Cranberries not only make a delicious sauce to go with your turkey at Christmas, they’ve been on the healthy food list for some time.
A few years ago they were touted as a cure for cystitis until research proved they weren’t quite.
Now scientists at the University of East Anglia in collaboration with researchers from Leiden, Parma and the Quadram Institute, Norwich, are claiming you can improve your memory and lower bad cholesterol by adding them to your diet.
Apparently consuming the equivalent of a cup of cranberries every day is “neuroprotective” for 50 to 80-year-olds.
So could they even protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia?
Lead researcher Dr David Vauzour, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Dementia is expected to affect around 152 million people by 2050.
“There is no known cure, so it is crucial we seek modifiable lifestyle interventions, such as diet, that could help lessen disease risk and burden.
“We wanted to find out more about how cranberries could help reduce age-related neurodegeneration.”
We know foods rich in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which give berries their red, blue or purple colour, have been found to slow rates of cognitive decline and dementia.
The research team investigated the impact of eating cranberries for 12 weeks on brain function and cholesterol among 60 cognitively healthy participants, half consuming freeze-dried cranberry powder, equivalent to a cup or 100g of fresh cranberries daily and the other half a placebo.
The results show that cranberries significantly improves memory of everyday events, neural functioning and blood supply to the brain.
Dr Vauzour said: “We found that the participants who consumed the cranberry powder showed significantly improved episodic memory performance in combination with improved circulation of essential nutrients, such as oxygen and glucose, to important parts of the brain that support cognition – specifically memory consolidation and retrieval.
“The cranberry group also exhibited a significant decrease in LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, known to contribute to thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque.”
This supports the idea that cranberries can improve vascular health and may in part contribute to the improvement in brain cognition.
Dr Vazour added: “The findings of this study are very encouraging, especially considering that a relatively short 12-week cranberry intervention was able to produce significant improvements in neural function.”
While the study is one of the first to examine the long-term impact on cognition and brain health of cranberries, other purple fruits like blackberries and blueberries (and beetroot) would be good additions to your diet.