With their rich, ruby-red color and sharp tang, cranberries are an essential part of any Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. However, if you limit enjoying cranberries to those few occasions, you’re missing out. Cranberries are packed with nutrients and antioxidants that are fabulous for our bodies, and they’re so versatile that it’s easy to make them a regular part of your diet.
About the cranberry
Cranberries are native to North America, where they’re grown in water (allowing the sun’s rays to infuse them with all their important nutrients). The season for fresh cranberries is between October and December, but they keep for up to two months in the fridge and can also be canned, frozen or dried for even more convenience.
What are the important elements of cranberries?
It’s hard to find a food that has more goodies than cranberries—perhaps that’s why the cranberry is regarded as a ‘superfood’!
Cranberries contain high levels of Vitamin C, which helps us ward off nasty bugs like the common cold, encourages wounds to heal quickly, allows our bodies to build healthy cells, and keeps our joints in good condition. At the same time, they provide us with vitamin E, an antioxidant that boosts the immune system and makes us less susceptible to chronic health conditions. Cranberries also contain Vitamin K, manganese, and other natural plant chemicals.
Since cranberries are an excellent source of fiber, they can also steady our body’s response to insulin (making them an ideal snack for those with diabetes).
Now, what kind of conditions can cranberries help to treat?
Urinary tracts infections
Cranberries are famous for its effectiveness in treating UTIs, especially for those who get such infections regularly. Recent research has revealed that cranberries contain significant levels of proanthocyanidins (PACs), which make it difficult for bacteria to stick to the urinary tract lining and thereby lower your risk of developing a UTI. However, other research has indicated that cranberries may cause problems if you’re prone to kidney stones, so check with your family doctor if you’re in any doubt.
Some studies have found that cranberries help to maintain a healthy digestive system. Cranberries can promote a good balance of bacteria in the gut, and scientists are also investigating whether their ability to resist the adhesion of bacteria can be used to tackle problems like stomach ulcers.
The anti-inflammatory properties of cranberries are known to reduce blood pressure, with all the positive benefits this can bring (such as reducing the likelihood of a heart attack).
Teeth and gums
Again, the ability to resist the ‘stickiness’ of bacteria makes cranberries a superb ally in fighting tooth decay, whilst their anti-inflammatory properties help us to avoid gum disease.
There is a good deal of research into the effect of cranberries on different kinds of tumors, and there’s some evidence to suggest that they may slow the growth of abnormal cells (especially in cancers in the breast, ovaries, liver, colon, and prostate).
So, with so much going for cranberries, how can you ensure you’re including them as a regular part of a healthy diet?
Fresh and frozen cranberries
Fresh cranberries contain the most nutrients, and fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy them. The standard way is in cranberry sauce, but do be careful, because the naturally tart flavor of cranberries often means that cranberry dishes contain lots of sugar.
However, you can make the most of this natural sharpness by adding fresh cranberries to savory salads and fruit salads. You can add fresh cranberries to almost any cake, muffin or cookie recipe for a little extra bite, or whizz them in a blender with other fresh fruits to create a delicious smoothie. You can also use frozen cranberries in place of fresh ones for most dishes.
A glass of cranberry juice is a refreshing, cool drink, especially when combined with carbonated water and other fruit juices. Again, check sugar levels carefully, and choose a variety that lists cranberry as the first ingredient, because the ingredient with the largest proportion is listed first.
Finally, dried cranberries work well in a home-made trail mix, sprinkled on breakfast cereal or simply nibbled as a nutritious snack.