Cranberry is a lot more than the side trimming to both America’s and Canada’s typical Thanksgiving meal. It may also be the food on the table with the most antioxidants and one of the most nutrient rich foods on the planet. It is also one of the most outstanding fruit in it’s health benefits potential.
A Little Bit of Background:
Mostly grown and cultivated in certain states in the United States and regional provinces of Canada, cranberries grow in shrubs and are pollinated by domestic honey bees. The fruit itself is a berry that grows to be indeed larger than the leaves of the plant from which it came and begins it’s life colored white. As time and maturity ripens the berry, the cranberry turns a deep red when fully ripe. It is quite edible yet with a pungent, acidic taste and which over powers it’s little natural sweetness.
In North America, while Native Americans were the first to use cranberries as food, they also used the cranberries in a variety of foods – for nutritional and medicinal purposes such as for pemmican, a wound medicine and dye. Today the cranberry is a staple for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner and in many European winter festivals as well.(1)
Change In Scientific and Nutritional Perception:
Upon entering the early 21st century, there has been a growing interest within nutritional and medical establishments in recognizing the cranberry for its popularity, nutritional and health benefits, and antioxidant qualities.
The role which antioxidants play is one in which they neutralize free radicals, which can in turn damage cellular DNA and may contribute to everything from premature aging of the skin to various types of cancer. Simply put, antioxidants protect our bodies from the harmful molecules to which we are exposed every day of our lives. In short, the little cranberry, being full of the richest antioxidant level of all fruit and vegetables has now jettisoned to another status beside trimming for the holiday turkey.
Today, the cranberry has now reached a “super fruit” status, indeed making it the most antioxidant rich food on the planet, in many scientific circles. It has even caused previously thought of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit to be downgraded according to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) rating in it’s value. This in itself is amazing but more amazing perhaps is the fact(s) surrounding the many outstanding health benefits that it possesses.
Their Nutritional Composition:
Fiber, sugars, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, A, and K, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin are just some of the nutrients and micro nutrients found in only 100 grams of the cranberry fruit.
Phyto-Chemical Powerhouse of Nutrition:
In 2001, the University of Maine began a study comparing cranberries with 19 other fruit. The results showed that the cranberry was loaded with over five times the antioxidant content of broccoli, in addition to the 19 other common fruits, in the study.
Cranberries were shown to contain the highest level of cancer-fighting antioxidant phenols. Indeed, they had the largest amount of amount of both free and total phenols, with red grapes at a distant second place.(2)
Health Benefits and Potential Health Benefits:
Due to the fairly recent surge in nutritional and scientific research, the findings are still coming in as to the outstanding definite and potential health benefits of this most remarkable fruit.
Cranberries are a source of polyphenol antioxidants, phyto-chemicals and there is ongoing, active research for possible benefits to everything from the cardiovascular, circulatory, and immune systems to being active anti-cancer agents.
But there is even more. Bearing in mind that the verdict is still coming in as to efficacy of the cranberry fruit, let us examine briefly some of the areas which are under going research at this very hour – subject to change as the scientific evidence becomes more pronounced.
Urinary Tract Infections:
Research up to now has indicated that “long-term” consumption of cranberry juice has only limited evidence for beneficial effects against urinary tract infections in women. Yet, it has been observed to have a relaxing effect, on study groups reducing their stress levels.
On the other hand, according to the same test results, cranberry tannins have anti-clotting properties and may reduce urinary tract infections to some degree.
After eight individual scientific research studies, it has been confirmed that cranberries keep the E. coli bacteria from attaching itself to the walls of the urinary tract. Research shows that an effect occurs from a component of the cranberry juice inhibiting bacterial infection attachment to the bladder and urethra. Medical science confirms that 80 to 90 percent of urinary tract infections are caused by the E. coli bacteria.
Dental and Periodontal Disease (gingivitis):
A study published by the Journal of the American Dental Association reported that the cranberry possesses a high molecular material which has the ability to reverse and inhibit certain plaque and periodontal diseases. When given cranberry juice, even in mouthwash form, there was a decreased production of cavity and plaque producing bacteria in the mouth of participants. This resulted in consequently reducing the bacteria associated with peptic stomach ulcers.
Within the composition of the cranberry in juice form, there is also shown a propensity against formation of kidney stones. This has been known for many, many years as a home remedy solution but it is in recent years that the medical community has recognized the cranberry as a viable force to combat the formation and elimination of certain kidney stones, other than by means of surgery.
Alzheimer Disease and Atherosclerosis.
Recent exciting news suggest that cranberries can be a weapon in the war against atherosclerosis (what used to be called “hardening of the arteries”). Flavonoids help reduce the amount of bad cholesterol clogging the walls of the arteries while increasing the level of good cholesterol in the circulatory system.
USDA scientists at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University have been finding promising results associated with diets high in antioxidants and other phyto-nutrients. Preliminary studies suggest that diets containing fruit and vegetables with high-ORAC^ values may provide protection against chronic age-related afflictions like loss of coordination and memory. Cranberries scored the highest on the ORAC scale. See illustrative graph.
Additional Health Benefits:
Not only may regular consumption of cranberry products help maintain health, but in the process may reduce the number of infections in a given population, and thereby the doses of antibiotics which are needed. It is becoming increasingly clear within the medical scientific community that a reduction in general antibiotic use also reduces the likelihood of the bacteria becoming resistant to those very same antibiotics, which is a public health problem of global proportions, according to the World Health Organization.
On The Down Side (Counter Indications):
Although most traditional cranberry juice purchased in the store likely works for urinary tract infections, the juice has far too much sugar in it. The main reason is that it, like all fruit juices, is high in fructose.
However, when purchasing cranberry juice, it would be wise to get the variety without any added fructose or corn syrup, especially in the case of a diabetic person.
Cranberries At Their Best:
The darker and deeper the color, the more highly concentrated the nutrients, as the greatest antioxidant levels are found in fresh cranberries. While cranberries are a tremendous source of nutrients, processing, storage and heating reduce antioxidant levels. The lowest level being in sweetened cranberry drinks, cranberry cocktails and the jellied variety. The best choices are fresh and dried cranberries, when they are at their very best natural state.
Why not buy a few extra bags of cranberries to enjoy year round in muffins, scones, pancakes and cooked relishes? They can keep well in the freezer for several years.
Thaw frozen cranberries and drain prior to using, then extend the suggested cooking time by a few minutes. Once the cranberry season ends, you can still taste the same flavor and retain all of the health benefits with un-sweetened cranberry juice and dried cranberries.
Simply add honey and/or some stevia now sold in supermarkets and you are ready to sprinkle a handful of dried berries over a bowl of hot oatmeal, barley or cold cereal. You can also create a delicious trail mix snack by mixing dried cranberries with raw nuts and sweetened with raisins.
Following is a recipe that is fast, easy, and nutritious which can be tried this coming Thanksgiving and Christmas season (or any time really). It is for Cranberry-Orange Relish.
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/2 tsp. sugar substitute – (if using stevia use one half of this amount as it is sweeter than table white sugar)
1 tart cooking apple, cored and chopped
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 orange, peeled and sliced
Wash the cranberries and discard any shriveled berries and stems. Place all the fruit in a food processor and coarsely chop. Stir in the spices and sugar substitute. Blend well. Chill before serving. Makes eight servings. One serving = three tablespoons.
This Thanksgiving and coming holidays, in addition to giving thanks to God for the many other blessings in one’s life, it would be totally appropriate to give thanks for the provision of the little red cranberry. It is the most rich of foods in antioxidant content, and at the same time offers the potential of being one of the most beneficial to one’s health.
(3) The Amazaing Health Benefits of the Cranberry
By Lisa Mosing, MS, RD, FADA, Special to LifeScript, December 02, 2006, http://www.lifescript.com/Body/Food/Good-foods/Why_the_Sour_Face_The_Amazing_Health_Benefits_of_Cranberries.aspx?gclid=CPj6rfLKn6UCFYrt7QodmmCBIg&trans=1&du=1&ef_id=2cxM33TzAQAALqU:20101114053443:s
(4) Cranberry Institute,http://www.cranberryinstitute.org/emerging.htm
Authored by Beverly Anne Sanchez, 2010