Cranberries—Antioxidant Superstars

Colorful fruits and vegetables are often thought of as good sources of antioxidants, and cranberries are no exception. A new study found that cranberries, cranberry juice, and dried cranberries are excellent sources of antioxidants.

In the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers determined the amount of antioxidants (phenols and vitamin C) in cranberries and cranberry products and measured their antioxidant capacity (how well they prevent oxidation). Then they measured the antioxidant capacity in blood samples from ten people after they were given a drink containing either

• 27% cranberry juice (about two ounces of cranberry juice per eight-ounce serving) sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup—the industry standard for cranberry juice cocktail—with an added 80 mg of vitamin C per serving, or

• a drink with the same amounts of high-fructose corn syrup and vitamin C but no cranberry juice.

The people repeated the test one week later with the other drink.

Berry healthy

Frozen, juiced, and dried cranberries had much higher amounts of antioxidants than juice cocktail and jellied sauce. Powdered cranberries, usually taken in capsules, were also high in antioxidants. Frozen cranberries had the highest antioxidant capacity, followed by dried cranberries, whole cranberry sauce (not jellied), and 100% cranberry juice.

Antioxidant capacity in the blood increased after drinking the 27% cranberry juice cocktail, but decreased after drinking the noncranberry cocktail. A bagel plus a soft drink, consumed four hours after the test drink, caused another dip in antioxidant capacity in those drinking the noncranberry drink, but in those who drank the cranberry cocktail, antioxidant capacity continued to rise.

Cranberry moves to the head of the class

Cranberries were found to have the highest antioxidant levels of commonly eaten fruits. A serving of 100% cranberry juice was richer in antioxidants than a serving of Concord grape juice or red wine, and had a similar antioxidant capacity to red wine. Compared with other dried fruits, dried cranberries had the highest antioxidant content, followed by prunes and raisins. Dried and frozen cranberries had higher antioxidant capacities than green tea, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

“Cranberries are an excellent source of phenolic antioxidants such as bioflavonoids. One serving of cranberries provides more phenolic antioxidants than the average daily consumption of antioxidants from all fruits,” said lead study author Professor Joe Vinson at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. “Cranberries have the highest antioxidant content among 20 commonly consumed fruits, yet they are underconsumed, ranking 16th in the US.”

Keep cranberry on hand

The antioxidant effect seen after drinking the cranberry juice cocktail supports the view that this relatively popular drink is healthy. Fruit-sweetened cranberry juice is widely available, and is likely healthier than the corn syrup–sweetened cocktail.

Whole cranberries may be added to foods such as breads, muffins, and savory main dishes, and fruit-sweetened dried cranberries may be added to salads and breakfast cereals. Recipes for traditional whole-berry sauces and relishes abound and can liven up a meal any time of year.

Eating more cranberries will raise antioxidant intake, an effect that may lead to health benefits such as lower risk of heart disease, the study’s authors said. Finding ways to enjoy these berries may bring a colorful and healthy change to your diet.

Maureen Williams, ND

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