Superfood: Cranberries

Give thanks for cranberries this Thanksgiving! These tart little suckers pack some major punches when it comes to health benefits and disease prevention, so go ahead and scoop a second helping.
Superfood: Cranberries

News flash: There’s a superfood hiding amidst the turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole on that Thanksgiving table! Whether it’s still in the shape of the can it came in or a healthier homemade alternative, cranberries have some major health benefits and disease-fighting powers Bioactive compounds in cranberries and their biological properties. Côté, J., Caillet, S., Doyon, G., et. al. Research Laboratory in Sciences Applied to Food, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Quebec, Canada. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2010 Aug; 50 (7): 666-79..

The Berry Best—Why They’re Super

Not only are cranberries one of only three berries native to the U.S. (in addition to blueberries and Concord grapes) Bioactive compounds in cranberries and their biological properties. Côté, J., Caillet, S., Doyon, G., et. al. Research Laboratory in Sciences Applied to Food, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, Quebec, Canada. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2010 Aug; 50 (7): 666-79., this super-fruit is also chock full of antioxidants, which help prevent and repair cell damage done by free radicals (think anti-wrinkle power!) and are rich in vitamin C and fiber Cranberries and cranberry products: powerful in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo sources of antioxidants. Vinson, J.A., Bose P., Proch, J., et. al. Department of Chemistry, University of Scranton, Scranton, PA. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008 Jul 23; 56 (14): 5884-2.. Not surprisingly, frozen, dried, or freshly juiced cranberries have much higher amounts of antioxidants than sugary cranberry juice cocktail or jellied sauce, so to get the most bang for those berries, try the fresher versions Cranberries and cranberry products: powerful in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo sources of antioxidants. Vinson, J.A., Bose P., Proch, J., et. al. Department of Chemistry, University of Scranton, Scranton, PA. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008 Jul 23; 56 (14): 5884-2..

But the health benefits don’t end there for this ninja fruit! While cranberries are well known for preventing urinary tract infections Bioactive compounds in cranberries and their role in prevention of urinary tract infections. Howell, A.B. Rutgers University, Chatsworth, NJ. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 2007 Jun; 51 (6): 732-7., the jury is still out on whether they can actually treat UTIs, as the old wives’ tale suggests Cranberries and cranberry products: powerful in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo sources of antioxidants. Vinson, J.A., Bose P., Proch, J., et. al. Department of Chemistry, University of Scranton, Scranton, PA. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008 Jul 23; 56 (14): 5884-2.. But these bacteria-busting berries also fight against inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease, aid oral health, help prevent ulcers and yeast infections, and may even inhibit the growth of some human cancer cells Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and cardiovascular disease risk factors. McKay DL, Blumberg JB. Antioxidants Research Laboratory, Tufts University, Boston, MA. Nutrition Reviews, 2007 Nov; 65 (11): 490-502. Potential oral health benefits of cranberry. Bodet, C., Grenier, D., Chandad, F., et al. Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Buccale, Faculte de Medecine Dentaire, Universite Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Critical Reviews In Food Science and Nutrition, 2008 Aug; 48 (7): 672-80. Cranberries: Ripe for more cancer research? Neto, C.C. Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, MA. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2011 Oct; 91 (13): 2303-7..

Before totally cramming in the cran, there are a few side effects to consider. Drinking too much cranberry juice can cause mild side effects including upset stomach and diarrhea. And drinking way too much of it (we’re talking more than one liter per day for an extended period of time) might actually increase the risk for kidney stones. To get all the good benefits, one 10-ounce glass per day should do the trick.

Pucker Up—Your Action Plan

Luckily, it’s the perfect time of year to think outside the cranberry sauce can. Fresh cranberries are in season from September to December and can last in the fridge for up to two months. Even with health benefits aplenty, one study still found cranberries are one of the most under-consumed fruits Cranberries and cranberry products: powerful in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo sources of antioxidants. Vinson, J.A., Bose P., Proch, J., et. al. Department of Chemistry, University of Scranton, Scranton, PA. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2008 Jul 23; 56 (14): 5884-2.. Looking for ways to sneak them in? Use cranberries for sauces and relishes in savory main dishes, in salads, breakfast cereals, or baked goods like breads and muffins, or just drink ‘em down like they’re juice… because, well, sometimes they are.

Superfood Recipe: Basil Cranberry Sauce

By Tulika Balagopal

Serves 2

What You'll Need: 

  • 1 12 oz bag of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 6 oz frozen apple juice concentrate 
  • 2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh basil

What to Do:

  1. Combine the apple juice concentrate and cranberries in a pot and turn the stove on medium-high heat.
  2. When the mixture begins to boil, turn the heat down slightly and add the basil
  3. Stir frequently as the cranberries begin to pop and the mixture reduces. After about 5 minutes, turn the heat to low and simmer until a thick, sauce-like consistency has formed.
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