For a healthy holiday season, your best bet might be to bring the cranberry sauce to the fore. In a new review of previous studies, experts from a wide variety of institutions have determined that cranberries contain a unique bioactive compound capable of fending off a large number of ailments. Aside from protecting against certain infections, the tart berries may also keep inflammation and cardiovascular disease at bay.

The review surveyed the results of 150 published studies on the subject. According to lead author Jeffrey Blumberg, of Tufts University, many of the recorded health benefits appear to be associated with a class of antioxidants called polyphenols. "Hundreds of studies show that the bioactive compounds found in cranberries improve health," he said in a press release. "For example, the polyphenols found in cranberries have been shown to promote a healthy urinary tract and exert protective benefits for cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions."

What’s more, the polyphenols provided by cranberries appear to be of a rather rare subtype. Whereas most berries and fruit contain a so-called B-type proanthocyanidin, cranberries are rich in A-type proanthocyanidin. The researchers believe that the anti-adhesive capacity of this polyphenol is the reason cranberries can help clear and protect against urinary tract infection (UTI) — an infection that affects more than 15 million U.S. women each year.

In addition, cranberries may help control a number of factors associated with heart attack and stroke. By limiting blood pressure and cholesterol, the berries’ antioxidant capacity can stave off plaque formation, atherogenesis, oxidative stress, and other adverse processes implicated in cardiovascular disease. By supporting so-called endothelial function, cranberries also reduce arterial stiffness.

Finally, even sweetened cranberries are relatively low in sugar. For this reason, cranberry products — be they fresh, frozen, dried, boiled, or pressed — make it easy to achieve your daily quota of fruit without exceeding your calorie limit. "While we look forward to more research to better understand how cranberries affect our well-being and longevity, we know that including cranberries and cranberry products in a healthy diet is a great way to increase fruit intake,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

Source: Blumberg J, Camesano T, Cassidy A, et al. Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health. Advances in Nutrition. 2013