Check out the benefits of cranberries

Anita Marlay
Cranberry drinks on the counter.

More than 3 million people a year suffer from a urinary tract infection (UTI), with women being at a higher risk. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 50% of women have experienced a UTI at some point. Half of those will have a reoccurrence within six months.

UTIs are usually caused when bacteria from the gut work their way through the urethra and urinary tract into the bladder. Around 80% of UTIs are the result of E. coli bacteria, which is normally found in the colon. If E. coli makes its way to the bladder, it sticks to the lining of the bladder walls and begins multiplying, causing an infection on the surface of the urinary tract. The bacteria can affect several parts of the urinary tract but occurs most commonly in the bladder.

Symptoms of UTI include pain or burning while urinating, difficulty urinating, bloody or foul-smelling urine, and pressure or cramping in the lower abdomen.

Antibiotics are the usual cure for a UTI. Sometimes low-dose antibiotics, given over a longer period, are used to prevent recurrent UTIs. But this creates the risk of the bacteria becoming antibiotic-resistant, so it is not always recommended. Even when treated, UTIs can come back.

You may have heard that cranberries can help prevent UTIs, and it now appears there is some validity to this claim. After decades of research from clinical trials, the Food and Drug Administration has announced its approval of a qualified health claim regarding the relationship between cranberry product consumption and the reduced risk of recurrent UTIs in healthy women.

Scientists used to think that since cranberries are acidic, they must make the urine more acidic, which creates a less friendly environment for bacteria. However, it appears there is more to it than that. It’s known that cranberries are a potent source of antioxidants. But they also contain proanthocyanidins, which may help prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urethra, thus preventing infection. The proanthocyanidins found in cranberries have a different structure than those found in other fruits and vegetables, which may be why cranberries are unique in preventing recurrent UTIs.

While drinking cranberry juice won’t cure a urinary tract infection, there is evidence to support that it can help prevent reoccurrence in some women. The recommendation is an eight-ounce glass of at least 27% cranberry juice daily, which would be an extra 140 calories to your diet. Diet cranberry juices have fewer calories, but you need to make sure they are at least 27% cranberry. Juice blends with less cranberry than 27% will not be effective. If you’d rather not drink juice, you can take a cranberry capsule. Look for those that are 100% cranberry fruit powder, and take 500 milligrams daily.

Large quantities of cranberry juice over an extended period may alter the effects of warfarin, so be cautious if you are on that blood thinner. Cranberry juice is acidic, and not everyone can tolerate it. Avoid drinking cranberry juice if it causes stomach or bowel issues. Because cranberries are high in oxalates, kidney stones may be more likely, especially if you are already prone to kidney stones.

Hydration is also important in helping prevent UTI reoccurrence. Drinking water helps dilute the urine and ensures frequent urination, enabling bacteria to be flushed from the urinary tract before an infection can begin.

Increasing good bacteria or probiotics in your gut can also help. You can add probiotics to your system with fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchee, or with live-culture yogurt.

If you are someone who suffers from recurrent UTIs, give cranberries a try. For most people, there is no harm, and it just might provide relief.

Cajun Pork Chops with Cheesy Polenta and Asparagus

Serves 4

4 cups water

1 cup cornmeal

4 thin cut bone-in loin chops (about 1 ½ pounds)

1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning

½ tsp salt

2 Tbsp canola oil, divided

1 pound asparagus, cut into 2” pieces

¾ cup white wine

1 ¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 scallions, sliced

1 Tbsp butter

¾ tsp ground pepper

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly whisk in cornmeal, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened — about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, season the pork with Cajun seasoning and one-quarter teaspoon salt. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, turning once, until browned, about one minute per side. Reduce heat to medium, and continue cooking until a thermometer registers 140 degrees. Transfer to a platter, and cover with foil when done.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, asparagus and wine to the pan. Cook, scraping up any browned bits, until asparagus is tender — about three minutes.

Remove the polenta from the heat and stir in the cheese, scallions, butter, pepper and the remaining one-quarter teaspoon of salt. Serve with the pork and asparagus.

Nutrition Information: 565 calories, 35 g fat, 28 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 36 g protein, 659 mg sodium

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Missouri.