If your exposure to cranberries has been limited to sweet juice cocktails, the dried bits in trail mix or that gelatinous sauce from a can during Thanksgiving, you’re getting only part of the cranberry experience — and only some of the health benefits. But did you know that for thousands of years cranberries have been a go-to superfood for their nutritional, medicinal and practical benefits?
Rochelle Biegel Hoffman, a fifth-generation cranberry farmer in Wisconsin, likes throwing cranberries into her smoothies, along with a naturally sweeter fruit, like strawberry or banana, to offset the tartness of the cranberries.
“Cranberries are naturally high in vitamins, they are naturally high in antioxidants, they are naturally high in fiber. They’re really a powerhouse of superfoods,” Biegel Hoffman says.
Try eating these tart red gems raw or in cooked-from-scratch recipes for a vibrant taste, minimal sugar and better absorption of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Good for the skin
Outranking nearly every fruit and vegetable, cranberries are exceptionally high in antioxidants, a group of substances that help delay or prevent cell damage throughout the body and maintain healthy skin. Researchers are still studying exactly how nutritional antioxidants work, but, so far, there is enough evidence to recommend getting them straight from fruits and vegetables, rather than from dietary supplements.
Good for the gut
If you’re looking to cranberries for their nutritional benefits, try eating them in a variety of forms. Dried cranberries, for example, lose most of their vitamins in the drying process, but they do retain other nutrients, such as potassium and calcium. Meanwhile, a serving of freeze-dried cranberries packs in hefty doses of fiber and Vitamin C.
Cooked cranberry sauces pair well with meats, and it turns out this combination has benefits beyond taste. Because cranberries are a natural antimicrobial, they might help with gut health and the body’s anti-inflammatory actions, particularly in people who eat a lot of meat and dairy.
These benefits extend throughout the gastrointestinal system. Active ingredients in cranberries help control acids in the colon and mouth that are linked to certain cancers as well as cavities and gum disease.
And what about UTIs?
You’ve probably heard that drinking cranberry juice can cure a urinary tract infection (UTI). The science to back this up just isn’t there, however. Cranberries do not cure UTIs.
Rather, studies have found that consuming cranberry products can sometimes lessen the risk of UTIs developing. One of the challenges of interpreting the study data, according to the Cleveland Clinic, is that most cranberry juices and supplements don’t contain enough of the active ingredient that keeps bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract.
Bottom line? Consuming cranberries won’t hurt and doing so may help prevent future UTIs — so it’s worth incorporating the fruit into your diet if you enjoy eating it.
And that goes for incorporating cranberries into your diet for any health reason. The real key to benefiting from any nutritionally dense food is that you enjoy eating it and will eat it regularly. If cranberry juice cocktails are too sweet, or raw cranberries too tart, try a few other cranberry preparations and recipes to experience a broader range of options. You just might discover a new favorite berry.