7 Reasons to Add Cranberries to Your Diet

7 Reasons to Add Cranberries to Your Diet

Packed with health-boosting benefits for your whole body, there's no denying the superfood power of these tiny red berries.

Quick list

The fact that cranberries don’t draw the same fanfare as other superfoods is an absolute travesty. Not only are they exploding with antioxidants, but cranberries also have a fascinating backstory and can be incredibly effective in certain healthcare applications. Make no mistake, their benefits go far beyond the urinary tract, and their history goes far beyond festive eating.


Rubies of Turtle Island

In 1747 Dr. James Lind solved the riddle of scurvy, a vicious illness that brought the toughest of sailors to debilitating weakness within only a couple of months at sea. After conducting one of the earliest comparative nutritional trials in recorded Western history with several groups of seafarers, Dr. Lind determined that the affliction all came down to a single nutrient deficiency: ascorbic acid, better known as vitamin C.

Sailors from United States found a ready source of this vitamin in Vaccinium macrocarpon, the tart red berry native to North America. Captains of ships would regularly dispense them to all crewmembers aboard. High amounts of organic acids in the berries even acted as preservatives when stored in wooden barrels for extended periods abroad.

Long before colonial settlers knew it by any other name, it was called sassaminesh by Algonquin and Wampanoag First Nations and sasemineash by the Narragansett, who collected the fruit from bogs and swampy areas where it grew in wild abundance. Using maple sugar to balance the tang, First Nations people undoubtedly invented the original harvest classic we know today as call cranberry sauce. The berries were also regularly mixed with meat or fish in sundried cakes called pemmican and eaten raw. In a medicinal context, cranberry mash was used as a topical compress for wounds and mixed with cornmeal for internal use to purify the blood.


Urinary Health

Cranberry extracts are regularly supplemented for their fantastic ability to fend off urinary tract infections. Those with ovaries are most susceptible to UTIs, but they are lamentably common for all individuals. Such recurring infections can cause a great deal of pain and frustration, and the truth is that some people are simply more prone to them, through absolutely no fault of their own.

Cranberries are a total game-changer. They are nothing short of remarkable for both preventing and treating urinary tract infections. Typical UTIs involve E. coli bacteria binding to the cells lining the urethra. Cranberries contain several chemicals that acidify the urine and stop the bacteria’s ability to adhere to any part of our urethra, bladder, or kidneys.

The unique acids in cranberries also stop calcium and phosphate from forming kidney stones. Even small amounts of cranberry juice can significantly decrease the amount of calcium in urine, which is significant because most kidney stones form from calcium. Cranberries can even prevent the formation of non-calcium kidney stones as well.


Cardiac Protection

Cranberries are heart food, too. They decrease LDL (or "bad" cholesterol), raise HDL ("good" cholesterol), and prevent free radical damage associated with heart disease and arterial degradation thanks to the antioxidant chemicals they contain. Cranberries have five times the free radical scavenging power of cauliflower or broccoli. One study compared 20 different fruit juices, and cranberry had the highest antioxidant capacity, which has enormous implications for cardiac health because oxidized LDL is one of the most nefarious actors in heart disease pathology.

Gut Function

Cranberries are loaded with fibre and have a prebiotic effect, meaning that they feed and support beneficial bacteria in the gut. But while the fibre feeds the good bacteria, other chemicals in cranberries inhibit the harmful bacteria. Cranberries can even stop H. pylori, the bacteria associated with ulcer formation, from binding to the stomach lining. Supporting the population of bacteria in the intestines, known as the microbiome, helps gut health on every level, from digestion to nutrient absorption to elimination.


Cancer Prevention

Cranberries contain chemicals called proanthocyanidins that have promising anticancer potential. Incorporating even small amounts of them in the diet may help reduce the spread and growth of tumours. Beneficial gut bacteria metabolize the proanthocyanidins in cranberries to enhance their cancer-preventing ability even more. While more research is needed to shed light on the extent and nature of cranberries’ chemoprotective possibilities, the implications are clear; eating them, or drinking their juice, can’t hurt.

Oral Health

Cranberries don’t get much attention for their ability to stop cavities and tooth decay, but they definitely should! The same chemicals in cranberries that help to rebalance our gut microbiome help to rebalance our oral microbiome. Long after we swallow those tart little gems, trace amounts of potent cranberry compounds remain in the saliva. Just like they stop nasty bacteria from attaching to the cells of our urinary tract, these powerful antioxidant compounds prevent bacteria from binding to our teeth and gums. The results are healthier teeth, healthier gums, and a healthier mouth overall.


Inflammation Reduction

As if their list of benefits wasn’t already impressive enough, cranberries also help to fight an overactive inflammatory response. One placebo-controlled study found that people who drank cranberry juice significantly reduced C-Reactive Protein, the medical community’s go-to blood marker for systemic inflammation. Free radical damage and chronic inflammation play a role in virtually all illnesses, so the fact that cranberries help to fend off both makes them a valuable ally in the fight for health and longevity.

Crantastic Crantioxidants

When picking your cranberries, fresh ones are the most nutritious. Cranberries achieve peak antioxidant value through late fall and early winter. The firmer, the better - they should even bounce! And the colour is also a valuable clue; the plusher red tones indicate more concentrated nutrients. After the fresh ones, dried cranberries are a close second and have their own acne-clearing, immune-boosting health benefits. Wonderfully versatile, dried cranberries can be used as a garnish for everything from salads to granola. If drinking them is more your style, take heart in knowing that organic cranberry juice is loaded with proanthocyanidins.

Beyond dazzling tartness, cranberries have well-researched health benefits. Not only does it easily earn a place in a generally healthy diet of colourful whole foods, but it can also be stunningly successful in more specific clinical applications.

However you enjoy their unique tangy flavour profile, your whole body, from bladder to teeth, will rejoice if you add cranberries to your diet.


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Damien ZielinskiA cloud-based functional medicine practitioner with a focus on mental health and insomnia
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