Why You Should Eat an Extra Helping of Cranberries on Thanksgiving

| Nov 23, 2017


Chances are you’ve had your fair share of cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving. While this popular dish is appreciated for the sweet and tart addition it makes, it’s not usually regarded as a health food—but studies on cranberries reveal that we’d do well with eat more of these tart little treats.

We’ve written in the past about the virtues of antioxidant-rich berries: they scavenge free radicals, support the body’s immune and detoxification systems, and even fight cancer. Foods like goji berries have been continuously used and revered as a health and longevity tonic for thousands of years.

It should come as no surprise, then, that cranberries live up to their cousins’ healing capacities. They’re brimming with beneficial nutrients, and research has proven their worth as a powerful functional food. Let’s take a look at a few of the therapeutic applications that will keep you reaching for more of these super-berries.

Antioxidant support. We’ve written before about the importance of eating an antioxidant-rich diet, especially in today’s world of ever-present environmental toxins and stressors. Antioxidants help your body protect itself against the ravages of oxidative stress—and cranberries are positively packed with them. In fact, they have five times the antioxidant capacity of broccoli, and outrank most other fruits and vegetables too.

Studies have shown that three servings of cranberry juice per day can increase blood levels of antioxidants by up to 121%. High blood levels of antioxidants decrease the risk of myriad diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more.[1] And cranberries treat as well as prevent disease—mounting evidence demonstrates that they’re effective at fighting cancer,[2] lowering cholesterol, and healing the heart.[3]

Urinary tract infections. If you’ve heard of one acute therapeutic application of cranberries, this is probably it (perhaps you’ve even tried cranberry juice as a natural remedy for UTIs). The hype is real: studies have conclusively shown that compounds in cranberries called proanthocyanidins aid in the treatment of UTIs and help maintain general urinary tract health.

We still have a lot to learn about these phytochemicals, but we do know that they exhibit “bacterial antiadhesion activity.”[4] This means they help clear the urinary tract of harmful bacteria (such as E. coli, which is usually the culprit behind urinary tract infections).     

Digestive support. The anti-bacterial benefits of proanthocyanidins extend to the entire digestive tract, as well. Further research has demonstrated that daily servings of cranberry juice inhibits growth and adhesion of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori in the digestive tract.[5]

This nasty bacteria can cause chronic inflammation and ulcers, damage the stomach, and even increase the risk of gastric cancer—it’s also notoriously difficult to combat, so cranberries are a godsend in this regard.[6]

Kidney support. Cranberry juice has also been shown to support kidney health, specifically by increasing the excretion of oxalic acid in urine, and thus decreasing the risk of kidney stone formation.[7] Cranberries perform a sort of pH-balancing magic trick: they have an alkalizing effect on the body, yet simultaneously increase the acidity of urine because of their quinic acid content (a compound that is excreted wholly unmetabolized by the body).

This acidity breaks down calcium in the kidneys and prevent stone formation, while preserving a healthy pH throughout the rest of the body.

Treatment for viral infections. Cranberries even have the power to take on viral infections, which are generally immune to antibiotics and notoriously difficult to combat. Researchers have found that when the viral species E. coli and rotavirus SA-11 (which tends to reside in the gut) are exposed to 20% undiluted, unsweetened cranberry juice, they are completely neutralized.[8]

Another study even demonstrated that cranberry juice can fight the flu by decreasing the “adhesion and infectivity” of the virus.[9] The peak of flu season doesn’t begin until December, so keep including cranberries and cranberry juice in your diet even after Thanksgiving!

How to get the most healing out of cranberries

It’s not too tricky to enjoy the many health benefits of cranberries, but there are a couple simple principles that you should follow.

First and foremost, always buy organic cranberries. While organic produce is always better than conventional, it’s especially important to buy organic when it comes to berries, as their porous, water-rich nature makes them more susceptible to absorbing pesticides and other toxic agro-chemicals.

Never buy sweetened cranberry juice (especially not Ocean Spray and similar products, which are packed to the gills with sugar and made with conventionally grown cranberries). If you need to sweeten cranberry juice or a cranberry dish, try stevia or coconut sugar instead.

Cranberry sauce is the obvious dish to choose this Thanksgiving week, but once the holiday passes, make an effort to keep cranberries integrated into your diet…they’re worth eating all year round!

Throw them in smoothies and salads, use them to make salad dressings and sauces, or just eat them raw with nuts as a delicious and healthful snack. As evidenced by the studies cited above, cranberry juice is also a healthy choice, as long as it’s at least 20% undiluted and completely unsweetened.



[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12517117

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12358448

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12058989

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12058985

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12058986

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952980/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12373623

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17140784

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15781126

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