It turns out these little red berries have more to offer than a tangy side for your Christmas lunch. Here, we discuss cranberry benefits and give you six good reasons to add them to your diet year-round.
You’ve probably heard rumours that cranberry juice can fast track your recovery from a urinary tract infection. But is it really the secret to good bladder health in women? And could cranberry tablets be a better way to get a dose of the berry’s antioxidant powers? Here, we discuss the myths, the science and some of best ways to add these berries into your routine.
Cranberries are small, round, red berries with a very sharp taste. Due to their sour flavour, you probably wouldn’t choose to eat them raw. So, you’re more likely to buy them dried or in juice form. The fruit is generally harvested from late autumn into winter. In the UK, the fresh berries appear in shops from October to December, just in time for making a cranberry sauce accompaniment for a festive turkey dinner.
In terms of their nutrient content, fresh cranberries are mainly made up of water. They contain very little protein or fat and only a small amount of carbohydrates from natural fruit sugars. But what they are abundant in is a variety of vitamins and minerals.1 They’re also a plentiful source of antioxidants.
The fresh berries are often eaten as an ingredient in recipes laden with an overly generous sprinkling of sugar. Not exactly a healthy option.
If you aren’t a fan of the naturally tart flavour of cranberries and also want to avoid adding too much sugar to your diet, how can you get your dose of this berry’s goodness? If this sounds like you, supplements are a great alternative.
Cranberry pills are a concentrated, natural source of cranberry extract. They’re made from berries that have been dried out, ground down, and bound in a tablet or capsule form. You’ll also find some supplements enhanced with other ingredients, such as vitamin C.
The best cranberry juice is made from fresh berries and is unsweetened. It has a bright, deep red tone and a tangy taste.
Getting your daily dose of cranberry nourishment can be more convenient when it’s in liquid form. Pure cranberry juice contains the same polyphenols, vitamins, and other active ingredients that are found in the fresh berries.
Although the benefits of cranberry juice are not to be sniffed at, it’s important to select your product carefully to avoid drinks made from concentrates and mixes that are loaded with sugar.
To maximise the cranberry benefits you get from a juice, take care to pick a product that’s made solely from the fruit. And by this we mean it’s free from added sugar or other juices, and also isn’t made from concentrate.
Wondering what’s the best way for you to get your cranberry hit? Here we put cranberry tablets and juice head-to-head.
What is cranberry juice good for and what do cranberry pills do? In simple terms, they’re a way to get a helpful dose of the nutrients that lead to the following cranberry benefits.
Regularly drinking pure cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements may contribute to the prevention of repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women.2,3
When you contract a UTI, bacteria invade and attach to the lining of the bladder. The proanthocyanins in cranberry products can interfere with bacteria’s ability to adhere to the bladder wall and urinary tract.4
Studies support the use of cranberry to prevent recurring UTIs.5,6 However, currently cranberry hasn’t been tested sufficiently as a UTI treatment. As a result, there isn’t compelling scientific evidence to support that juice or tablets could cure these infections.
In summary, cranberry juice or tablets could help to weaken the attachment of bacteria to the walls of your urinary tract which could prevent an infection. But it’s less likely they will help if you already have a UTI.
These antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress in the body.7 When your body produces unstable molecules, called free radicals, this can cause oxidative stress. This can contribute to ageing and lead to problems linked with some chronic diseases.8
Rich antioxidant content suggests cranberry products could prevent or slow down damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Individuals who regularly drink cranberry juice have lower instances of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and higher instances of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.9 LDL cholesterol has the potential to build up and clog arteries, so keeping it under control has benefits to heart health.
In brief, a regular intake of cranberry goodness could have a favourable effect on your cholesterol profile.
The polyphenols found in cranberries supports dental health by fending off harmful bacteria in the mouth, stopping them from binding to the teeth and gums.11 This protects teeth against bacteria responsible for accelerating tooth decay.
In fact, studies show that cranberry consumption is connected with less severe cold and flu symptoms.13
Overall, we all need a regular dose of vitamin C to keep our immune system in good working order and cranberry is a great source.
Cranberries are also rich in polyphenols. This beneficial micronutrient is responsible for the deep colour in plant-derived food like cranberries, turmeric, and sweet potato. Studies suggest that polyphenols can support weight loss by increasing metabolism.14
You may be wondering, “is it ok to take cranberry pills every day?” The vast majority of people experience no problems when taking cranberry tablets. However, there have been instances of people suffering from stomach aches, abdominal pain, and increased frequency of urination.15,16,17
People with a history of kidney stones might want to avoid cranberry tablets, as emerging science suggests cranberry tablets can increase the risk of more stones developing.18
Those on blood thinners should also avoid cranberry juice, as it may negatively impact the efficacy of the medication.19
There’s definitely reason to believe drinking cranberry juice or taking a supplement could help to prevent recurring urinary tract infections in women. However, it’s less likely that cranberry will help treat an existing infection.
UTIs aside, there are also a number of lesser-known cranberry benefits, including reducing tooth cavities, improving cholesterol profile and helping with weight management.
Whether you choose a cranberry pill or a juice is largely down to your personal preference. However, if you have any existing medical concerns, please talk to your doctor about whether it’s suitable for you and dosage.
Last updated: 11 March 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.