The tart berries of the cranberry vine can be eaten whole or juiced. Since raw cranberries are very tart, other fruit juices or sweeteners are frequently added to its juice to make it more palatable. Cranberry drinks are available as "cranberry juice" or "cranberry juice cocktail" in most grocery stores, but since there are no hard-and-fast rules for labeling these drinks, it can be difficult to know which to choose.
Benefits of Cranberry
Cranberry has a long history of medicinal use for everything from kidney stones and digestive problems to scurvy. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) attributes some of these benefits to antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which may help prevent cell damage, heart disease and cancer. UMMC points out that although research results are sometimes conflicting, cranberry seems to affect certain types of bacteria, such as those that cause urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers and even dental cavities, by keeping the damaging bacteria from adhering to cells and tissues. Cranberry is also rich in vitamin C.
Cranberry Cocktail or Cranberry Juice?
Dietitian Peggy Woodward distinguishes between cranberry juice and cranberry juice cocktail by the type of sweetener used. Cranberry juice cocktail, sometimes called cranberry cocktail or cranberry drink, is generally sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Cranberry juices labeled "100% juice" use naturally sweet juices such as apple or grape to cut the cranberries' sourness. Some add no sweetener at all. These are often labeled "100% cranberry juice" or "pure cranberry juice" and will be quite tart in flavor.
Urinary Tract Infections
Cranberry juice is frequently used as a home remedy for urinary tract infections (UTIs). The University of Maryland Medical Center points out that although several studies show that cranberry juice may help prevent UTIs, there is no evidence that it helps treat them once they occur. Cranberry juice should not be used in place of an antibiotic in the treatment of UTIs. If you are prone to UTIs, ask your doctor whether supplementing with cranberry might be a good choice for you. If he agrees, try at least 3 oz. of pure cranberry juice a day, or 10 oz. of cranberry juice cocktail with a cranberry content of at least 30 percent. Cranberry supplements are also available.
Choosing a Cranberry Cocktail or Juice
When choosing a cranberry drink, read the label. Avoid juices sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, which is the same type of refined sugar found in soft drinks and can lead to obesity, tooth decay and poor nutrition. If you choose a cranberry juice sweetened with other fruit juices, the caloric and sugar content will be similar, but you'll get the vitamins and phytonutrients of those sweeter juices rather than the empty calories of high-fructose corn syrup. If you are hoping to prevent UTIs or other health conditions with cranberry juice, look for pure or low-sugar cranberry juice containing about 30 percent cranberry juice concentrate, frozen or raw whole cranberries or a cranberry supplement.