What are cranberries?
Cranberries are small, round, deep red berries related to blueberries. They have a very sharp, sour taste so are rarely eaten raw – they’re more commonly enjoyed dried or juiced.
Cranberries grow on vine-like plants, a bit like strawberries, and typically come from North America or eastern Europe, although you can grow them in the UK under the right conditions. They are usually harvested between September and November but this can vary slightly depending on the country. In the UK, you’ll see the fresh berries in shops from October to December.
Nutritional profile of cranberries
Fresh cranberries are largely water and contain around 87% per 100g. They have a little carbohydrate content at 3.4g per 100g, all of which is natural fruit sugars (glucose and fructose). They also contain 15 calories per 100g and have almost negligible protein and fat, but they are a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium which helps blood clot properly, beta carotene which converts to vitamin A and helps support the immune system and some vitamin C, which is important for healthy skin and wound healing.
Nutritional profile of cranberry juice
Compared to the fresh fruit, cranberry juice has three times as many calories at 45 calories per 100ml, and a much higher sugar content. Cranberry juice also has very little nutritional value other than a higher level of vitamin C at 30mg per 100g, which acts as an antioxidant and helps protect cells from damage.
Can cranberry juice help with UTIs?
Cranberry juice is probably most well-known for its associations in the management of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Cranberries contain compounds known as proanthocyanidins that have natural antibacterial benefits and may help prevent the bacteria Escherichia coli from attaching to the inner surface of the bladder and urinary tract and causing an infection.
There are many studies that demonstrate that drinking cranberry juice may help prevent a UTI and its reoccurrence, but it is less effective once the infection has taken hold.
However, there are some studies that suggest this may not work for everyone. It’s important to also be mindful of the increased sugar content of cranberry juice.
Are cranberries high in sugar?
Fresh cranberries are very low in sugar, which contributes to their sour taste. They contain just 3.4g of sugar per 100g, which is made up of naturally occuring glucose and fructose.
By comparison, cranberry juice on average contains four times the amount of sugar in fresh fruit at 12g per 100ml – just over 2 tsp sugar per 100ml juice. The type of sugar will depend on the ingredients used, and some contain sucrose, stevia or sucralose to make the juice sweeter.
Sugars found in or added to fruit juice are known as ‘free sugars’, and consuming too much can lead to weight gain and tooth decay. It is therefore recommended to consume no more than 150ml fruit juice each day, including cranberry juice.
Read more about fruit juice and health.
Be aware of dried cranberries and cranberry sauce as well, as these also contain added sugars. Some dried cranberries contain over 65g sugar per 100g, and are also much higher in calories with over 325 per 100g. Cranberry sauce contains around 40g sugar per 100g, or over 6g per tablespoon.
The recommended guideline for free sugar consumption is no more than 30g a day for adults.
Do cranberries count as one of your five-a-day?
Yes, 80g fresh cranberries counts as one of your five-a-day.
Does cranberry juice count as one of your five-a-day?
Yes, 150ml counts as one of your five-a-day. But, this will only count as one portion for the day, and consuming more will not increase your fruit intake due to the higher sugar content.
Can you be allergic to cranberries?
Yes, it’s possible to be allergic to cranberries but it is quite rare. They contain significant amounts of salicylic acid which can cause a reaction, and those with an aspirin allergy should avoid consuming large amounts of cranberry juice.
Signs of a mild reaction include an itchy mouth or tongue, sneezing or a runny nose. If you experience these symptoms, speak to your GP. If a more serious allergic reaction occurs, call for an ambulance immediately.
Read more from the NHS about allergic reactions.
How to buy the best cranberries or cranberry juice
Always look for fresh cranberries when they’re in season from October to December. They should be deep red in colour, not too soft, free from any mould, and dry, with no liquid in the packaging.
For cranberry juice, always read the label to see if extra ingredients have been added. The less sugar added, the better – ‘lighter’ juices often contain fewer free sugars, but bear in mind that sweeteners may have been used instead. It’s worth noting that brands advertised as ‘no added sugar’ will generally contain added sweetener to make the juice palatable.
Some cranberry juice drinks also contain other fruits, such as raspberries or blackcurrants. These will still generally contain some form of added sugar or sweetener, as well as a thickener or flavourings. If you are going to drink cranberry juice for its potential UTI benefits, a plain cranberry juice with as few additions as possible will suffice.
Healthy cranberry recipes
Braised beef with cranberries & spices
Cranberry chicken salad
Cranberry & chestnut falafel
Grilled lamb with wintry rice salad
The health benefits of apples
The health benefits of oranges
The health benefits of cherries
This article was published on 31st October 2019.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.