For us in Australia, our traditions with cranberries aren’t as strong as our European or U.S. friends. Cranberries love to grow in cooler parts of the Northern Hemisphere and may explain why Australia doesn’t have the rich history of cultivating them, we’re a bit too warm.
Cranberries are an evergreen shrub and part of the Oxycoccus family and have many subspecies which we know as common cranberries. These include Vaccinium oxycoccos (UK), vaccinium macrocarpon (U.S.). They have dark pink flowers that stretch skyward. The cranberry was originally termed ‘craneberry’ in the mid-1600’s by German colonists. This was due to the shape of the stem and petals, resembling a crane. The berry itself starts out green and turns deep red when ripe. Cranberries are very tart when eaten raw, and are commonly enjoyed in cakes and bakes, in savoury sauces, stewed with sugar or dried to enhance their sweetness.
So maybe it’s time to give cranberries some air-time and enjoy them alongside all our other favourite berries. After all, cranberries have much of the same health benefits as any other berry. Loaded with vitamin C, supporting heart health and as a natural antioxidant, the research shows we should be giving cranberries a good go.
Nutrients in Cranberries
- Vitamin C
- B Vitamins
- Polyphenols - anthocyanidins, flavonols, quercetin, ellagic acid, cinnamic acid
Polyphenol Power of Cranberries
The various bioactive compounds in cranberries have a range of health benefits. Researchers have been interested in the effects of ascorbic acid, anthocyanins, procyanidins and flavonols on the cardiovascular system, urinary tract and cancer cells. Growing evidence supports cranberries in maintaining digestive health as well. Cranberry juice has been shown to inhibit Helicobacter pylori infection in the stomach, improves microbiome diversity, as well as provides anti-inflammatory activities in the digestive system.
Dried cranberries appear to retain much of their polyphenol protective qualities in comparison to fresh cranberries. As long as they’re naturally dried with minimal processing, they should also retain some vitamin C, which is often degraded in the presence of intense light and heat. Good news as this means we can enjoy the health benefits of cranberries all year round.
Cranberries & Urinary Tract Health
Probably the most famous clinical application of cranberry products in health science would be its use in the prevention and management of urinary tract infections.
But do cranberries really work to protect the urinary tract?
Dozens of products exist, in powders, capsules, extracts, fruit juice and dried cranberry products with this health claim. The main mechanism of action is from the proanthocyanidins from cranberries, which prevent E. coli bacteria from adhering to the epithelial cells in the urinary tract. Some other research also supports pH changes from drinking cranberry juice, which make it unfavourable for an infection to develop.
But overall, the research appeared to be conflicting. A Cochrane review from 2012 concluded that cranberries could not be recommended for the treatment or prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs). This large-scale review revealed cranberries are less effective than publicly touted. There appeared to be no statistically significant differences between cranberry products and antibiotics in preventing UTIs.
However a more recent systematic review and meta analysis from 2017 aimed to further clarify the association between cranberry intake and UTIs. This robust summary outlines several clinical trials and various studies, which clearly slow the health potential of cranberries for UTIs. In particular, those with a propensity toward urinary infections or have chronic recurring issues are more likely to benefit from the bioactive and protective components of cranberries, which also reduces the need for antibiotic administration and the sequelae of other medical interventions.
Cranberries and Heart Health
Another interesting paper was a recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2020. This report established the efficacy of cranberry supplementation on cardiovascular disease and metabolic outcomes. A series of randomised controlled trials investigating the effects of cranberry products were gathered. The results showed that cranberry administration significantly reduced blood pressure and body mass index. The cinnamic acid and flavonoids found in cranberries may also protect against cholesterol oxidation. Other benefits were an increase in HDL cholesterol, which is known to be protective and beneficial to a healthy cardiovascular system. Cranberries are a conclusive supportive functional food for metabolic health.
Cranberry & Pistachio Shortbread
Festive and fun, these sweet biscuits are a lovely treat for yourself or to give as a gift. Make ahead and freeze the dough, or bake them right away.
175g butter , softened
85g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
225g plain flour
75g dried cranberries
Mix the butter, sugar and vanilla extract with a wooden spoon.
Mix in the flour, then gently fold in the pistachios and cranberries
Halve the dough and shape each half into a log about 5cm across.
Wrap in cling film, then chill for 1hr or freeze for up to 3 months.
Heat oven to 180C and slice the logs into 1cm-thick rounds.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 12-15 mins. Cool completely on the tray before serving. Enjoy!
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