Published January 14, 2024 Let’s be real – cranberries make an appearance on our tables once a year and that’s in jelly form at Thanksgiving. But after personally experiencing their wide-reaching health benefits, we think they should be on our grocery lists year-round. Why? First off, fresh cranberries are jam-packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients while also being low in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.There are countless ways to use these bright red berries, from fizzy mocktails to fluffy scones or spicy relishes. While they’re only available for a short window of time in the fall season, they freeze beautifully and can therefore be appreciated all year round! We hope by the end of this you’ll love cranberries as much as we do. What exactly makes them so potent? Proanthocyanidins Anthocyanins Phenolic acids Terpenes Flavonols Health Benefits: Support Cardiovascular Health – The polyphenols in cranberries can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by reducing blood pressure, decreasing inflammation, and inhibiting blood clotting (1). One study found that drinking cranberry juice lowered fasting triglyceride levels (a risk factor for heart disease), decreased C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) in the blood, reduced blood pressure, and improved fasting blood sugar levels in participants (2). Several other studies looked at the effect of cranberry juice on cholesterol, specifically. Cranberry juice alone was able to lower the levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol while increasing the HDL or “good” cholesterol in research participants (3). Finally, consuming cranberry juice can reduce the stiffness of your arteries and open them up, both of which are important for healthy vascular function (4). Prevent UTIs – By now we’ve all heard about using cranberry juice as a home remedy for UTIs, right? Well, turns out this age-old practice actually holds water if used correctly! Cranberries contain chemical compounds called proanthocyanidins or PACs, which are responsible for giving cranberries their gorgeous, vibrant red color. More importantly, their structure includes specific bonds known as A-type linkages that aren’t found in other anthocyanidins. These A-type PACs in cranberries are what inhibit the adhesion of E. coli and other “bad” strains of bacteria to the walls of your urinary tract. Because of this unique mechanism of action, cranberries can act both preventatively and acutely for UTI treatment. The whole food form (cranberry juice, dehydrated cranberry pills) is a much gentler and targeted approach when compared to antibiotic treatment as bacteria are much less likely to become resistant. Balance your microbiome – Polyphenols are certainly the most studied phytochemical constituent in cranberries, but the phenolic acids, isoprenoids, and oligosaccharides found in them cannot be overlooked. These compounds act as prebiotics and can strengthen your gut mucosa over time (5). One study found that consuming dried cranberries shifted the gut microbiome of participants by increasing commensal bacteria (like Bacteroidetes) and decreasing unfavorable bacteria species (like Firmicutes) that cause GI symptoms like constipation and diarrhea (6). Also, PACs encourage mucus production which helps Akkermansia muciniphila (a beneficial bacteria) thrive as they feed off of the mucus of our gut lining. What’s more, if you’re eating a high-protein diet and aren’t getting as much fiber as you’d like, eating cranberries can make up for this! They improve microbiome diversity, bile acids, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are essential in maintaining a healthy intestinal barrier, producing mucus, and protecting against inflammation (7). Not to mention, a balanced gut microbiome can help you properly absorb your food since we aren’t just what we eat, but rather, we are what we eat AND absorb after all. Protect against cancer – Due to their high antioxidant content, cranberries fight free radicals that cause oxidative damage, decrease inflammation, and modulate the expression of genes associated with various diseases, including cancer. Remember those PACs from earlier? They have anticancer potential as well. To be specific, they are toxic to ovarian, neuroblastoma, and prostate cancer cells by triggering apoptosis, or programmed cell death (8). One recent study suggested that PACs in cranberries can induce autophagic markers which is an alternative form of tumor inhibition. In other words, they are able to slow tumor progression and prevent the growth of new cancer cells (9). How to get the maximum benefits from cranberry: Jazz up your favorite beverage – First things first: make your own fresh cranberry juice or buy pure, unsweetened cranberry juice from the store. Then simply add the juice to your mocktails or cocktails for a zingy flavor and alllll the health benefits of cranberry. Alternatively, you can throw a handful of fresh or frozen cranberries into your go-to smoothie recipe to pack it with superfoods! This is especially delicious in berry-forward smoothies. Use them in recipes — If you find the idea of cranberries intimidating, start by baking with them. Things like scones, muffins, cornbreads, and bars are really approachable and there are countless recipes online for tasty cranberry sweets. If you’re more into savory things, try putting cranberries in your one-pot skillet dinners, meatballs, or as a tangy glaze or sauce on meat. And for a super simple idea, make a big batch of easy cranberry sauce or compote and add that to your oatmeal, pancakes, grilled cheeses, and sandwiches, toasts, or charcuterie boards! Supplementing — Luckily, you can still reap all the impressive benefits of cranberries even in supplement form. The beauty of a high quality, whole food cranberry supplement is that you’re able to get a concentrated dose of cranberries and their nutrients without drinking or eating a large quantity of them. And in desperate times, like when you have a painful UTI, you’ll want to double down!