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9 Reasons to Eat More Cranberries This Fall

Americans consume nearly 400 million pounds of cranberries each year, 20 percent of those during the week of Thanksgiving alone. Packed with nutrients and surprising health benefits, they’re definitely more than a side dish.

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You’ll take less antibiotics

It’s no secret that cranberries are good for preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and consuming them on a regular basis could cut back on your need for antibiotics thanks to one powerful antioxidant. All berries contain antioxidant compounds call polyphenols. Cranberries in particular contain a unique type of polyphenol called proanthocyanidins (PACS); studies have shown that PACS help keep the urinary tract free from a bacteria known for getting stuck in places like your bladder walls or stomach lining and wreaking uncomfortable havoc.  A study by Ocean Spray researchers found that women who consumed a glass of 27 percent cranberry juice every day for six months reduced the number of UTIs they got by 40 percent compared to those who drank a placebo “UTIs are the second most common infection that leads to antibiotic use, and antibiotic resistance is a major health issue right now,”says Christina Khoo, director of research sciences at Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. “We think that cranberry is the nutritional approach to maintaining your urinary tract health.” (Related: Here are other times you should say no to antibiotics.)

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You can reduce inflammation

Cranberries are nature’s anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is the cause of many health conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease. But drinking two 8 oz. glasses of high polyphenol cranberry juice a day could help fight this disease-causing inflammation. The polyphenols interact with other bioactive cranberry compounds to suppress the cells that stimulate inflammation in our bodies and give our immune systems an extra boost. Dietitians recommend foregoing the high sugar cranberry juice blends for an unsweetened or low sugar juice option. Check out this list of other foods that fight inflammation.

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You could prevent cancer

Cranberries are packed with dietary fiber, which may help lower your risk of developing bowel cancer. Dietary fiber creates bulk in your stomach to swiftly move waste through your colon and helps produce butyrate, a substance that inhibits the growth of tumors in your colon and rectum. (Related: Here’s what doctors do to avoid cancer.) One cup of fresh cranberries provides nearly 20 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber, and are a great source of vitamin C and flavonoids, which help prevent cancer-causing carcinogens from forming in the body.

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You can control diabetes

Cranberries are a diabetic’s dream. The berry’s high level of PACS may help keep glucose levels balanced. One study showed that drinking unsweetened cranberry juice or eating dried cranberries helps people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. But don’t reach for cranberry supplements, which had no effect on glucose regulation. “Cranberry supplements vary widely in their quality and efficacy,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Many supplements contain too little of the active compounds found in cranberries to be useful.” (Related: These healthy carbs can help control your blood sugar.)

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You’ll have a happy tummy

The same bacteria that sticks to your bladder walls can also latch on to your stomach lining and cause ulcers, or worse, gastric cancer. (Related: Here are different kinds of stomach pains and what they mean.) Preliminary research shows that cranberry polyphenols may protect your stomach from ulcers, and a Canadian study found they changed the gut microbiome of mice for the better.  Scientists fed mice on a high-fat, high-sugar diet a cranberry extract for eight weeks; not only did the extract lower their glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, but the amount of good bacteria increased in their stomachs.  This healthy gut bacteria could potentially help diabetics metabolize glucose better. Scientists hope to explore this link in humans in the future.

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You’ll keep your mind sharp

Keep your mind in tip-top shape with a helping of cranberries. Cranberries contain two nutrients that play a vital role in protecting your brain from memory loss. Antioxidants neutralize harmful free radicals that can damage DNA and cause inflammation in the brain, increasing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Vitamin C aids in the production of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that promotes communication between brain cells and improves movement control and function. “It’s best to eat fresh or dried cranberries [versus juices, cranberry drinks, or canned cranberry sauce] in order to get the most benefit with the least amount of added sugar,” says Rumsey. Try sprinkling dried cranberries on oatmeal or salad for a brain-boosting meal.

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You’ll have fewer wrinkles

PACs and anthocyanins give cranberries their bright red color, but these antioxidants also promote collagen production, which helps keep your skin tight and gives it that youthful glow. They also protect against inflammation-causing free radicals, which can harm your skin. (Related: Try these other foods to fight wrinkles.)

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You’ll have a healthier smile

As if cranberry’s antioxidants didn’t work hard enough, they also reduce dental plaque and help prevent gum disease. The PACs have an anti-inflammatory effect that stops periodontal pathogens and bacteria from forming, which keeps your gums and teeth healthy. “Cranberries are thought to prevent cavities because the PACs prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth,” says Rumsey. (Related: Here’s how to smile your way to better health.)

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You’ll keep your heart healthy

A glass of cranberry juice a day could keep the heart doctor away. One study found that drinking cranberry juice daily raised HDL levels, the good kind of cholesterol. Another study by the USDA and Ocean Spray found that people who drank one glass of cranberry juice cocktail (27 percent juice) saw a greater reduction in inflammation and triglycerides (both factors in the development of heart problems) compared to those who took a placebo. (Related: Here are some other tips to for a healthy heart.) And, a review of cranberry studies concluded that an increased intake of flavonoids, also found in the berry, could lower the risk of heart disease as much as 32 percent.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Ashley Lewis
Ashley Lewis received her Master’s Degree from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2015. She was a Jason Sheftell Fellow at the New York Daily News. and interned at Seventeen and FOX News before joining Reader’s Digest as an assistant editor. When Ashley is not diligently fact-checking the magazine or writing for rd.com, she enjoys cooking (butternut squash pizza is her signature dish), binge-watching teen rom-coms on Netflix that she’s way too old for, and hiking (and falling down) mountains.