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Cranberries nutrition facts

Unique, wild and natural by habitat, cranberries are rich in phyto-nutrients (naturally derived plant compounds), particularly proanthocyanidin antioxidants, which are essential for all-round wellness. The berries are indeed containing numerous health benefiting chemical substances that may offer protection from tooth cavities, urinary tract infection, and inflammatory diseases.

The plant can be described as an evergreen, dwarf, creeping shrub or a low-lying trailing vine, belonging to the family of Ericaceae, in the genus: Vaccinium, and subgenus: Oxycoccos. Scientific name: Vaccinium macrocarpon.



cranberries red cranberries
High bush cranberry bunch.
Photo: designatednaphour
Cranberries.
Photo: bcmom

In its natural habitat, the cranberry plant grows vigorously in acidic sandy bogs, all across the temperate and cooler parts of Europe, Northern states in the United States and Canada. The plant is actually a dwarf, creeping shrub, or vine, which runs upto 10 to 20 cm in height and features slender, wiry, not so thick, woody stems bearing small, evergreen leaves.

Cranberry season generally lasts from October until December. The fruit is small, round, red color berry. Each berry features four centrally situated tiny seeds enclosed inside capsules. The berry is very acidic in taste, having pH in the range of 2.3 to 2.5.


Health benefits of Cranberries

  • Delicious, tart cranberries hold significantly high amounts of phenolic flavonoid phytochemicals called pro-anthocyanidins (PAC’s). Scientific studies have shown that consumption of berries have potential health benefits against cancer, aging and neurological diseases, inflammation, diabetes, and bacterial infections.

  • Antioxidant compounds such as oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC’s), anthocyanidin flavonoids, cyanidin, peonidin and quercetin in cranberries may offer protection against cardiovascular disease by counteracting against cholesterol plaque formation in the heart and blood vessels. Further, these compounds help the human body lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL-good cholesterol levels in the blood.

  • Research studies suggest that drinking cranberry juice can protect against gram-negative bacterial infections such as E.coli in the urinary system by inhibiting bacterial-attachment to the bladder and urethral mucosa.

  • Consumption of cranberries turns urine acidic. Together with inhibition of bacterial adhesion actions (proteus bacterial-infections), cranberry juice can help prevent the formation of alkaline (calcium-ammonium- phosphate) stones inside the urinary tract.

  • Further, the berries prevent plaque formation on the tooth enamel by interfering with the ability of another gram-negative bacterium, Streptococcus mutans to stick to tooth surface. It thus, helps prevent development of cavities.

  • In addition, the berries are also good source of many vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate and phenolics like ß-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, and minerals like potassium, and manganese.

  • Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC (measurement of antioxidant strength of food items) demonstrates cranberry at an ORAC score of 9584 µmol TE units per 100 g, one of the highest among edible berries.



Selection and storage

Fresh cranberries can be available from October until December. In the stores, choose berries that are bright red, plump, free from wrinkles with intact skin, firm to touch, without any cuts or cracks. Antioxidant pigments are largely concentrated in berries that feature deep red skin. Discard any wet, mottled berries as they tend to spread the mold to rest of the stock.

While fresh, as well as dry berries carry good level of antioxidants, bottled cranberry drinks and cranberry cocktails with added sugars may actually devoid of them.

Fresh berries can be stored inside the refrigerator for several days. Sort out any discolored, soft, shriveled or sticky fruits before storing. They have a very short shelf life if kept at room temperature.


Preparation and serving method

cranberry nut bread
Cranberry, nut bread.
Photo: joebeone

In their natural habitat, cranberries picked up by hand can be consumed directly. While purchasing from the stores, choose bright, uniform, and berries. Wash them in cold water just prior to use to keep their texture intact.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Raw, fresh, or dried cranberry can be eaten all alone as snacks.

  • Tart berries can be a great addition to vegetable as well fruit salads.

  • The berries can be employed in sorbets and fruit cocktails.

  • They can be used in the preparation of muffins, pie-fillings, breads, and ice creams.

  • The berries are being used in the food industry in preparation of sauce, jam, and jelly.

  • Cranberry sauce is being used in traditional poultry dish.


Safety profile

Cranberries contain oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some fruits and vegetables (spinach, kale...), which may crystallize into oxalate-stones in the urinary tract in some individuals. For the same reason, people with known history of oxalate urinary tract stones may not eat too much of these berries and, especially vegetables belonging within the Brassica family. Adequate intake of water is, therefore, advised to maintain normal urine output.

Oxalic acids also interfere with the absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium causing their deficiency.

Research studies have shown that cranberry juice potentiates the anticoagulant effect of warfarin. Some patients on warfarin therapy exhibited excessive bleeding in the organ system after they began to drink cranberry juice. It is therefore, patients using warfarin should be advised to avoid its juice.

(Medical disclaimer: The information and reference guides on this website are intended solely for the general information for the reader. It is not to be used to diagnose health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any advice on medications.)



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Further Resources:

1. The cranberry institute- About cranberries.(Link opens in new window)

2. USDA National Nutrient data base.

3. Food and lifestyle interactions with Warfarin.


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