Everything to Know About the Cranberry
You probably associate the little red fruit almost exclusively with Thanksgiving, but the nutritional value of cranberries earns them a spot in your fridge year-round. Cranberries are full of bioactive compounds with antioxidant properties.
But all cranberries are not created (or ingested) equal. The nutritional benefits from dried cranberries are quite different than from fresh ones, for example.
Here’s everything you need to know about what the health benefits of cranberries are, including if raw cranberries are really good for you.
Cranberry Nutrition Facts
Fresh cranberries are almost 90% water, but the rest of their makeup is almost entirely nutrients like carbs and fiber. One cup is just 46 calories, with almost no fat or protein, but 12 grams of carbs, four grams of sugar, and nearly four grams of fiber.
The real power of the little berry lies in the fact that cranberries are a source of soluble fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and vitamin K says Monica Moreno, R.D.N., founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami.
Dried cranberry nutrition
Unfortunately, once you move away from fresh cranberries, the fruit loses most of its health benefits.
“Very little of the phytochemical profile of cranberries is retained in sauce or dried fruit,” says Monica Moreno, R.D.N., founder of Essence Nutrition in Miami. What’s more, dried cranberries are pretty much just sugar, so they can actually become a food to steer clear of very quickly depending on how much you’re eating.
The one upside: dried cranberries have a nice texture for culinary uses, Moreno adds.
Cranberry juice nutrition
Cranberry juice is definitely a crowd favorite for an easy cocktail or quick sugar boost, but it falls closer to the side of dried cranberries nutrition than that of fresh, Moreno says.
The juice goes through that same processing that pulls out a lot of the phytochemicals. However, juice may retain more vitamin C than the dried variety, and manufacturers often add back in what was lost during processing, she explains.
What Are the Health Benefits of Cranberries?
Generally researchers, including those from the University of the Aegean in Greece in a 2018 study analysis, agree that while the results are murky, taking cranberry supplements to help support urinary tract health is pretty safe.
Are Cranberries a Superfood?
It depends on who you ask. According to the actual dictionary, a superfood is anything rich in compounds that’s considered beneficial to a person’s health.
But most nutritionists and nutrition researchers, including Moreno, don’t adhere to the idea of superfoods: “All foods have nutritional merit,” Moreno says. “Berries in particular tend to be well-studied and famed for the health benefits that their vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals may confer unto humans, but that doesn’t mean that other fruits lack nutritional power,” she points out.
The Best Ways to Eat Cranberries
Based on all this, you should definitely consider cranberries to be part of a healthy diet — but more importantly, you should be eating a variety of fruit regularly.
The USDA recommends adults get at least one to two cups of fruit per day. Moreno also recommends making a list of all the fruits you enjoy, and then aiming to have a serving of each one at least every other week. “You can then access and enjoy the unique nutrition benefits of all fruits over a matter of time,” she adds.
For cranberries, keep your serving size to 1 cup fresh, or 1/4 cup dried and unsweetened, or 1 cup unsweetened juice.
Just remember, you mostly want to eat fresh cranberries, which retain all the plant’s chemical goodness. However, they should be cooked beforehand, since raw cranberries are actually very hard on your digestive system, Moreno points out.
Ideally, you just boil them down which helps soften the fruit to pass more easily through your GI tract. Though it’s an extra step, this actually opens the door for a ton of ways to eat the fruit. Moreno says some of the best ways to enjoy boiled cranberries are added into oatmeal, into a smoothie, or as a dressing or sauce.
Resist the temptation to add sugar, though. “We’re accustomed to cranberries being sweet since the most common ways we consume them — dried, juice, or canned sauce — are loaded with sugar,” Moreno says. “But they’re actually quite tart naturally, so it may take some time to get accustomed to their natural taste.”