In case you’re wondering, I”m a big fan of cranberries. Cranberry juice, sauce, bread, muffins ….they all have my love! I like to joke that having a vodka and cranberry drink can be justified “for medicinal purposes”. LOL
But is it truly beneficial? Let’s take a look at the health benefits of drinking cranberry juice.
Types of Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice may either be pure juice or a cocktail of different ingredients.
To get the most benefit from a juice that is packed with potent antioxidants, try to choose one which has not been made from concentrate, although this can sometimes be a challenge.
Cranberry juice is available canned or in cartons in some grocery stores. The canned variety is a concentrate that requires the addition of water. This juice may come sweetened or unsweetened.
A form many of us might be more familiar with is cranberry juice cocktail. This drink typically contains about 27 percent cranberry juice, with the rest being water, sugar, or another sweetener.
Cranberry juice cocktail is also often mixed with a second juice. Cranberry-grape, cranberry-raspberry, cranberry-apple (CranApple) are just a few of my favorites. Some of these may also have added vitamins, especially vitamin C.
Some of my recipes that use cranberries or juice:
Cranberry Juice Nutrition
A cup of unsweetened apple juice and cranberry juice contains 120 calories. Plain unsweetened cranberry juice, not mixed with another juice, contains about 116 calories per one cup serving. So calorie-wise, there is not much of a difference.
Cranberry juice contains only trace amounts of fat.
Since bottled cranberry juice often contains added sugar, you should watch for the additional calories. Choose an unsweetened variety to minimize your sugar intake -- cranberries do contain some natural sugars already.
There are also many varieties of cranberry juice cocktail which contain little or no sugar but will contain sugar substitutes.
More on the sugar concerns below, under warnings.
Cranberry juice is a good source of vitamin C and E which help with digestive as well as overall health. Consumption of cranberry juice on a daily basis will provide 26 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C (per one cup serving).
Among fruits, cranberry is a powerful antioxidant. Pure cranberry juice retains a high concentration of antioxidants, but as you add more sugar, as in a cranberry juice cocktail, fewer of the antioxidant compounds remain. What does this mean for health?
In a recent study, volunteers who drank 25 ounces of cranberry juice daily showed no higher antioxidant potential in the blood after four weeks than those who drank a placebo. Although plenty of research performed in vitro (outside the human body) and using cell cultures show an effect of antioxidants in reducing oxidative damage and oxidative stress caused by free radicals, the actual benefit of consuming high levels of antioxidants from food is not proven.
Health Benefits of Cranberry Juice
Cranberries have both dietary and medicinal uses and have been used medically for centuries.
Natural Remedy for Bladder Infections (UTIs)
Cranberry juice is probably best known as a treatment for urinary tract infections or UTIs caused by harmful bacteria. Cranberry juice may also treat and protect against stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancers and helps with cell damage and your immune system. (SFGate)However, more research is needed to be certain of these benefits.
Does drinking cranberry juice really help with urinary tract health and bladder infections? This is one food source that has a history of use as a natural remedy as well as traditional scientific research to back up the claim. In studies, people who drank cranberry juice on a consistent basis had fewer urinary-tract infections than those who did not.
The effect was greatest in people who experience recurring urinary tract infections. This implies that cranberry juice is most effective in a preventive role.
The way cranberry juice works probably has to do with compounds called proanthocyanidins. These compounds inhibit bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract and thus prevent the infection from developing.
It’s important to note the way the studies were structured: study subjects generally drank cranberry juice every day and before symptoms occurred. The dose was often two glasses of cranberry juice or more per day.
And it wasn't cranberry juice cocktail, the pleasantly sweetened drink you find in the supermarket. Straight cranberry juice with no added sugar or lightly sweetened versions were used, both of which have much higher concentrations of the active compounds.
Large scale reviews of cranberry juice research have rejected labeling the juice as having health benefits, as too much variation in results was seen. One reason for this was the variety in research methods used in these various studies. (Wikipedia)
I once was on a plane on my way to Mexico for a week-long vacation and realized I had a UTI. When the flight attendant came by offering beverages, I asked for cranberry juice. It wasn’t “pure”, it was some type of cocktail that was definitely sweetened, and this definitely was not a scientific study.
All I can tell you is that my actions included: 12 ounces of cranberry juice cocktail, plus a couple Ibuprofen and a quick nap on my partner’s shoulder. By the time the plane landed, I felt like a new woman. And my vacation was not ruined! 😁
(p.s. The following day, I called home to my clinic for instructions on how to get antibiotics, so I did take additional actions to ensure the UTI really did go away permanently. I don’t want anyone to think that one can of cranberry juice will cure it all.)
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers have found, after surveying research literature, that phytochemicals found in cranberries may benefit the heart. Daily consumption of cranberry juice has been demonstrated to significantly lower low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol levels.
LDL is the "bad" cholesterol. The review presented by the researchers also noted a study that revealed participants who drank cranberry juice in increasing amounts over 12 weeks had higher high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, levels -- the "good" cholesterol. Low LDL and high HDL cholesterol levels are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Cranberry Juice and Cancer
The wide variety of phytochemicals contained in a glass of cranberry juice works synergistically to prevent cancer, according to a review published in Oxford’s Journal of Nutrition. The review states that antioxidants in cranberry juice prevent cancer not only by inhibiting tumor growth but also by inducing cancer cell death.
There are no large population studies to link drinking cranberry juice to cancer prevention. But compounds in cranberry juice have promising results when studied using in vitro laboratory tests.
It's important to realize that many of the compounds found in cranberry juice are sprinkled throughout the fruits and vegetables we eat every day. If they do indeed have a role in cancer prevention, getting them from a variety of food sources is always considered the best approach.
Warnings And Possible Side Effects
Research is mixed on the connection between kidney stones and cranberries. Because cranberries contain oxalate, a chemical linked to kidney stone formation, there has been concern that too much cranberry juice consumption might promote kidney stone growth.
Some studies suggest that the opposite may be true, though there is still doubt on both sides. One reason for this might be that not all kidney stones have the same composition.
If you have had kidney stones, the best way to approach this is to discuss with your doctor the benefits and any risks or health issues that may be associated with cranberry juice and other products containing high levels of oxalate.
Watch the Sugar
As you try to obtain health benefits from drinking cranberry juice, remember to watch added sugars. The majority of cranberry drinks in the supermarket are in the form of cranberry juice cocktails, many of which include added sugar or possibly high-fructose corn syrup.
That's because cranberry is naturally lower in sugar than many other fruits and berries. Plain cranberry juice ends up being quite tart. It might be tough to find straight cranberry juice in your supermarket, but it's worth finding. It is much richer in compounds thought to provide the health benefits we want.
Because it is so tart, and our taste buds want it sweetened, one healthy approach is to buy straight cranberry juice and mix it with other juices or add it to smoothies. Or always look for a juice sweetened with another juice rather than with sugar.
If you have diabetes, you'll want to watch your consumption of cranberry juice--or any other fruit juices, for that matter--and possibly look for brands that use artificial sweeteners. Check with your doctor if you're diabetic or have a sugar-restricted diet and have any questions about sweetened beverages.
Some people might have trouble digesting fructose. Since this is naturally occurring in cranberries, these people may experience a laxative effect upon drinking the juice.
Interactions with Blood Thinners
Several studies have shown that cranberry juice consumption may have some risk factors and interfere with the effectiveness of some blood thinners. However, there have been few reported cases of this interaction. (NIH.gov)
Warfarin is one, sold under the brand name Coumadin, which many heart patients and those with cardiovascular disease take to help prevent blood clot formation. If you take Warfarin, it's important to talk with your physician about any cranberry products, food products, herbal supplements, over-the-counter drugs, and other prescription medications that may interact negatively with warfarin.
Cranberry Juice- What’s the Bottom Line?
Cranberries have been used for centuries for both dietary and medicinal uses. Like most fruits, they contain helpful vitamins and antioxidants which contribute to overall good health.
Studies on drinking cranberry juice for its health benefits only used “pure” forms, which we consumers are unlikely to drink, and proved its use for prevention rather than treatment of UTIs.
However, for many people, they still demonstrate a good remedy to help relieve the symptoms of bladder infections/UTIs.
If you think you have a UTI, it is always best to consult your physician, who might prescribe antibiotics. But the cranberry juice can often help to provide relief in the meantime.