Superfood Spotlight: Cranberries

They may be sour, but cranberries make sweet in the myriad of potential health benefits they may provide our bodies. At a glance, cranberries comprise nearly 90 percent water, with the remaining 10 percent consisting primarily of carbohydrates and fiber;1 perhaps unsurprisingly (due to their sharp taste), the sugar content is naturally very low for this berry.2 Beyond their simple composition, these vibrant red berries contain numerous vitamins, minerals, bioactives, and antioxidants that may benefit our bodies in many ways, and, as a result, have earned the trendy (though nonscientific) term “superfood.”2


Starting with the exterior, the skin of cranberries contains a number of bioactive plant compounds, such as the flavanol polyphenols, which have been reported to be associated with cancer prevention, improvement of visual and neurological health, staving off cell and tissue damage, and hindering bacterial growth.3,4 The compounds found in the skin of cranberries, specifically A-type proanthocyanidins, have been shown to have antimicrobial properties that prevent Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from adhering to the lining of the stomach, which may reduce the risk of stomach ulcers, inflammation, and cancer;4 A-type proanthocyanidins have also been shown to prevent Escherichia coli (E. coli) from sticking to the sides of the urethra and bladder, which may reduce the risk of bladder infection.3–5 Because most of the bioactive compounds found in cranberries are in their skin, it is thought that consuming fresh cranberries (skin and all), as opposed to cranberry juice, may confer greater health benefits; the process of juicing reduces the nutritional density of the berries.6

The flesh of the cranberries contains several vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, a nutrient that aids in the formation of bone collagen, muscle tissue, cartilage, and blood vessels, and protects cells throughout the body from the free radicals that lead to inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions.7,8 Cranberries also contain manganese, a trace element that is integral for bone development and maintenance. Manganese impacts a significant antioxidant enzyme known as superoxide dismutase; this type of antioxidant permutes superoxide (a hazardous free radical) into smaller molecules that can no longer harm

the cells of the body.9 Cranberries also contain vitamin E, which has been shown to reduce rates of age-related diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,10 and vitamin K1, a fat-soluble nutrient that modulates cellular functions and provides the proteins necessary for blood clotting.11,12 Additionally, cranberries contain copper, an essential nutrient that cofactors enzymes (known as cuproenzymes) that impact the production of energy, how iron is metabolized, and the compounding of connective tissue throughout the body and neurotransmitters. The cuproenzymes in copper are also responsible for many physiologic functions, such as brain development, gene expression modulation, and function of the immune system.13

Several studies have indicated that cranberries and their antioxidants positively impact the health of those who consume them. Outcomes, such as lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and blood pressure, decreasing blood vessel inflammation and firmness (specifically in patients with heart disease), and increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, have been experienced in those who regularly consumed cranberries and/or cranberry products into their diet.14–16


To add more cranberries into your diet, try topping your oatmeal, salad, granola, or yogurt with fresh cranberries, whole or sliced, or blend them into a smoothie. Even just grabbing a handful of the raw berries between meals makes a tasty snack. If their bitter taste is too much, try consuming them with something sweet (e.g., yogurt, cereal, smoothies).

While not as nutrient-dense as raw cranberries, 100% unsweetened cranberry juice that isn’t from concentrate is a good source of vitamins C, E, K1, and B6, as well as copper, and an excellent source of antioxidants, but the juice form has no fiber. If you opt for a sweetened juice, choose carefully because most sweetened brands are loaded with added sugar to counteract the bitter taste. Look for a brand that lists cranberry as the first ingredient, is 100% juice, and is sweetened naturally (e.g., with other fruit juices).17

Dried cranberries are also a popular and tasty cranberry product. While the drying process more or less destroys
the water-soluble vitamins found in raw cranberries (e.g., vitamin C) and significantly diminishes most of the other vitamins and minerals present in the raw berry, they aren’t completely devoid of nutrients. A serving of dried cranberries (about 1/4 cup) contains 2g of protein (~8% RDA) and .08g of vitamin E (~6% RDA).18,19 Dried cranberries also still contain some of the antioxidant properties the raw fruit offers. Like cranberry juice, however, most store- bought varieties are loaded with added sugar (4.3g raw vs 29g dried), so shop carefully and read the labels for added sugars. There are unsweetened varieties available in most grocery stores.

Cranberry supplements might be a viable options as well, though the research results on their effectiveness is conflicting. Be sure to discuss cranberry supplements with your physician or a nutritionist before taking them, to determine if they are right for you.

Note: Regardless of how you incorporate cranberries into your diet, be mindful of how much you consume. Consuming too many cranberries can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. In high amounts, the calcium oxalate in cranberries increases the risk of kidney stones in some individuals.20


Did you know that cranberries are also a melatonin-rich food? Eating approximately one-third cup of fresh cranberries a few hours before bed has been proven to be just as effective as taking melatonin supplement. (SOURCE: Gregor M. How to treat jet lag with melatonin-rich food. 3 Sept 2018. how-to-treat-jet-lag-with-melatonin- rich-food/. Accessed 21 Nov 2020.)


  1. Arnarson A. Cranberries 101: nutrition facts and health benefits. Updated 15 Feb 2019. Healthline site. cranberries#nutrition. Accessed 30 Dec 2020.
  2. Blumberg JB, Camesano TA, Cassidy A, et al. Cranberries and their bioactive constituents in human health. Adv Nutr. 2013;4(6):618–632.
  3. Pappas E, Schaich KM. Phytochemicals
    of cranberries and cranberry products: characterization, potential health effects, and processing stability. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009 Oct;49(9):741–781.
  4. Khoo HE, Azlan A, Tang ST, Lim SM. Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as
    food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food Nutr Res. 2017;61(1):1361779.
  5. Matsushima M, Suzuki T, Masui A, Kasai K, et al. Growth inhibitory action of cranberry on Helicobacter pylori. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008;23(Suppl2):S175–180.
  6. Grace MH, Massey AR, Mbeunkui F, et al. Comparison of health-relevant flavonoids in commonly consumed cranberry products. J Food Sci. 2012 ;77(8):H176–183.
  7. Mayo Clinic Staff. Vitamin C. Updated 17 Nov 2020. Accessed 21 Nov 2020.

  8. National Institutes of Health site. Vitamin C. Updated 27 Feb  2020. Accessed 21 Nov 2020. 

  9. Holley AK, Bakthavatchalu V, Velez-Roman JM, St Clair DK. Manganese superoxide dismutase: guardian of the powerhouse. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(10):

  10. Rizvi S, Raza ST, Ahmed F, et al. The role of vitamin e in human health and some diseases. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2014;14(2):e157–e165.

  11. Gundberg CM, Lian JB, Booth SL. Vitamin K-dependent carboxylation of osteocalcin: friend or foe? Adv Nutr. 2012;3(2):149–157. 

  12. Vermeer C.  Vitamin K: The effect on health beyond coagulation—an overview. Food Nutr Res. 2012;56:10.3402/fnr.v56i0.5329. 

  13. National Institutes of Health site. Copper. Updated 3 Jun 2020. Accessed 21 Nov 2020. 

  14. van den Driessche JJ, Plat J, Mensink RP. Effects of superfoods on risk factors of metabolic syndrome: a systematic review of human intervention trials. Food Funct. 2018;9(4):1944–1966.

  15. Blumberg JB, Basu A, Krueger CG, et al. Impact of cranberries on gut microbiota and cardiometabolic health: proceedings of the cranberry health research conference 2015. Adv Nutr. 2016 Jul 15;7(4):759S–870S.

  16. Zhao S, Liu H, Gu L. American cranberries and health benefits – an evolving story of 25 years. J Sci Food Agric. 2020 Nov;100(14): 5111–5116.

  17. Anarson A. Get the Facts: The Health Benefits of Cranberry Juice. Last updated 10 Sep 2019. Accessed 30 Dec 2020. 

  18. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) site. Agricultural research service. Cranberries, dried, sweetened. Released April 2018. Accessed 30 Dec 2020.

  19. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) site. Agricultural research service. Cranberries, raw. Released April 2018. Accessed 30 Dec 2020.

  20. Science Daily site. Holiday fruit ranks number one In antioxidants. 8 Nov 2001. Accessed 30 Dec 2020. 

  21. Mitchell T, Kumar P, Reddy T,  et al. Dietary oxalate and kidney stone formation. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2019 Mar 1;316(3):F409–F413.

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