What Are Cranberries?

Cranberries are small, hard, round, red fruits with a flavor that many describe as both bitter and sour. They grow on vines in freshwater bogs, mostly in the northern United States and southern Canada. They're related to blueberries and wintergreen.

The North American variety (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is one of the only commercial fruits native to North America. Native Americans first used them for food, fabric dye, and medicine. Sailors used to eat them to prevent scurvy while at sea. Today, they grow on about 40,000 acres in the U.S. each year.

Cranberry Nutrition

A serving is 1 cup of raw berries or a quarter-cup of dried. Nutritionally, those servings are different because the dried berries have more sugar.

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A cup of raw cranberries contains:

  • 46 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 12 grams of carbohydrates
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • 4 grams of sugar
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 2 milligrams of sodium

A quarter-cup of dried fruit contains:

  • 92 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 25 grams of carbohydrates
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 22 grams of sugar
  • 0 grams of protein
  • 2 milligrams of sodium

For vitamins and nutrients, one cup of raw fruit has:

  • 25% of your daily requirement of vitamin C
  • About 9% of your daily requirement of vitamin A
  • About 6% of your daily requirement of vitamin K
  • 2% of your daily requirement of potassium
  • 1% of your daily requirement of iron and calcium
  • 8% of your daily requirement of vitamin E
  • 16% of your daily requirement of manganese
  • 7% of your daily requirement of copper
  • 8% of your daily requirement of B-complex vitamins

Cranberries also have these antioxidants:

  • Quercetin
  • Myricetin
  • Peonidin
  • Ursolic acid
  • A-type proanthocyanidins

When cranberries are dried, they lose most of their vitamins, but they hold on to other nutrients such as potassium and calcium.

Health Benefits of Cranberries

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People call cranberries a superfood for good reason: They have all kinds of health-boosting benefits.

They’re high in antioxidants. A study found that out of 20 common fruits, cranberries have the highest level of phenols, a type of antioxidant. (Red grapes were a distant second.)

They're also high in anthocyanins. These are the compounds that give cranberries their dark red color. Studies have shown that they may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. They may also:

  • Protect against liver disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve eyesight
  • Improve cardiovascular health

They help with urinary tract health. Studies have shown that cranberries can help lessen the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI) in certain people. This includes children or women who get them often. Your doctor may suggest that you take them as supplements or drink the juice from time to time.

But this won't cure a UTI after it starts. If you think you have one, talk to your doctor about a better treatment.

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Cranberries may help with gut health. Studies have shown that they can improve gut bacteria in people who eat an animal-based diet. In other words, if you eat a lot of meat, dairy, and sugar, cranberries can help put good bacteria back into your digestive system. They also reduce bile acids in the gut that have a link to colon and gastrointestinal cancers.

They keep your mouth healthy. Just like in your digestive system, cranberries help control harmful acids in your mouth. They lessen the amount of acid you make and keep it from sticking to your teeth. This helps stop cavities, gum disease, tooth decay, and even oral cancer.

Cranberries also have compounds called proanthocyanidins, which could lower your chance of getting cancer, but more research is needed.

Cranberry Risks

Cranberries are safe to eat, but there are a few exceptions. Talk to your doctor about eating them if:

  • You take warfarin. Cranberries contain a good amount of vitamin K. This nutrient can interfere with a prescription blood thinner called warfarin. If you take warfarin, doctors say that you should eat or drink only small amounts of the berries or their juice.
  • You get kidney stones. If you drink a lot of cranberry juice over time, you may be more likely to get kidney stones.

Some possible side effects of eating too many cranberries include an upset stomach, throwing up, and diarrhea.

How to Prepare and Eat Cranberries

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Many people get their cranberry fix with juice. Although it keeps the vitamin C and potassium, it loses other nutrients from the whole fruit such as fiber, iron, and calcium. Cranberry juice cocktail is also high in added sugar to balance the "pucker factor." Raw cranberries take about 16 months to fully mature and are harvested in early fall. You can store them in the freezer for 6 to 12 months.

There are lots of ways to add the whole fruit to your diet, and you don’t need to wait for the holidays to do it.

Eat them raw. You can munch on them whole like blueberries, toss them into a salad, add them to oatmeal, or blend them into a smoothie. If they're too tart for you, you can chop them and toss with a little sugar or agave syrup.

Turn them into jelly or sauce. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce on the table. But this tangy condiment is good all year long. Spread some jelly or sauce on toast, biscuits, pancakes, or even an everyday turkey sandwich.

Add them to baked goods. Cranberry muffins, anyone? How about bread? Toss them in with apple crisp. These may not be the lowest-calorie ways to eat this fruit, but they’re delicious!

For more ways to cook with cranberries, check out:

  • Cranberry Apple Crisp
  • Cranberry-Glazed Carrots
  • Orange Cranberry Chicken

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