We have the scoop on the health benefits of cranberries (beyond just UTIs) as well as cranberry nutrition and how to enjoy them today.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
November 12, 2019

Cranberries usually have their shining moment at Thanksgiving dinner, but the health benefits of cranberries give you plenty of reasons to serve them throughout the year. From improving the health of your gut microbiome to potentially helping prevent some chronic diseases, cranberries have a host of benefits that may surprise you. Read on to learn more about cranberry nutrition—including juice and dried cranberries—plus learn more about their benefits for digestive health, heart health, UTIs and more.

Related: Best-Ever Cranberry Recipes for Thanksgiving

Pictured Recipe: Clementine, Date & Port Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Nutrition

Here are the nutrition stats for 1 cup of fresh, raw cranberries:

  • 46 calories
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 12 g carbohydrates
  • 4 g sugars
  • 4 g fiber
  • 16% Daily Value vitamin C

Here are the nutrition stats for 1/4 cup of dried cranberries:

  • 85 calories
  • 0 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 23 g carbohydrates
  • 20 g sugars
  • 2 g fiber
  • 0% DV vitamin C

Here are the nutrition stats for 1 cup of unsweetened 100% cranberry juice:

  • 116 calories
  • 1 g protein
  • 0 g fat
  • 31 g carbohydrates
  • 31 g sugars
  • 0 gfiber
  • 27% DV vitamin C

Cranberries are pretty bitter (as far as fruits go) so most people don't snack on them raw. You can buy cranberries fresh or frozen, as well as dried or as a juice or sauce. Cranberry juice and dried cranberries typically come sweetened to help balance their tartness. Cranberry juice is often sweetened with another juice, such as apple or grape—so it might not be 100% cranberry but can still be made with 100% juice. Cranberry juice cocktail, on other hand, is sweetened with sugar (or a noncaloric sweetener) and contains about 27% cranberry juice, along with additional water, other juices and sometimes extra vitamin C.

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Cranberries & Urinary Health

How cranberries influence (or don't influence) recurrent urinary tract infections is still a little bit up in the air. One meta-analysis done in 2012 concluded that drinking cranberry juice did not significantly reduce the occurence of UTIs more than drinking water or a placebo. However, these findings were revisited in a 2017 study funded by Ocean Spray where they found that cranberries actually could reduce recurrent UTIs by 23% for healthy women. They found that capsules or tablets of cranberry extract were more effective than whole food sources.

From these findings, it seems that longer-term cranberry consumption can help prevent UTIs, but drinking cranberry juice to treat a UTI is not necessarily more effective than upping your hydration with water or any other beverage.

Another study published in Advances in Nutrition reviewed the research on cranberry and UTIs. They found, unsurprisingly, that cranberries' effectiveness for preventing UTIs ... depends. It can depend on age, health status or frequency of contracting a UTI. For example, they found that women who were prone to frequent UTIs saw the most benefit, compared with women who rarely experienced UTIs.

For now, more research is needed to clarify whether or not cranberries can be helpful for preventing UTIs. The good news is, some studies have had positive findings. This does not mean you should go on a cranberry juice detox the next time you have a UTI; however, if enjoyed in moderation, cranberries can't hurt. Just know that cranberry juice cannot help cure an existing UTI and, if you are experiencing UTI symptoms, you should talk to your doctor about an effective treatment plan.

Pictured Recipe: Cranberry Buttermilk Pie

Digestive Health

Cranberries are good for your gut, and a healthy gut is important for a lot of things, such as immunity, longevity and healthy aging. Compounds called proanthocyanidins provide cranberries' vibrant color and also work as antimicrobial agents. They can help prevent bad bacteria, such as E. coli, from colonizing your gut and may also strengthen the gut barrier and reduce inflammation in and around your digestive tract. Proanthocyanidins may also be a factor in cranberries' positive effects on urinary and heart health.

Antioxidant Powerhouses

Like many other colorful fruits and veggies, cranberries are high in antioxidants, which are bioactive components of food that can help prevent damage to our cells. Many other foods, including dark chocolate and berries, are high in antioxidants as well. Cranberries' flavonoids, a group of antioxidant plant compounds that includes proanthocyanidins as well as flavanols, have been found in lab studies to inhibit cancer cell growth, but more research is needed on their potential benefits in the body.

Pictured Recipe: Cranberry Salad

Heart Health

These ruby gems are also good for your heart. The way this works is a little abstract, but it shows the impressive synergy of the body. A study in Advances in Nutrition looked to spell out why cranberries are so effective at combating high blood pressure and heart disease. Cranberries can improve your gut health by preventing bad bacteria from colonizing. This does a variety of good things for your digestive health, while also reducing inflammation throughout the body as a whole. This anti-inflammatory action can improve several risk factors for heart disease, such as blood cholesterol, blood pressure and stress. Several clinical trials have mirrored these findings, especially around reducing risk factors for heart disease, such as cholesterol levels and artery health.

Boost Your Immunity

Fingers crossed that we all make it through cold and flu season unscathed. But loading up on cranberries now may make sickness more bearable later. People who drank about a cup of cranberry juice daily for 10 weeks had fewer symptoms if they did get sick compared to non-cranberry drinkers, according to research in Nutrition Journal. Polyphenols, the healthy antioxidants in cranberries, prime your immune system to respond faster and better to invaders, says study author Susan Percival, Ph.D. Any cranberry juice will do, but 100% juice helps you cut out added sugars. Or try eating cranberries or taking cranberry supplements.

Bottom Line

Many people have heard about cranberries for UTIs, but these small fruits boast many lesser-known benefits as well. Eating cranberries regularly may help keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of cancer. Many of these benefits seem to stem from cranberries' antioxidants giving your digestive tract a healthful boost. There are several reasons to enjoy cranberries and lots of yummy ways to eat them up. Enjoy cranberry juice, make homemade cranberry sauce or use the frozen berries in smoothies.

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