Did you know that the cranberry is one of only three commercially cultivated fruits native to North America? Cranberries are versatile ingredients that deserve much more attention than the little bowl they’re placed in on your Thanksgiving table. Considered to be a superfood because of the antioxidant and high nutrient content, cranberries may help to decrease blood pressure, improve immune function, inhibit certain cancer cells, and reduce the risk of urinary tract infection (UTI). They have also been used as natural dyes and many Native Americans used cranberries to draw out toxins from arrow wounds.
Believe it or not, you can make a lot of different dishes with cranberries. Since they are in season during the fall, you should opt for fresh cranberries instead of canned varieties, which contain preservatives, chemicals, and excess sugar. Additionally, most commercial cranberry juices contain obscene amounts of sugars, natural flavors, and dyes. If you want to get creative with your fresh cranberries, you can make a cranberry jalapeno salsa, cranberry mint chutney, cranberry oatmeal, fresh cranberry carrot juice, cranberry tea, cranberry smoothie, cranberry vinegar, or a cranberry chipotle slaw.
In this article, we will detail the health benefits of cranberries, highlighting their nutrients and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
Packed With Antioxidants
Cranberries have more phenols (based on fresh weight) than produce items like strawberries, red grapes, or spinach. These awesome phytochemicals help to protect you from cardiovascular diseases like blood clotting, heart attacks, or atherosclerosis. Consuming cranberries can be very beneficial for your cognitive health as well. Boost your brainpower!
They Fight Viruses
A recent study in Taiwan found that regularly consuming cranberries helps to fight the herpes simplex-2 virus (HSV-2), which can cause genital warts and ulcers. This virus can also cause inflammation in the brain. Additional studies found that cranberries helped to inhibit the growth of intestinal viruses.
They Slow Cancer Progression
A 2016 review of 34 preclinical studies found that the compounds in cranberries worked to inhibit cancer cell growth in test tubes. The antioxidant compounds helped to reduce inflammation, slow cancer cell growth, and trigger cancer cell death. While testing on humans with cancer is limited, these preliminary findings show promising results to the future of cancer treatment and management.
They Improve Cardiovascular Health
Preliminary studies suggest that cranberries may help to improve artery flexibility, which translates to improved blood flow and circulation. Taking the pressure off the heart helps to reduce blood pressure, but improved circulation also boosts cognitive function and increases energy levels. A 2019 review found that cranberry supplementation may manage several risk factors of cardiovascular disease, including systolic blood pressure. Additionally, this review found that cranberries may improve levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.
They Are Super PACs
When people think of cranberries and health, they typically think of a urinary tract infection (UTI). PACs are why you think of this. What are PACs? Proanthocyanidins, which prevent adhesion of bacteria to the urinary wall, are compounds that work to alter the makeup of disease-causing bacteria, preventing them from binding to human cells and developing into an infection. Only cranberries and blueberries contain PACs that have this anti-adhesion effect. They also work to inhibit bacteria in stomach ulcers, acid reflux, and kidney or bladder infections.
They Enhance Oral Health
NDM is a compound that has been shown to prevent, and sometimes reverse, oral bacteria associated with plaque and periodontal disease. The PACs in cranberries may also prevent bacteria from binding to the teeth, helping to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease.
How To Consume Cranberries
The fall months will have freshly harvested cranberries in grocery stores and farmer’s markets. If you don’t use them right away, they can be frozen for up to two months and consumed at that later date. This applies for fresh cranberries, but you need to beware of the added sweeteners, preservatives, and chemicals in dried cranberries or cranberry juices. Here are some tips for consuming cranberries:
- Add a handful of fresh cranberries to a fruit and vegetable smoothie.
- Include fresh cranberries in a dessert for a slightly tart flavor.
- Saute cranberries with other ingredients like orange zest, orange juice, and maple syrup to make fresh cranberry sauce.
- Add dried cranberries (free of preservatives and added sugars) to salads or homemade trail mix recipes.