About 95 percent of the domestic cranberry crop -- which totaled more than 8 million barrels in 2012, according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University -- is destined to be processed, mostly into juice. Although whole cranberries only make it to the average American table during Thanksgiving, both the fresh fruit and its dried counterpart are associated with significant health benefits.
A 1-cup serving of chopped fresh cranberries has right around 50 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While unprocessed cranberries aren’t a significant source of fat or protein, you’ll get just over 13 grams of carbohydrates -- an amount that includes 5 grams of fiber and about 4.5 grams of sugar -- from a cup of the chopped fruit. You’ll also get close to 15 milligrams of vitamin C, or 24 percent of the daily value based on a 2,000-calorie diet, as well as appreciable amounts of vitamins K and E.
A cranberry’s mouth-puckering flavor intensifies as it dries, which is why most dried cranberries are made with sugar or some other kind of sweetener. A 1/3-cup serving of sweetened dried cranberries provides just over 120 calories and about 33 grams of carbohydrates, including 2.3 grams of fiber. Roughly 80 percent of the carbohydrates in dried cranberries come from simple sugars, according to the USDA. Because cranberries are typically sprayed with oil to keep them from sticking together as they dry, they’re slightly higher in fat than the fresh variety. They’re also devoid of vitamin C, which is destroyed by the drying process.
Cranberries may not pack as many vitamins and minerals into each calorie as some other fruits, but like nearly all berries, most of the health benefits associated with cranberries -- whether fresh, dried or juiced -- come from their exceptional phytochemical content. Cranberries are a top source of antioxidants, providing more free-radical-fighting substances than blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and cherries, according to USDA analysis. They’re a significant source of proanthocyanidins, which are known to inhibit the bacteria associated with urinary tract infections, and may also interfere with the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers and gum disease.
Unprocessed cranberries are widely considered too tart to eat, which is why eating them generally means consuming added sugars. Even though sweetened cranberries are far more palatable, the American Heart Association notes that a diet rich in added sugars has been linked to an increased risk of dying from heart disease. If dried cranberries are part of your daily diet, cut back on other sources of added sugars to avoid consuming too much. Add fresh unsweetened cranberries to fruit salad -- pears, melon, grapes and other sweet fruits will help balance out their flavor and won’t count toward your intake of added sugars.