Cranberry juice has been studied for decades for its many health benefits. Besides being rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, one of the most powerful nutrients in cranberries is a potent natural compound called proanthocyanidins (PACs), which gives the berry its distinctive red color. Dietary PACs, like those found in cranberries, are a polyphenol and are widely associated with a range of health benefits.
For instance, you might associate cranberry juice with the prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs). But that's just one of many benefits of the juice. Learn why this tart red juice might be a smart addition to your diet and how to choose the best cranberry juice for you.
5 Benefits of Drinking Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice can help you battle certain chronic infections such as UTIs and help reduce the overuse of antibiotics. Recent research even shows it may help the body manage inflammation by helping gut bacteria.
It should be noted that cranberry juice cocktail and 100% pure cranberry juice have been studied for these benefits. The juice mixtures with cranberry and other juices, such as cranberry-grape or cranberry-raspberry, contain some PACs, but check with the manufacturer of your favorite juice for approximate amounts.
May Help Prevent UTIs
Fifty to sixty percent of women experience UTIs, which can cause discomfort such as burning during urination, pain, and pressure. For some, UTIs return again and again, disrupting daily routines with time spent visiting the doctor and picking up prescriptions.
Cranberry juice and cranberry supplements can help reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs in women. Although the research is limited, in 2020 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allowed the use of a qualified health claim for cranberry juice that states:
"Consuming one serving (8 oz) each day of a cranberry juice beverage may help reduce the risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI) in healthy women. FDA has concluded that the scientific evidence supporting this claim is limited and inconsistent."
This wording may leave you wondering if cranberry juice is good for you. Keep in mind that inconsistent findings are common in science. In studies, findings are often examined again and again to help verify results.
May Reduce Other Infections
A study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggests that drinking cranberry juice may help reduce other types of infections. Study authors found that consuming 44 mg PACs twice per day in the morning and the evening for two weeks led to a 20% reduction in helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection rate.
It's important to manage this infection as it is is linked to 90% of duodenal ulcers, a sore on the lining of the first part of your intestines. If left untreated, this infection increases the risk of stomach cancer.
Helps Maintain Healthy Gut Bacteria
Recent evidence shows that PACs may help maintain a healthy population of gut bacteria. A small 2020 study funded by the cranberry industry found that drinking cranberry juice for 21 days increased healthy bacteria and decreased harmful bacteria in the colon.
Another 2022 study also funded by the cranberry industry found that drinking cranberry juice is linked to an increase in good bacteria, and a decrease in markers of inflammation in the body.
Helps Increase Antioxidant Intake
Cranberry juice supplies antioxidants which can help protect the body against cell damage leading to diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Pollution, poor diet and certain lifestyle habits such as smoking can increase cell damage in the body.
Cranberry juice is rich in vitamin C with 107 milligrams per one cup serving of cranberry juice cocktail. That's 125% of the amount required daily. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant which also supports immunity and helps the body use iron.
Might Reduce Overuse of Antibiotics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is a serious public health threat with over 2.5 million antibiotic-resistant infections occurring every year in the U.S. This means that the infections are not managed by taking antibiotics, the germs are not killed, and the infection can continue to grow.
The use of cranberry juice to prevent infections can help cut back on antibiotic use, which is one factor leading to antibiotic resistance. Preventing infections before they start can help avoid some of the problems that can occur with taking antibiotics to begin with such as side effects of rash, yeast infections, nausea and diarrhea.
Why Is Cranberry Juice Good for You?
The anti-adhesion, or non-stick, effects of PACs are the reason that cranberry juice can provide many of its health benefits. PACs protect the body by helping to keep dangerous bacteria from contacting tissues and blossoming into an infection.
Although there are other beneficial compounds in cranberry juice, here's how research proposes that PACs can help:
- UTIs - The cells lining the urinary tract work hard to fight UTIs, but bacteria that enter the urinary tract are persistent! Certain bacteria try to bind tightly to these cells, holding on so they can grow and cause an infection. Urination often flushes the bacteria out, but certain types hold on for dear life using claw-like structures. PACs battle bacteria by defending cells lining the urinary tract from contact with harmful bacteria.
- H. pylori - PACs are thought to provide the same non-stick effect keeping H. pylori from maintaining contact with stomach cells. It's possible that the juice also keeps bacteria from growing and causing an infection.
Cranberry Juice Recipes and Tips
There are many ways to fit cranberry juice into your routine. Here are some tasty ideas:
- Chocolate cranberry smoothie - In a blender combine ½ cup 100% pure cranberry juice, 1 cup each frozen strawberries and strawberry yogurt and 2 tablespoons chocolate chips.
- Cranberry cosmopolitan mocktail - Combine ½ cup each 100% pure cranberry juice and plain seltzer, add 2 tablespoons orange juice and a splash of lime juice.
- Cran-ginger refresher - Stir together 1 cup cranberry juice cocktail with a little shaved fresh ginger and the juice of one lemon.
While cranberry juice is tart, there are many ways to sweeten it up if you want to include the juice in your diet. For instance, some people add a bit of honey or another sweetener. Also, you can try mixing a bit of sparkling water into the juice to dilute it a bit and reduce the tartness.
And if you prefer not to drink cranberry juice, you can use it as the base of a marinade. For instance, come cooks combine it with ingredients such as honey, soy sauce, or garlic to boost the flavor of beef.
Cranberry Juice FAQs
Here are some common questions about cranberry juice and its potential benefits.
How much cranberry juice should I drink to gain health benefits?
Drink cranberry juice containing at least 36 mg PACs to provide protection against UTIs, and 44 mg PACs twice daily at morning and night to protect against H. pylori. Check with the manufacturer of your favorite juice for approximate PAC amounts and nutrition facts. Here are portions of cranberry juice and the approximate PAC content:
- Cranberry juice cocktail - 1 cup (8 fluid oz) of juice provides about 80 mg PACs and has 137 calories, 0 grams protein, 0.3 grams fat, 34 grams carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 30 grams sugar.
- 100% pure cranberry juice - One half cup (4 fluid oz) supplies about 44 mg PACs and has 35 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 3.5 grams sugar. Since unsweetened cranberry juice can be tart, feel free to add it to another juice or seltzer.
Can I just eat cranberries for health benefits?
Whole and dried cranberries contain fiber and other healthful compounds that help the body. On the other hand, because cranberry juice is a liquid, PACs from the cranberries may be dispersed more effectively in the body's tissues.
There are a few studies showing that eating dried cranberries provides protection against UTIs. One review of the research on cranberry juice suggests that drinking the juice helps with hydration, or it's possible that there is something else about the juice form of PACs that offers protection.
Can I take a cranberry supplement instead?
You can take a cranberry supplement to get PACs but be sure to discuss anything that you take with your doctor, especially if you take prescription medications. To be sure about PAC content, it's important to see if the supplement is independently tested for content and purity. This testing is not an indication that the product is safe for you, but it is one way to be sure the product contains what is stated on the label.
Can you have an allergic reaction to cranberries or cranberry juice?
Some people complain of itching, nausea and/or vomiting after having cranberry products, and these people should avoid cranberry products altogether and see an allergist. If you have are allergic to cranberries, skip them. Also, if you have allergies to other fruits, be sure to check the label of the product you buy as some manufacturers combine cranberry juice with other juices to enhance the flavor.
Are there any other adverse effects to consuming cranberry juice?
Some people have digestive upset from sugary drinks. In this case, 100% pure cranberry juice, which contains no added sugar, can be used in place of cranberry juice cocktail.