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Cranberry Benefits More Than the Urinary Tract

Aug 17, 2007
In addition to their appealing flavor and association with festive holidays, cranberries are an example of a food believed to contain one or more beneficial phytochemicals, or plant chemicals.

In research laboratories around the world, scientists are trying to figure out which phytochemicals may have health benefits. Much of the theorizing and publicity about phytochemicals has focused on their potential role in preventing cancer. However, with the thousands of compounds in edible plants, there are likely other medical uses waiting to be verified.

A study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and several other medical centers added to the evidence that something in cranberries can help cure urinary tract infections. The researchers were expecting a difference in the frequency of bladder infections among the 300 elderly women who either drank cranberry juice cocktail or a non-cranberry masked substitute over a six-month period.

Instead, they discovered that the cranberry juice cocktail had a greater impact in reversing infections once they started than in preventing the infections. These scientists aren't pushing aside the idea that drinking cranberry juice cocktail regularly may be helpful to women prone to bladder infections, but they feel it may also have an important role, along with antibiotics, in clearing up infections.

At one time, doctors thought drinking cranberry juice changed the acidity of urine, which had an impact on bacteria's ability to grow, but the Harvard study did not bear this out. Instead, it added to previous evidence that a phytochemical, or group of them, may well be providing the benefit. The same researchers have begun a similar study with younger women to see if the results are similar.

So far, the research is based only on cranberry juice cocktail. The new Fruit Waves candy and the cranberry-flavored Jell-O both contain cranberry solids for flavor but I'm not counting on them to provide any cranberry "benefit". The Fruit Waves cranberry-flavored candies are much like other hard candy, contributing about 60 calories in every half ounce. If you're looking for something sweet but without fat or cholesterol, these fit the bill. They're also low in sodium but, as we'd expect, they contribute no nutrients. Fruit Waves are fun foods that earn two stars.

Not too surprisingly, a serving of cranberry-flavored Jell-O has about the same nutrient profile as the hard candy. A half-cup portion of this Jell-O provides 80 calories, mostly from sugar. It's also fat- and cholesterol-free. The tiny amount of protein in Jell-O is of little value, other than to thicken liquids. I was surprised to find that this flavor contains twice as much sodium as other Jell-O gelatins, with 120 milligrams per half cup serving compared to the typical 35 to 75 milligrams.

Although the 120 milligrams is not a huge amount, people who know their blood pressure is influenced by sodium would be better off sticking with one of the other "red" Jell-Os for their molded salad. Cranberry-flavored Jell-O also earns two stars.
About the Author
Joe enjoys healthful living and eats loads of antioxidants including delicious blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry in extract form. Cranberry Extract and Blueberry Extract
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