Cranberries have been long hailed as a “superfood” for their antioxidant properties and have also been linked to boosting urinary tract health in the past.
However, researchers have now discovered yet another potential benefit of consuming cranberries, friendly gut bacteria have been found to grow when fed a carbohydrate in the fruit.
Having an abundance of good gut bacteria is beneficial not only to our digestive health but has also been linked to brain health, mood and emotion, energy levels and weight loss.
Professor David Sela, a nutritional microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explained why these friendly gut bacteria are so important for our overall health.
“They make molecules and compounds that help us, or they make it to help some of the hundreds of other kinds of beneficial members of the gut health community," he told The Mail Online.
Professor Sela revealed: “There are thought to be as many bacterial cells in our bodies as our own human cells, so we're basically eating for two.”
Professor Sela and his research team were interested in proving whether xyloglucans which are special sugars found in cranberry cell walls can be broken down by broken down into healthy compounds for the gut.
However, xyloglucans are indigestible and don’t impact on the gut when consumed in the normal fashion.
To investigate the phenomenon, researchers fed a type of bacteria normally found in the human gut called bifidobacteria with xyloglucans.
They found some bifidobacteria reacted well to the xyloglucans and grew in size.
These important bacteria are commonly found in the intestinal tracts of breastfed newborns.
Professor Sela explained the role of these gut-friendly bacteria, saying: “They are consuming things we can't digest, or they are helping other beneficial microbes that we find it hard to introduce as probiotics, or their presence can help keep pathogens away.”
He said the finding that xyloglucans supported the growth of good bacteria was promising: “Prebiotics and probiotics might interact with our own physiology to help balance the microbiome, and we already know that when things are not in balance you can get problems like inflammation.”
More research is required to determine exactly how xyloglucans interact other bacterial species and strains.
In the meantime, there’s no harm in adding some cranberries to your diet this summer – just don’t rely on cranberry juice and vodka to provide the health benefits outlined above!