Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are small, red berries that grow in damp bogs and swampy areas of North America. The cranberry plant is a perennial evergreen vine that is closely related to the blueberries and bilberries, as they belong to the same genus Vaccinium. It is described as a low-growing, woody perennial with small, oval leaves borne on vine-like shoot.
These small red berries have an unique tart taste with a hint of refreshing sweetness. Because of this, most cranberries are processed and used to make cranberry sauce, jam and juice. They are also sold as dried berries like raisins.
Nutritional Value of Cranberry
Cranberries are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C and manganese while being low in fat and sodium. Eating one will also add nicely to your daily intake of vitamins E, K, B5, B6, and copper.
One cup (110 grams) of chopped, raw cranberries contains about :
- Calories: 51
- Vitamin C: 14.6 mg (24% Daily Value)
- Dietary fiber: 5.1 g (20% Daily Value)
- Manganese: 0.4 mg (20% Daily Value)
- Vitamin E: 1.3 mg (7% Daily Value)
- Vitamin K: 5.6 mcg (7% Daily Value)
- Vitamin B6: 0.1 mg (3% Daily Value)
- Pantothenic Acid: 0.3 mg (3% Daily Value)
- Potassium: 93.5 mg (3% Daily Value)
- Copper: 0.1 mg (3% Daily Value)
- Iron: 0.3 mg (2% Daily Value)
- Magnesium: 6.6 mg (2% Daily Value)
In addition to being loaded with various vitamins and minerals, cranberries also contain flavonoids called proanthocyanidins which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects.
Health Benefits of Cranberries
1. Prevent urinary tract infections
Cranberries have long been known to be effective in preventing urinary tract infection (UTI).
Some research shows that drinking cranberry juice may reduce the risk of UTIs in both children and women.
For example, a 2012 study of 40 children found that those who taking cranberry juice with high concentrations of proanthocyanidin appears to be effective in the prevention of non-febrile urinary tract infections  .
Another study showed that women with a history of UTIs who took cranberry juice had fewer clinical UTI episodes compared to those who took placebo .
2. Reduce cancer risk
The compounds in cranberries can also help to reduce your risk for certain types of cancer. A 2016 review of 34 preclinical studies revealed that cranberries were able to inhibit the growth of cancers such as breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer cells in test tubes .
3. Keep your heart healthy
Regular intake of cranberries may benefit your heart in several different ways. It helps to lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels which can clog the arteries. It also helps to prevent plaque from forming on the arterial walls, which can lead to cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke.
4. Protect against stomach ulcers
Regular consumption of cranberry juice can kill helicobacter pylori, the bacterium that causes most stomach ulcers.
One study in 189 adults suggested that drinking cranberry juice (500 ml) daily for up to 90 days may significantly eliminate H. pylori infections .
5. Boost immune system
Cranberries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C that boost the immune system and prevent infectious diseases. Cranberries also lower the chance of colds and flu symptoms.
6. Protect your teeth against decay
A research suggests that cranberries juice may help prevent tooth decay and cavities. Scientists have found that a compound in the fruit can block the bacteria from sticking onto the teeth, preventing the formation of the dental plaques .
In another study published in contemporary clinical dentistry, a mouthwash containing 0.6 percent cranberry was found to be as effective as a standard mouthwash used to control the bacteria in your mouth .
7. Prevent scurvy
Cranberry is extremely high in vitamin C and thus it can help prevent scurvy, a condition caused by a lack of vitamin C. The high level of vitamin C in cranberry also helps in making collagen, which is crucial for maintaining healthy joints and skin.
Selection and Storage Tips
When buying fresh cranberries, look for the really red, shiny ones and are firm to the touch. Avoid those that are soft, spongy and pale in color.
Fresh cranberries should be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly-sealed plastic bag for up to a month. If you are not going to use them during that time frame, fresh cranberries can be frozen in their original bag and will keep up to one year in the freezer.