Though not sweet as other berries, cranberries (Vaccinium oxycoccos) are a wonderful source of potent antioxidants, including the antioxidant vitamin C. According to several research papers, regular consumption of fresh cranberries can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and prevent plaque buildup on artery walls, contributing to cardiovascular health. Moreover, thanks to a rich vitamin C content, cranberries boast excellent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial activity, not to mention astringent properties which provide benefits for diarrhea relief and oily skin.
Studies show preparations with cranberry help inhibit E. coli growth, reducing urinary tract infection rates as well as inhibiting the spread of other types of bacteria. Cranberries have also been shown to contain special compounds which help prevent cavities and reduce inflammatory disease risks, further recommending them for consumption. Because of their vitamin C content and anti-inflammatory potential, the fresh berries are potentially good for arthritis sufferers, helping reduce joint pain and inflammation.
What do cranberries look and taste like? Cranberries are small, round, edible pale red to deep red berries. They grow on a small, evergreen shrubs and can be found throughout Europe and Northern and Central America. Unlike most berries, cranberries are not sweet. They are quite tart, acidic which is why they are rarely eaten as they are. In order to make them more palatable, most people add sugar to them or add them to various baked goods such as pies, tarts or the popular Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. Nevertheless, cranberries are the healthiest in their raw form and consuming them alongside refined sugar or subjecting them to high temperatures will destroy most of their nutritional value. When compared to other fruits, cranberries are rather low in vitamins and minerals, but compensate for this with an excellent antioxidant content, to which they owe most of their health benefits.
What are cranberries good for? Here is a list of the top 5 nutrition facts and health benefits of cranberries:
1) Cardiovascular health. Anthocyanins proanthocyanidins (peonidin) and quercetin are potent antioxidants found in cranberries which were shown to help reduce blood cholesterol levels and prevent plaque buildup on artery walls. Lipids (fat), calcium, white blood cells and other compounds may stick to the inside of our arteries, forming a sort of plaque which thickens the arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart and brain. This condition known as atherosclerosis increases both stroke and heart attack risks.
2) Bacterial infections. According to research, cranberries may prevent bacteria such as Escherichia coli from infecting the bladder and urethra, causing what is commonly known as a urinary tract infection. Moreover, eating raw berries or drinking them in juice form interferes with the activity of the bacterium known as Streptococcus mutans and prevents it from adhering to the tooth surface, causing tooth decay.
However, the antibacterial properties of cranberries are a direct result of a high vitamin C content. And considering the vitamin is highly sensitive to heat and other external factors, in order to enjoy the most of the benefits cranberries have to offer, they are best eaten fresh. Cooking heat can destroy vitamin C completely in as little as 15 minutes and so can leaving a cranberry juice to sit for several hours. So know that a canned cranberry sauce or the cranberry sauce you just made at home will not have the same beneficial properties as the fresh berry.
3) Inflammatory disease. Cranberries boast a high antioxidant content and supply us with good amounts of vitamin C and manganese, both strong natural anti-inflammatory agents. Because inflammation has been linked to the onset of chronic disease (cancer, diabetes, heart disease and others), maintaining it within normal limits is the key to keeping in good health in the long run.
4) Antiviral properties. Cranberries provide us with 20% of the RDA of vitamin C, an excellent antimicrobial and antiviral agent. Vitamin C boosts immunity by increasing the aggressiveness of white blood cells and thus creating the premises for a better immune system response in case of a bacterial or virus attack.
5) Anticancer properties. Cranberries rank high on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale for antioxidants, meaning they boast a high antioxidant activity. A high intake of antioxidant-rich foods is said to reduce overall cancer risks by limiting free radical damage to cells and DNA. The berries further contribute to delaying aging signs such as wrinkles by stimulating the production of collagen to maintain skin elastic. Other anti-aging benefits include stopping premature hair graying, iris discoloration and maintaining cognitive functions.
Conclusion. Despite not having the best nutritional profile, cranberries make a healthy snack, provided you eat then raw. A good alternative would be cranberry juice which is healthier than regular fruit because it concentrates more nutrients per serving. However, making it yourself might be best because store-bought juices tend to have too much added sugar which basically annuls their health benefits, not to mention most juices are pasteurized to prevent bacterial or parasitic infections and foodborne illness. And since the main active nutrient in cranberries is heat-sensitive, you are better off with a fresh juice made at home. Adding cranberries to breakfast cereal or yogurt might help mask their bitter their taste and still provide you with wonderful health benefits.