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Are Cranberries Healthy? 6 Surprising Benefits

Packed with antioxidants, this fruit can help keep your teeth, heart, and gut healthy.

You may only think of eating cranberries around Thanksgiving, but this fruit can add some zing (and plenty of health benefits) year-round. Cranberries, which are primarily carbs and fiber, contain about 90% water. They also contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, E, K, and manganese.

What Are Cranberries?

Cranberries are small, hard, round, red fruits with a flavor that many describe as both bitter and sour. They grow on vines in freshwater bogs, mostly in the northern United States and southern Canada. They’re related to blueberries and wintergreen. The North American variety (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is one of the only commercial fruits native to North America. Native Americans first used them for food, fabric dye, and medicine. Sailors used to eat them to prevent scurvy while at sea. Today, they grow on about 40,000 acres in the U.S. each year.

Health Benefits of Cranberries

For a good reason, people call cranberries a superfood: They have all kinds of health-boosting benefits.

They’re high in antioxidants. A study found that out of 20 common fruits, cranberries have the highest level of phenols, a type of antioxidant. (Red grapes were a distant second.) They’re also high in anthocyanins. These are the compounds that give cranberries their dark red color. Studies have shown that they may have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. They may also:

  • Protect against liver disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve eyesight
  • Improve cardiovascular health

They help with urinary tract health. Studies have shown that cranberries can help lessen the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI) in certain people. This includes children or women who get them often. Your doctor may suggest that you take them as supplements or drink the juice from time to time. But this won’t cure a UTI after it starts. If you think you have one, talk to your doctor about a better treatment.

Cranberries may help with gut health. Studies have shown that they can improve gut bacteria in people who eat an animal-based diet. In other words, if you eat a lot of meat, dairy, and sugar, cranberries can help put good bacteria back into your digestive system. They also reduce bile acids in the gut that have a link to colon and gastrointestinal cancers.

They keep your mouth healthy. Just like in your digestive system, cranberries help control harmful acids in your mouth. They lessen the amount of acid you make and keep it from sticking to your teeth. This helps stop cavities, gum disease, tooth decay, and even oral cancer. Cranberries also have compounds called proanthocyanidins, which could lower your chance of getting cancer, but more research is needed.

Cranberry side effects

Most people can eat or drink cranberries with no issue. But cranberries can be a risk factor for those with kidney stones. Kidney stones are commonly made of calcium oxalate. Cranberries contain high levels of oxalate. Also, those who take blood thinners should limit their consumption of cranberries due to their amount of vitamin K, which can interfere with the medication. You should talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about whether or not it’s safe for you to consume cranberry products if you are at risk for kidney stones or on blood thinners.

If you’re considering adding cranberries to your diet, Tomah Health’s Registered Dieticians suggest buying fresh cranberries when they’re in season, typically September through October. You can freeze them and keep them on hand for recipes like smoothies, sauces, or salad dressings. Living in the Midwest, especially in Tomah, gives the community the advantage of having fresh cranberries available instead of buying them at the store.

Are cranberries healthy?

It’s a tricky question to answer, as in their raw state, they can be healthy. But if you get your cranberry fix through juice or dried cranberries, be aware that plenty of added sugar is used in both forms. Generally, one serving of dried cranberries has around 25 grams of added sugar, which is the recommended daily sugar consumption per the American Heart Association. Sugar is added to many cranberry desserts or fixings because it offsets the tart flavor of cranberries. That added sweetness makes the food more palatable. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid cranberry juice or dried cranberries. You need to be smart about your sugar intake and pair cranberries with less sugar-rich foods.

For example, you can make trail mix at home using lightly salted roasted nuts and dried cranberries instead of the candy pieces you typically find in store-bought trail mix. Pair plain yogurt or oatmeal with dried cranberries instead of honey for a sweet treat. Registered Dieticians suggest looking for unsweetened dried cranberries but say they are hard to come by. You may find them at a health food store or online.

Regarding juice, most options are a “juice cocktail” that combines cranberry juice with apple juice to make it sweeter. When consuming it in that form, know you’re not getting 100% cranberry juice, and watch how much fluid you drink. The daily recommendation is, at most, 4 to 8 ounces of juice daily. One tip that many cranberry lovers swear by in terms of cranberry beverages is to dilute the juice with sparkling water or plain water to add a touch of sweetness to your drink and make it more balanced!

How to Prepare and Eat Cranberries

Many people get their cranberry fix with juice. Although it keeps the vitamin C and potassium, it loses other nutrients from the whole fruit, such as fiber, iron, and calcium. Cranberry juice cocktail is also high in added sugar to balance the “pucker factor.”  Raw cranberries take about 16 months to mature fully and are harvested in early fall. You can store them in the freezer for 6 to 12 months. There are many ways to add whole fruit to your diet, and you don’t need to wait for the holidays.

Eat them raw. You can munch on them whole like blueberries, toss them into a salad, add them to oatmeal, or blend them into a smoothie. If they’re too tart for you, you can chop them and toss them with a bit of sugar or agave syrup. Turn them into jelly or sauce. It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce on the table. But this tangy condiment is good all year long. Spread some jelly or sauce on toast, biscuits, pancakes, or even an everyday turkey sandwich.

Works Cited

Arnarson, Atli. “Cranberries 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits.” Healthline, 15 Feb. 2019,

“Cranberries: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks.”, 1 Nov. 2019,

“Ocean Spray Nutrition and Health.”, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.

Tomah Health