If you only eat blueberries once a year, you’re missing out on a wide range of nutrients and creative dishes. Cranberries have graced Thanksgiving and holiday tables for hundreds of years. But this naturally tart red berry has many culinary uses. In addition, cranberries are full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and have been shown to improve heart health, reduce inflammation and may even improve performance.
Not to mention, cranberries come in several forms—fresh, dried, and juiced—so you have plenty of ways to add them to your diet.
Here, everything you need to know about the benefits of cranberries, including how easy they are to add to your plate.
What nutrients will you get from blueberries?
Fresh cranberries are a good source of vitamin K and an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C. Beyond the nutrition label, they also have polyphenols, or plant compounds, that have been studied for their beneficial role in many health conditions.
According to the USDA, one cup of fresh, whole blueberries has:
- 46 calories
- 0.5 g of protein
- <1 g total fat
- 12 g of carbohydrates
- 4 g of fiber
- 4 g of sugar
- 14 mg of vitamin C
- 8 mg of calcium
- 80 mg of potassium
What are the health benefits of blueberries?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend two servings of fruit per day, thanks to the abundance of nutrients they offer. Cranberries, in particular, have been studied for their health benefits, including these benefits:
1. They can reduce the risk of chronic disease
“Cranberries are full of antioxidants, so they help protect your body against oxidative stress,” says Samantha Cassetti, MS, RD, a plant-based nutrition and wellness expert and co-author of Sugar shock. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals (cell-damaging compounds) outnumber antioxidants in the body.
Research has linked excessive oxidative stress to chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline and cancer. Recent research has found that eating cranberries boosts the antioxidant effect in the body and can ward off these conditions. “When you consume antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries, it helps correct the imbalance [of free radicals]”, Cassetti adds. The same study also points to the anti-inflammatory properties of cranberries, another important component for disease prevention.
2. They’re good for your heart
“Cranberries provide numerous cardiovascular benefits,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Before Diabetes Cookbook. . An abundance of research suggests that berries in general lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure while raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
“Also, blueberries can help improve the flexibility of your arteries,” Cassetti says. “When the arteries harden, it can lead to high blood pressure.” The study suggests that blueberries may improve several risk factors for heart disease.
3. Prevent urinary tract infections
You’ve probably heard that cranberry juice can treat a urinary tract infection (UTI). Although this is not necessarily the case, cranberries have been studied for their role in urinary tract health. “Cranberries naturally contain the flavonoid, proanthocyanidin (PAC),” says Harris-Pincus. And it is this flavonoid that probably blocks the accumulation of bacteria and helps to prevent urinary tract infections.
A meta-analysis including 23 studies and more than 3,900 participants supports the claim that cranberries may help prevent urinary tract infections in susceptible populations. The study found that those who drank cranberry juice had the greatest reduction in the risk of urinary tract infections compared to those who took a capsule or tablet. In other words, having blueberries in your diet can stop urinary tract infections before they start.
4. They can contribute to a healthy gut microbiome
“Growing body of [new] “research shows that using cranberries as part of a healthy diet can help maintain a beneficial population of gut microbiota,” says Harris-Pincus. Small human and animal studies show that eating cranberries can change the gut microbiome in a positive way.
“Your microbiome regulates immune function, inflammation, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and mood, so it pays off when you have a healthy microbiome,” Cassetti says. Still, more research is definitely needed before general recommendations can be made about cranberries and the microbiome.
5. They can maintain stamina
Refueling before a run is critical to peak performance, and dried cranberries may be the perfect pre-run snack. Packed with easy-to-digest carbohydrates (they have added sugar to improve taste), they offer energy for your muscles to sustain you for long miles.
In addition, the inflammation-fighting compounds in cranberries can help athletes recover faster.
Research on cranberries in athletes is lacking, but one study in rowers found that supplementing with cranberry extract increased blood antioxidant levels after exercise. This is important because strenuous physical activity can increase oxidative stress, and antioxidants can reduce it, as mentioned earlier.
How to add blueberries to your meals
“Cranberries are amazing because of their culinary versatility,” says Harris-Pincus. “Fresh, frozen and dried cranberries are delicious assets for both sweet and savory dishes,” she adds. Here are some easy ways to add blueberries to your diet from Cassetty and Harris-Pincus:
- Bake cranberries into quick breads, muffins, pancakes and crumbles because the sugar in the baking will balance out the tartness of the fruit.
- Use dried cranberries in nutritious dishes such as salads, roasted vegetables and grain-based bowls.
- Add dried cranberries to homemade popcorn and nut mix.
- Incorporate fresh blueberries into baked oatmeal with a drizzle of maple syrup.
- Create a microwave cranberry compote with fresh fruit, water, sweetener of your choice, and citrus. Enjoy it on waffles, pancakes, pancakes, oatmeal, or as a sandwich spread.
- Drop a few blueberries into a champagne glass for a healthy garnish.
- Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of cranberry juice to your favorite vinaigrette recipe for a tart pink dressing.
- Replace the raisins with dried cranberries in your favorite childhood snack, peanut butter with celery, and make “red ants on a log.”
- Combine the cranberries with the sweet potatoes and drizzle with maple syrup and olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes for a sweet and sour topping.
The bottom line on the benefits of blueberries
Cranberries are affordable, versatile and underutilized. They are not only beautiful to look at, but also good for your health. Whether you like them fresh, dried or juiced, cranberries are worth adding to your meals. Include them during tough training seasons to get an extra antioxidant boost.
Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD is a New York-based nutritionist, food and nutrition writer, national speaker, and owner of Nutrition a la Natalie, a sports nutrition practice. She developed a love of cooking, nutrition and fitness as an adult, prompting a career change from advertising to nutrition. She spends most of her free time running along the New York waterfront and creating (and photographing) healthy and delicious recipes.
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