In recent years, you've likely heard the terms "prebiotics" and "probiotics" countless times, as study after study has touted the vital importance of digestive health on everything from the immune system to mental health to weight control. A healthy gut might even improve your skin! The main idea is that prebiotics and probiotics can be used to keep gut bacteria (the good kind of bacteria) balanced and happy.
The latest in gut health research includes good news for one of our favorite tart and tasty fruits: cranberries. Turns out, the typically autumnal berry shouldn't be reserved just for the Thanksgiving spread, as new findings suggest that a carbohydrate found in cranberries could have prebiotic benefits for gut bacteria. (Prebiotics: nondigestible molecules in food that selectively stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the gut.)
Apparently, cranberries have been a topic of research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for over 60 years, and nutritional microbiologist David Sela correctly hypothesized that cranberries might be able to boost gut health, which would make the tart berries a new option for prebiotic supplements.
As he explained to Science Daily, "A lot of plant cell walls are indigestible, and indeed we cannot digest the special sugars found in cranberry cell walls called xyloglucans. But when we eat cranberries, the xyloglucans make their way into our intestines where beneficial bacteria can break them down into useful molecules and compounds." According to Sela, consumers and researchers alike are better off focusing on prebiotics instead of probiotics. "With probiotics, we are taking extra doses of beneficial bacteria that may or may not help our gut health. But with prebiotics, we already know that we have the beneficial guys in our guts, so let's feed them! Let's give them more nutrients and things that they like."
More data is needed to find out if cranberry is the hero our digestive tracts both need and deserve. Still, it can't hurt to trust your gut and incorporate some unsweetened cranberry dishes into your diet, regardless of the season.