Diet Diva
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Super Nutrient of the Week: The Health Benefits of Proanthocyanidins

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CranberriesUrinary tract infections (UTI’s) are common, painful, and disruptive infections that most often occur in women. No woman wants them and every woman wants to do everything to prevent them. It has always been a common thought that drinking cranberry juice will help ward off UTI’s. Well, this is becoming more of a scientific fact.

The protective effects of cranberry juice were once attributed to cranberry’s high benzoic and quinic acid content, which the body metabolizes into hippuric acid, a potent antibacterial. More and more studies are pointing out a different mechanism attributed to the proanthocyanidins (PAC’s) in cranberries.

PAC’s also known as condensed tannins are a subgroup of the flavonoid class of polyphenols. They are found in high concentrations in

  • cranberries
  • grapes and
  • chocolate

The PAC’s found in cranberries may help to prevent UTIs by blocking uropathogenic bacteria from adhering to several sites in the body including the urinary tract, stomach, and oral cavity. Bacterial adhesion is the initial step in the infection process.

The proanthocyanidins present in cranberries have an uncommon A-type intermolecular double linkage that appears to impart its unique anti-adherence effect and is different from PACs found in other flavonoid rich foods such as grapes and chocolate. By preventing urinary tract infections, cranberries can help reduce the need for antibiotics, which decreases the tendency for bacteria to develop antibiotic resistance. New research has shown the anti-adhesion activity of cranberry’s proanthocyanidin flavonoids can prevent UTIs, and possibly prevent the development of certain ulcers and periodontal disease.

Cranberries have demonstrated numerous health benefits in a number of research studies (beyond just the urinary tract!) but you may not want to eat or drink them because of the added sugars. Have no fear!  I’m typically a fan of not adding unnecessary sugar to foods like fruit, but cranberries really need it. Cranberries are naturally low in sugar, so they need to be sweetened in order to be palatable. If it’s not palatable you won’t eat it and then you won’t get the benefits.

Your body does not essentially distinguish between added sugar and natural sugar, so even though a juice may say 100% juice, its sugar content is no different than the sugar added to cranberry juice!  In fact, most cranberry juice has similar or less sugar than other juices and many juices on the market use low calorie sweeteners to sweeten the juice.  Read labels to see which is going to be best for you! 

For more info on proanthocyanidins and cranberries, check out www.cranberryinstitute.org

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Tags: Antioxidants

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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