Carb Counts and Health Benefits of Cranberries

Fresh Cranberries in Pail
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Fresh cranberries are very low in sugar and carbs, while also being high in fiber and nutrients, making them an ideal food if you're cutting carbs and calories. Research has shown that they have disease-fighting properties as well. The only drawback is that the tart, sour taste of unsweetened cranberries makes them unappealing to a lot of people. To make them palatable, producers of commercial cranberry juices, sauces, and "craisins" (dried cranberries) often add a lot of sugar—so make sure to read the labels on these foods before adding them to your eating plan.

There are ways to incorporate unsweetened cranberries into your diet, however, and the health benefits may motivate you to seek out tasty recipes as well as unsweetened commercial products, which include foods as well as extracts and supplements. Here's what you need to know about this healthy and nutritious fruit:

Carbohydrate and Fiber Counts 

  • One ounce of fresh cranberries has 13 calories, 2 grams of effective (net) carbohydrate, plus 1 gram of fiber
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh cranberries has 25 calories, 4 grams of effective (net) carbohydrate plus 2.5 grams of fiber
  • 1/2 cup of whole fresh cranberries has 23 calories, 4 grams of effective (net) carbohydrates plus 2 grams of fiber

Glycemic Index 

As is true for most fruits naturally low in carbohydrates, there is no scientific study of the glycemic index of unsweetened cranberries. Some sources have extrapolated from other similar foods that it would be in the low to moderate range. The "glycemic load" takes into account the amount of food eaten as well as its glycemic index. A value of less than 10 is considered to be low and should have little effect on blood sugar or insulin. Here is the estimated glycemic load for cranberries:

  • 1 ounce of fresh cranberries: 0
  • 1/2 cup of fresh chopped cranberries: 1
  • 1/2 cup of whole fresh cranberries: 1

Vitamins and Plant Compounds in Cranberries

Cranberries are a rich source of several vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Vitamin C: This critically important vitamin is essential for the maintenance of skin, muscles, and bone
  • Manganese: Manganese is necessary for proper metabolism and growth
  • Vitamin E: This vitamin is one of the essential fat-soluble antioxidants
  • Vitamin K1: Also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K1 is essential for blood clotting
  • Copper: Copper is a trace element. Not getting enough of it may have adverse effects on heart health.

Cranberries are also high in certain plant compounds, most of which are concentrated in the berry's skin. These include:

  • Quercetin: Cranberries are among the main fruit sources of this antioxidant polyphenol.
  • Peonidin: A type of anthocyanin antioxidant which is responsible for the deep red color of cranberries. Cranberries are among the richest dietary sources of peonidin.
  • Myricetin: A major antioxidant polyphenol in cranberries, myricetin may have a number of beneficial health effects.
  • Ursolic acid: Ursolic acid, a triterpene found in high amounts in cranberries, has strong anti-inflammatory effects.
  • A-type proanthocyanidins: This class of antioxidant polyphenols, also called condensed tannins, is believed to be effective against urinary tract infections.

Health Benefits

While there is no conclusive evidence that cranberries can reduce the risk of certain infections and health conditions, some studies have found unsweetened cranberry products effective for:

Prevention of urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most common bacterial infections, especially among women. They are usually caused by Escherichia coli, which attaches itself to the inner surface of the bladder and urinary tract. Some women are especially prone to UTIs.

The unique phytonutrients found in cranberries, known as A-type proanthocyanidins, can prevent E. coli from attaching to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract, potentially preventing infections. Unsweetened juice, extracts, or cranberry supplements taken on a regular basis are often used for this purpose. Your healthcare provider can advise you on the most effective way to use these products.

Keep in mind that cranberries are not effective for treating UTIs once they've set in; antibiotics are typically used to treat infections and must be prescribed by a doctor.

Prevention of ulcers and stomach cancer

Infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is considered to be a major cause of stomach cancer, stomach inflammation, and ulcers. The A-type proanthocyanidins in cranberries may prevent H. pylori from attaching to the lining of the stomach, potentially preventing these gastrointestinal ailments.

Excessive consumption of cranberries, however, may cause stomach upset and diarrhea.

Prevention of heart disease

Cranberry juice and cranberry extract have been shown to have beneficial effects on several risk factors for heart disease by:

  • Increasing levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol
  • Lowering LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, in people with diabetes
  • Decreasing stiffness in blood vessels among people with heart disease
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Decreasing blood levels of homocysteine, cutting the risk of inflammation in blood vessels

If you are taking the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin) talk to your doctor, as large amounts of cranberry products can alter the levels of his medication in your blood.

Kidney Stones: One Health Risk of Cranberries

Kidney stones consist of calcium oxalate and can form when the amount of oxalates in the urine is excessive. Some people are more prone to developing them than others. Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful.

Cranberries, especially concentrated cranberry extracts, may contain high levels of oxalate and are considered to be a risk factor when consumed in high amounts. Cranberries also contain high levels of vitamin C, which is converted to oxalate in some people.

If you are prone to getting kidney stones, ask your doctor if you should limit your cranberry consumption.

Low-Carb Recipes With Cranberries

If your goal is to limit carbohydrates and calories while also reaping the health benefits of cranberries, you might look for sugar-free cranberry sauce to enjoy with meats, yogurt, or cottage cheese. You can also make cranberry sauce and dried cranberries at home and use non-sugar sweetener to taste. Enjoy gluten-free flax seed cranberry muffins for breakfast. For lunch, have a salad with sugar-free cranberry vinaigrette salad dressing. For dinner, try chicken with cranberries and red wine sauce for dinner, and bake a batch of cranberry walnut cookies for dessert.

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