same type of natural defense also happens in the stomach to prevent ulcers and in the mouth to fight gum disease.
To take advantage of cranberry benefits, look for unsweetened 100% juice. Because cranberries are on the bitter side, sugar or syrup is often added, or the juice is combined with a sweeter variety, like apple. But you can add pure cranberry juice to your morning smoothie or use it along with lightly sweetened almond milk as the liquid in oatmeal or overnight oats.
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You’ll also find frozen whole cranberries in your freezer section. Blend them into smoothies or warm over low heat on the stovetop in a bit of 100% orange juice with a touch of maple syrup, freshly grated ginger root, cinnamon, and cloves. Use as a warm or chilled topping for anything from greens and veggies to spaghetti squash and sweet potatoes. Or opt for unsweetened or 100% fruit-juice sweetened dried cranberries. Fold them into nut butter, toss onto salads and whole grains, or add to energy balls and "bark" made from melted dark chocolate and nuts.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees.