Research suggests cranberries deliver numerous health benefits. But cranberry juice cocktail is on a list of products under consideration by the federal government to be banned in school vending machines. To ward off the ban, the cranberry industry has recruited members of Congress to form the Cranberry Caucus.
Cranberry health benefits
According to the Cranberry Institute, research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Recent research has also suggested that the proanthocyanidins in cranberries may prevent the adhesion of bacteria associated with urinary tract infections to the urinary tract wall. The anti-adhesion properties of cranberries may also inhibit the bacteria associated with gum disease and stomach ulcers.
Just another sugary drink?
The trouble with cranberries is that without sugar, they taste awful. It takes a lot of sugar to make cranberry juice drinkable. But sugary drinks have been singled out as a root cause of obesity. New York City has banned the sale of large containers of sweetened beverages and 30 states are considering a tax on beverages with added sugar to reduce consumption.
At the urging of Michelle Obama, the Department of Agriculture is finalizing guidelines for what products can be sold in school vending machines—a $2.3 billion business. There’s a chance that cranberry juice cocktail won’t make the cut.
The Cranberry Caucus
Cranberry growers think that would be unfair, contending that cranberry juice needs sugar added in order to deliver its myriad health benefits. Cranberry industry lobbyists have recruited a bipartisan group of politicians to form the Congressional Cranberry Caucus. The Cranberry Caucus, led by Representatives Reid Ribble, R-Wis., and Bill Keating, D-Mass., and Senators John Kerry, D-Mass. and Scott Brown, R-Mass, hopes to convince USDA officials that an exception must be made for cranberry products in the new school nutrition standards.
The Congressional Cranberry Caucus is “sponsored” by Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., a growers cooperative with $2.1 billion in 2011 sales.
“Given the beneficial and scientifically proven health properties of cranberries, we believe there is a need to establish clear standards that recognize cranberries as a part of a healthy diet,” the caucus wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We ask that you consider including a variety of cranberry juice and dried cranberry products in USDA’s food nutrition program so that children, seniors and adults served by these programs are not denied benefits unique to cranberries.”
Will reducing obesity get priority?
Some nutritional experts say the potential to reduce obesity by banning sugary drinks is more important than making the health benefits of cranberry juice available to school children. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest told USA Today, “There’s some evidence to show that cranberry juice can prevent urinary tract infections, but that doesn’t mean everyone should be drinking cranberry juice every day. Only 3 percent of kids a year have urinary tract infections, compared to one-third who are overweight. Urinary tract infection is not a booming epidemic. Obesity is.”
The USDA has established new standards for what can be sold in school cafeterias as part of the federal school lunch program and is expected to announce standards for school vending machines soon. If vending machine criteria are similar to the cafeteria standards, only 100 percent juice beverages are likely be allowed. Ocean Spray’s cranberry juice cocktail is 27 percent juice.