Are Cranberries Good for You? Health Benefits and Nutrition Info

These bright red berries pack a nutritional punch while also increasing your antioxidant intake.

Published September 16, 2022
Home made cranberry sauce in jar

While cranberries aren't the most popular fruit in the produce section of the market, this tart berry packs plenty of nutritional power in a tiny package. Cranberries contain fiber and proanthocyanidins (PACs), a chemical compound that gives cranberries their bright red color. PACs are also associated with certain health benefits. For instance, eating cranberries may improve your body's ability to help fight certain infections and inflammation.

Including cranberries in your diet is a tasty way to get more fruit and boost nutrient intake. The 2020-2025 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that you consume two cups of fruit per day. The guidelines clearly recommend getting more whole fruit as often as possible. Eating whole or dried cranberries can help you reach that goal.

Health Benefits of Cranberries

There is substantial research investigating the potential health benefits of cranberries. But some of the research involves cranberry extract or cranberry juice, so it is unclear whether or not consuming whole cranberries can provide these benefits and if so, in what amount. So far, this is what we know about the potential impact of including cranberries or cranberry products in your diet.

Helps Increase Antioxidant Intake

Research on both American and European whole cranberries has shown the fruit is an important source of antioxidants. These antioxidant compounds can help prevent or reduce oxidative damage to your body's cells. Oxidative damage can occur when you are exposed to free radicals from sources such as cigarette smoke or air pollution.

While research on antixodants is ongoing, health experts believe that oxidative damage may play a role in a diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. Increasing your intake of anti-oxidant rich foods may help you to lower your risk for these conditions.

May Help Prevent UTIs

UTIs or urinary tract infections are one of the most common bacterial infections in women. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than half of women will have at least one UTI at some point in their lives. The painful condition can cause symptoms such as lower abdominal pain and a burning sensation when you urinate.

Cranberries have long been considered a prevention method for UTIs. There isn't conclusive research to help us know for sure if the fruit can provide this benefit, but there is some evidence to support its use.

The PACs in cranberries help prevent bacteria from sticking to cell walls, and this helps the body fight infections. While there isn't significant research linking whole cranberries to infection prevention, plenty of research supports the use of cranberry juice and cranberry supplements to help reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women.

May Support Gut Health

Emerging research shows that PACs in cranberries help maintain healthy gut bacteria, which can help the body manage inflammation, which is linked to certain chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Cranberries contain fiber which can help improve digestion and may help keep good bacteria in your gut.

Some evidence shows that the fiber and other healthful parts of cranberries have prebiotic effects on gut bacteria that may be important for helping the body manage inflammation in the intestinal tract. Fruit intake can increase the number and variety of gut bacteria, which is shown to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

May Help Prevent Cavities

Some studies have shown an association between cranberry extracts and better dental health. Specifically, research suggests that the polyphenols in the fruit may have the potential to help prevent dental caries, also known as tooth decay or cavities.

For this reason, the American Dental Association includes cranberries in their list of foods which might be able to prevent dental disease. They also include foods such as dairy products, apples, and tea. But the organization also notes that more research is needed to fully understand the link between these foods and better dental health.

Cranberry Nutrition Facts

Female Hand Placing Cranberries in a Bowl

Once cup of whole cranberries provides 46 calories, about 12 grams of carbohydrate, less than a half gram of protein, and 0.1 grams of fat. This serving size also provides 3.6 grams of fiber. Micronutrients in cranberries include vitamin C (14mg per cup or 15% of the recommended daily allowance) and smaller amounts of vitamin K, vitamin E, and manganese.

You can also compare nutrition facts for different types of cranberry products. Here is a look at the calories, fiber, and sugar content of fresh, frozen and dried cranberries and cranberry sauce based on nutrition data supplied by the USDA and various manufacturers.

Food Type Portion Calories Fiber Total Sugar
Fresh cranberries, whole 1/2 cup 23 1.8 grams 2.1 grams
Frozen cranberries, whole 1/2 cup 25 2 grams 2 grams
Dried cranberries, sweetened 1/4 cup 123 2.1 grams 29 grams
Dried cranberries, unsweetened 1/4 cup 35 3.5 grams 3 grams
Cranberry sauce, jellied, canned 1/4 cup 112 0.7 gram 23 grams
Cranberry sauce, whole berry, canned 1/4 cup 110 1 gram 23 grams

How to Buy and Store Cranberries

Although fresh cranberries are only in season from October through December, you can enjoy them year-round by choosing frozen, canned or dried cranberries. Keep mind, however, that many cranberry products contain more than just cranberries.

For instance, the cranberry sauce that you buy in many grocery stores around the country is often made with sweeteners such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Dried cranberries might also include sweetener. To know for sure what is in your favorite cranberry product, check the ingredients list on the product label.

If you buy fresh cranberries, store them in the refrigerator. According to the USDA fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for approximately two months. Keep them in the freezer for up to one year. Canned cranberry sauce is good for about two years if the can is unopened. But once you open the can it should be consumed within 1-2 weeks.

How to Use Unsweetened Cranberries

It may take your taste buds some time to adjust, but unsweetened cranberry products can be delicious on their own. A good way to get used to unsweetened cranberry products is to add them to other foods at first. Here are some suggestions:

  • Add fresh or frozen cranberries and a splash of orange juice to fruit and yogurt smoothies. The flavors work well together, and the orange juice adds some sweetness.
  • Chop fresh cranberries and toss with orange juice, a chopped apple and some chopped onion to make a tangy salsa.
  • Make a trail mix with unsweetened dried cranberries, your favorite nuts, and a few chocolate chips.
  • Toss chopped fresh cranberries or unsweetened dried cranberries with pasta, sauteed vegetables and a flavorful sauce such as pesto or a sweet vinaigrette dressing.

Cranberries can be a great way to get more fruit and nutrients in your day, and their benefits are undeniable. With so many different types of cranberries available, it can be easy to find one that suits your taste.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cranberries

Why do some cranberry products contain sugar?

Certain cranberry products are sweetened since they are naturally low in sugar and high in acidity. If you want to cut back on added sugar, choose unsweetened dried cranberries. You can also make cranberry sauce at home with less sugar.

Is canned cranberry sauce healthy?

To make a can of cranberry sauce, about 200 cranberries are used. The processing of cranberries into sauce can result in a range of healthful compounds depending on processing conditions, and cranberry sauce contains healthful PACs. Check with the manufacturer of your favorite product for the actual PAC content. If you are trying to limit added sugar, try halving the sugar in your favorite cranberry sauce recipe, see how it tastes, go as low as your taste buds will allow.

Is drinking cranberry juice just as healthy as consuming whole cranberries?

If you consume cranberries in juice form, you won't benefit from the fiber that is found in whole cranberries. Also, depending on the product, it may contain added sugar. Many cranberry juice products combine cranberry juice with other juices such as grape juice or apple juice to make the beverage sweeter. Whether or not the juice is healthy for you depends on your nutritional goals.

Are Cranberries Good for You? Health Benefits and Nutrition Info