Cranberries are a well known superfood - they're high in nutrients and antioxidants, they're very low in calories, and they also happen to be delicious. Native to North America, cranberries are much higher in antioxidants than superfoods like broccoli or spinach, and you only need to consume relatively small amounts of them to gain the nutritional benefits.
From urinary tract infections to stomach ulcers, there are a number of health issues that can be either prevented or treated with cranberries. Fresh cranberries bring the best health benefits, followed by dried cranberries. Juice has the least, and it's important that you buy 'real' cranberry juice as opposed to anything marketed as a 'fruit drink'. These have very little real cranberry juice and plenty of added sugar and preservatives. Without further ado, here are ten ways these little berries are fantastic for your health.
1) Fight urinary tract infections. Let's address the most popular one first, because there is some contention around the topic. People all over the world drink cranberry juice to treat UTIs. It was once thought that cranberries made the urine to acidic to support bacteria, but now it is believed that the chemicals in cranberries keep bacteria from sticking to the cells that line the urinary tract. This is where they would usually stick and multiply, causing an infection, but instead cranberry juice lets them pass through in our urine, and out of our bodies. However, cranberry juice does not seem to have the ability to release bacteria that has already stuck there. WebMD explains that this is why cranberry juice may be a better preventative measure than a treatment for UTIs.
2) Reduce your risk of cancer. Mercola cites research that has shown the effectiveness of cranberries when it comes to inhibiting growth and spread of several types of tumours. This included breast, colon, prostate, and lung tumours, and although the studies haven't yet been conclusive, early theories suggest that this tumour inhibition could be due to the flavonols and anthocyanin glycosides in cranberries, or it could be due to the salicylic acid which can have anti-tumour effects.
3) Help your heart. Health.com cites a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which showed that people who drank a glass of unsweetened cranberry juice a day increased their good cholesterol by approximately 10 percent. A study by the Mayo Clinic found that cranberry juice may protect against the hardening of the arteries. Medical News Today also explains that the polyphenols in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing platelet build-up and reducing blood pressure via anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
4) Prevent stomach ulcers. WebMD notes that cranberries help to prevent H. pylori (bacterial) infections in the stomach, that can lead to ulcers. Similar to the way it works in the urinary tract, cranberries are thought to prevent the bacteria from attaching itself to the lining of the stomach.
5) Fight inflammation. Cranberries have an anti-inflammatory effect which can benefit conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, stomach and digestive disorders, according to NOLA.
6) Prevent cavities and gum disease. Cranberry juice stops bacteria from sticking to your urinary tract and your stomach lining, and the same premise applies to your mouth, where cranberry juice stops bacteria from binding to your teeth and prevents plaque build-up. The anti-inflammatory effect helps to reduce inflammation around the gums and consequently lowers our risk of periodontal disease.
7) They're high in fiber. According to Mercola, cranberries provide 20% of our daily fiber requirements in every serving. Fiber flushes our system and lowers our risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, among other things.
8) They have an anti-aging effect. This all comes back down to their sky-high antioxidant levels, according to The Natural Health Society. Essentially, antioxidants protect our cells from free radicals which accelerate the aging process. But this isn't just about vanity: those same free radicals can lead to the development of degenerative diseases and age-related issues of the heart and the brain. Cranberry extract may help to combat memory loss and keep our brains healthier.
9) Lower blood sugar. According to Healthy Eating, a study published in the Health Studies Journal reported that dried cranberries were shown to help regulate blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
10) Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins. One serving of cranberries provides 24% of our daily vitamin C. Cranberries pack a punch in terms of vitamin E and A, as well as folate, and phenolics like ß-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin. They're also packed full of minerals like potassium and manganese. What can't this little berries give us?
WebMD warns that although cranberries are a generally safe and natural way to gain many health benefits, there are some people for whom they might not be the best dietary supplement. Anyone with an aspirin allergy might find themselves reacting adversely with cranberries, and they can also interact with some medications, including blood thinners. Plus, eating excessive amounts (as with most fruit) can cause an upset stomach. If you're unsure, have a chat to your doctor. Otherwise, try adding a few more cranberries to your diet. Fresh is best, dried is next!