Are cranberries healthy? Registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook outlines the health benefits of this little berry.
What are cranberries?
Cranberries grow on vine-like plants similar to strawberries, and typically come from North America or eastern Europe, although you can grow them in the UK under the right conditions. They are usually harvested between September and November, and in the UK you’ll see the fresh berries in the shops from October to December.
Nutritional benefits of cranberries
An 80g serving of fresh cranberries provides:
12kcal / 52kj
10mg vitamin C
Either an 80g serving of fresh cranberries or a single glass of 150ml unsweetened cranberry juice counts as one of your five-a-day. However, as with all juices, only one glass counts and consuming more will not provide further contributions to your five-a-day intake. Take a look at our printable infographic to discover what counts towards your five-a-day.
Top 5 health benefits of cranberries
1. Rich in antioxidant compounds
2. May help prevent urinary tract infections
Cranberry juice is probably most well-known for its management of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cranberries contain compounds known as proanthocyanidins, which have natural antibacterial benefits and may help prevent the bacteria Escherichia coli from attaching to the inner surface of the bladder and urinary tract, causing an infection.
There are many studies that demonstrate drinking cranberry juice may help prevent a UTI and its reoccurrence, but it appears to be less effective once the infection has taken hold. Some studies also suggest this may not work for everyone. If you are going to drink cranberry juice for its potential UTI benefits, an unsweetened 100% juice should be chosen.
3. May support heart health
A number of human studies support regular consumption of the juice or an extract of the berry to be beneficial for heart health, reducing a number of the key risk factors for heart disease. These include improving cholesterol balance, lowering blood pressure and reducing a compound called homocysteine, which is known to damage the lining of the blood vessels. However, it’s worth noting that some conflicting findings have been reported from other similar studies.
4. May protect against gastric ulcer and stomach cancer
Cranberries contain a plant compound that may reduce the risk of gastric ulcers and stomach cancer caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. Consuming cranberry products, which are naturally rich in this compound (known as A-type pro-anthocyanidins), appears to suppress the growth of the bacteria and as a result reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer.
5. May protect against certain cancers
Cranberries are one of the best food sources of ursolic acid, a plant compound with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and potential anti-cancer effects. It has been seen to be particularly useful in prostate cancer.
Are cranberries safe for everyone?
It’s possible to be allergic to cranberries, although this appears to be rare. The berries contain significant amounts of a compound called salicylic acid, which may trigger reactions in sensitive individuals. Those with an aspirin allergy should avoid consuming large amounts of cranberry juice.
Signs of a mild reaction include an itchy mouth or tongue, sneezing or a runny nose. If you experience these symptoms, speak to your GP. If a more serious allergic reaction occurs, call for an ambulance immediately.
Read more from the NHS about allergic reactions.
Cranberries and concentrated cranberry products may contain high amounts of oxalates, which may increase the risk of kidney stones in some predisposed people.
Cranberries and any products that contain them or their juice may interact with certain prescribed medications, including warfarin. If in doubt or you have concerns, refer to your GP for guidance.
Photo by Marina