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Cranberries help fend off bacteria


Delectably tart cranberries bring a pop of flavor to any meal, and they may fight bacteria and even gum disease, according to new research.

In season now until December, fresh cranberries are as good for you as they look, with their ruby hue.

They’re also easy to prepare. And you can save money by freezing fresh berries to be used later—they keep for up to a year in the freezer.


One appeal of cranberry juice is that it may ward off urinary tract infections in pregnant women, older folks and people with spinal cord injuries and other mobility problems.

Numerous studies have found that about 10 ounces of cranberry juice twice daily can protect the bladder, reducing infection rates by up to 70 percent.

The juice doesn’t replace antibiotics as treatment for people with infections; rather it’s given after antibiotics are completed to help prevent relapse.

Cranberry juice seems more useful for vulnerable people than for younger folks. One study of healthy, college-age women found that cranberries did not prevent UTIs.

About 40 percent of older men might benefit from cranberries. That’s the percentage of men who deal with what doctors term “lower urinary tract symptoms” such as waking up frequently at night to urinate and being unable to empty the bladder completely.

A small Czech study found that middle-age men who took powdered cranberries daily had fewer symptoms.

Studies show that antioxidants in cranberries prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract, thus reducing infections.

This also seems to be true in the stomach, where cranberries have been show to block the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, that causes ulcers.

And a study of cranberry-infused mouthwash found it reduced the cavity-causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans.

Though the studies are promising, cranberries are not a replacement for seeing your doctor or dentist.


Cranberry juice may help the heart, too. A British study found that when middle-age men drank a cup of cranberry juice daily for a month, their good HDL cholesterol levels rose significantly.

That’s good news, because it’s hard to raise HDL levels except through medications, exercise—which most folks don’t do consistently—or moderate drinking, which is rarely recommended because alcohol can interfere with medications and can be addictive.

Another small study found cranberries helped reduce blood pressure slightly.

There have been some rare cases of cranberry juice causing problems with the blood-thinning medication known as Coumadin or warfarin. But these cases are in people who consumed large amounts of cranberry sauce or juice or supplements daily for weeks or months.

Usual amounts of cranberry juice—a cup or two daily—do not seem to cause problems. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns.


In season now, cranberries are being harvested from the bogs in the Midwest, Northeast and Canada. They’ve been cultivated for centuries. American Indians harvested and crushed cranberries to flavor deer meat and help preserve it in a dried form called pemmican—a sort of venison jerky.

Rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, cranberries are naturally sour and often are paired with fruits such as apples or sweeteners like honey.

To use fresh cranberries, simply rinse them. Discard any mushy berries. A fresh cranberry should be firm enough to bounce if you drop it into a bowl.

The 12-ounce bags of fresh cranberries found in grocery stores now provide about 3 cups of berries, more than enough for most recipes.

Luckily, leftover cranberries freeze well. And there’s no need to thaw the berries before adding them to batters for muffins and tea breads—just increase the baking time by about 5 minutes.

Even after the holidays and fresh cranberry season ends, you can buy other cranberry products year round. You can get the same benefits as in 10 ounces of cranberry juice from either 1.5 cups of fresh cranberries, 1 ounce (about cup of dried cranberries, or cup cranberry sauce. That’s according to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association.

A cup of fresh cranberries has just 46 calories and nearly 5 grams of fiber. It also has a fair amount of vitamin C. For a small berry, cranberries pack in a lot of antioxidants and health benefits. Consider trying the easy cranberry recipe below.

Maple Cranberry–Walnut Sauce

Yields 8 servings, each about 2 tablespoons

This easy condiment is tangy, colorful and packed with antioxidants and heart-healthy omega–3 fats. It has 66 percent fewer carbohydrates than canned cranberry sauce. Try it over holiday dishes such as roasted turkey and over everyday dishes such as baked or microwaved sweet potatoes. It also makes a zingy sandwich spread –try pairing with Neufchatel cream cheese on pumpernickel bread.


  • 1 cup fresh or frozen
  • whole cranberries
  • cup maple syrup
  • cup walnuts, chopped


  • In small saucepan, bring maple syrup and cranberries to boil over medium heat.
  • Cover, reduce heat and stir occasionally. Simmer 7 minutes or until all cranberries have popped.
  • Stir in walnuts.
  • Serve hot or chilled. Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Note: For a savory variation, stir into sauce teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and teaspoon black pepper.

Nutrition facts: Calories 56, total fat 2 g, no saturated fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, sodium 1 mg, total carbohydrate 9 g, dietary fiber 1 g, protein 1 g

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin. She welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteat, or by email at