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Cranberries are so much more than a side dish or a can-shaped jelly served alongside your holiday turkey! These brilliantly red berries may typically be reserved for only certain meals, but they shouldn’t be – they’re nutrient-dense and delicious to utilize in recipes. And now, there’s evidence that eating cranberries more often can be great for your heart health.
Recent research published in Food & Function has shown that daily consumption of cranberry improves endothelial function in healthy male adults. If you’re wondering what that even means, and if your cranberry sauce or cocktail counts as your daily dose of cranberries, we got you.
What is endothelial function?
First things first: The endothelium is the thin layer that surrounds blood vessels, arteries, veins, capillaries, heart and lymphatic system. To say it’s kind of a big deal is an understatement. Your endothelium plays a huge role in keeping your blood pumping and heart ticking.
Over time, a combination of factors, both dietary and lifestyle related, can cause damage to the endothelium leading to heart disease and other comorbid conditions.
What the research explored
Incorporating important nutrient-dense foods – like cranberries – into your diet can provide important antioxidants that help combat the free radicals that can damage your endothelial lining over time. This study was the first of its kind, given the scientists used whole cranberries that were freeze-dried and pressed into a powder versus using a juice or dried form, both of which change cranberries’ antioxidant amounts slightly.
Scientists conducted the experiment in two phases. The first evaluated 5 male subjects to perform a “proof-of-concept” study to ensure the whole freeze-dried cranberry powder possessed the biological activity they suspected before the main study was conducted. During this first leg of the study, subjects consumed 9 grams of cranberry powder (the equivalent of about 100 grams, or ¾ cup of whole cranberries) on two separate days with a one week washout period, then consumed a placebo.
Of particular interest was how the cranberry powder affected flow mediated dilation (FMD), a test marker that measures blood flow to indicate one’s potential risk of cardiovascular events. Participants in the initial study experienced beneficial effects on FMD after consuming the cranberry powder, confirming the proposed beneficial effects of the cranberry powder of this initial study.
Researchers then moved on to the main study, which evaluated 45 healthy male subjects. During this phase, subjects consumed 9 grams of cranberry powder (the equivalent of about 100 grams, or ¾ cup of whole cranberries) or the placebo, not both, to evaluate the potential of the cranberry powder on markers of heart health.
What the research found about cranberries and heart health
In both of the study’s phases, participants saw an increase in FMD after incorporating the dried cranberry powder, suggesting incorporating dried cranberry powder daily may improve vascular function in healthy men. Most notably, the polyphenol content that cranberries contain continued to exhibit a cardioprotective role, as demonstrated in the metabolites researchers were able to identify in plasma.
Simply put, whole cranberries pressed into a powder proved to be good for heart health in these healthy men!
With that said, there are certainly limitations to this study that demonstrate the need for further research. For instance, this study had a limited sample size that was specific to males, not females. Plus, the participants were healthy; it would be great to see if cranberries had a beneficial effect on those with other comorbid conditions, too.
And while the results were interpreted at the one-month mark, other potential benefits could be seen if cranberry powder was consumed longer as well.
What you need to know about the benefits of cranberries
This study shares some promising insight into the perks of eating cranberries. And if you’re a cranberry fan, good news: They’re a nutritious addition to a balanced diet, year round.
According to Lauren Manaker, MS RDN LDN, Media Spokesperson and Author of Fueling Male Fertility, “Considering this data along with the other potential benefits that eating cranberries provides, I think that eating more cranberries is absolutely a good idea, and including these berries in a balanced diet can offer some serious benefits.”
Manaker adds, “In addition to the heart-health benefits, cranberry intake can support gut health. Specifically, this berry can be a natural way to combat h. pylori infection, which is the primary identified cause of gastric cancer. In one study, drinking cranberry juice containing 44 mg of proanthocyanidins per 240-mL serving twice daily for eight weeks resulted in a 20% reduction in the H. pylori infection rate in Chinese adult participants, when compared to those consuming lower amounts of juice and a placebo.”
While more research is needed, the nutrient profile of cranberries and potential role this fruit can play in overall health is worth a toss into your grocery basket!
How to enjoy cranberries
If you’re wondering how to get your 9 grams of dried cranberry powder in, don’t fret. This amount is roughly 100 grams of cranberries, meaning you could eat about ¾ a cup of whole, frozen cranberries tossed into a smoothie or processed into a jam that you could make into a parfait.
While the present study did not evaluate other forms of cranberries, such as dried or juice, we do know that cranberries in all forms offer beneficial polyphenols that can promote heart health. Manaker adds that while opting for 100% cranberry juice or leaning on unsweetened dried cranberry options will prevent a person from including added sugars in their diet, if you prefer the other options, as long as your overall diet is relatively low in added sugars, these additions can be a part of a healthy diet.
For more delicious cranberry inspiration, check out these recipes: