Article: The Versatile Cranberry

November 24th, 2012 | by Pam Stuppy
Published in: Articles

Printed in Seacoast Online

The cranberry harvest has begun. Their appearance in the produce section of the grocery store heralds the fall and winter holiday seasons. This tangy, colorful fruit adds a unique flavor plus special health benefits. They are also available in a number of forms — fresh, dried, sauced, fresh frozen, and juiced.

Cranberries are native to North America and were originally called “crane berries.” They are generally grown in bogs on low vines, some of which can be more than 100 years old. Native Americans used them to treat wounds. Today they are best known for reducing the risk of urinary tract infections.

Substances found in cranberries can actually prevent bacteria from attaching to membranes, such as those of the urinary tract. The bacteria can then not take up residence and are passed out of the body. These substances are useful in prevention, but cannot treat an established infection.

Studies suggest that this anti-adhesion effect can also reduce bacteria in the mouth, lessening the risk of periodontal disease. Some mouthwashes and toothpastes contain extracts of cranberry for this purpose.

The stomach can benefit from cranberries as well. A particular bacteria is to blame for stomach and intestinal ulcers. Similar to their effect in the urinary tract, the intake of cranberries can prevent adhesion of this bacteria to the lining of these organs.

Cranberries also contain substances that are powerful antioxidants. This means they can help reduce tissue damage in the body. Such damage could otherwise increase the chance of problems like premature skin aging, some cancers, and heart disease.

The heart and blood vessels get a boost from cranberries. Special nutrients in cranberries can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis because of their anti-inflammatory properties, can have a positive effect on the immune system, can help cholesterol levels, and can promote blood flow through the arteries by their effect on certain enzymes.

Even better news, is that all forms of cranberries can provide these health benefits and cooking does not counter the anti-adhesion properties of the cranberry. Starting about two hours after consuming, the anti-adhesion begins and can last up to 10 hours. This means that for maximal effect, people who get frequent urinary tract infections might consider getting two servings a day — one in the morning and one in the evening.

When looking at the nutritional content of these tiny fruit, one whole cup contains only about 46 calories and 12 grams of carbs, but packs a 5-gram dose of fiber. Because of the high fiber and low sugar content, the fresh berries are low in the glycemic index, which can be important for people with blood glucose issues. They also provide potassium (great for blood pressure numbers) and some vitamin C.

Many forms of cranberries are available all year, so can be a frequent part of the diet. Try freezing fresh berries so they are at your fingertips when looking for a fruity, tart flavor and a dash of red color. When buying cranberry juice, look for brands that contain at least 27 percent juice to ensure the health benefits.

If cranberries have not been a frequent part of your diet, think about all the places you could slip them in. Fresh berries can be used in quick breads like cranberry nut bread or muffins. They can be used to make a cranberry crisp or cobbler. They can be cooked into a sauce or preserves.

Dried cranberries are great in a salad, stirred into yogurt or pudding, added to quick breads, in a bread pudding, in your morning oatmeal, added to granola, used as a topping for your bagel with cream cheese, as part of a trail mix, added to boxed cereals, added to a peanut butter sandwich, on top of peanut butter in celery, added to cooked hot grain dishes (rice, quinoa, couscous, barley, bulgur, etc.), added to cold grain salads, added to apple crisp, as a filling for baked apples, or in pancakes.

Cranberry juice adds tartness to a smoothie. A festive beverage could be some cranberry juice with a splash of seltzer. Did you know that there is a cranberry juice available that contains 50 percent lower sugar content if you are trying to lower your carb intake but still want to get the nutritional benefits?

What is considered a serving? Try for one cup of fresh, ½ cup of dried, ¼ cup of cranberry sauce, or 8-10 ounces of cranberry juice. Pills and powders are also available in which 250-1000 mg would be considered a dose — but the real deal is a tastier way to get the health benefits.

With all the positive health benefits, delicious flavor, perky color and versatility of the mighty cranberry, how can you resist adding several versions to your grocery cart this week.


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