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Crazy for cranberries all year long

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Dec 12, 2019

The Holidays are here and for Americans, cranberries will be front and center next to the Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham on dinner tables across the nation. Seeing beautifully displayed bags of cranberries in grocery stores this time of year, is a cherished reminder of this special season.  For being a top antioxidant-rich food, it’s too bad this “superfood” isn’t featured more frequently year-round.  Ounce-for-ounce, cranberries pack a bundle of nutrients rivaling other star foods such as spinach, blueberries, or even kale.

Maybe it’s because the only time we enjoy cranberries or how we perceive them are strongly associated with cranberry sauce to go with our turkey at Thanksgiving or jellied cranberry at Christmas.  The rest of the year we may not know what to do with them. The other noticeable factor is cranberries are super-tart and very few (if any) of us sit around snacking on a cup of raw cranberries like we do blueberries or strawberries.

Nonetheless, cranberries do have some very special nutritional qualities that make them unique.  Containing only 25 calories,  2.5 grams of fiber and no fat in ½ cup of raw cranberries, they are a food that be enjoyed in more ways than one.  Whether eaten fresh, dried, used as a sauce or drinking the juice, cranberries are a versatile food source that not only taste delicious but also extend health benefits throughout the body.  And, can be used anytime of the year.

Here are good ways to find uses for making cranberries a part of your diet year round:

  • Flu and cold fighter

Cranberries are abundant in phytochemicals, substances that may give the immune system a big boost. In one preliminary study, US researchers found that when people drank cranberry juice daily, the number of cells that defend the body against viral invaders increased significantly. During the study, the cranberry juice drinkers reported fewer cold and flu symptoms than those who didn’t drink the juice. Like citrus fruits (which are also good for the immune system), cranberries are a good source of vitamin C.

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Well-known for their potential role in preventing and treating urinary tract infections (UTIs), cranberries have been used since the turn of the century as a folk remedy for this condition which can cause frequent and painful urination. It was in 1923 when cranberries were first used by doctors to help acidy the urine which killed the bacteria causing UTIs.

The special ingredient in cranberries that help reduce UTIs by preventing the adhesion of certain bacteria to the walls of the urinary tract are its’ high level of proanthocyanidins (PACs).  One study funded by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. supporting the use of cranberry juice for UTIs was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016.  It found that women who drank an 8-ounce glass of cranberry juice daily reduced symptomatic UTIs by 40% which resulted in a reduced need for antibiotics.

  • Heart disease

Cranberries contain polyphenols which are a type of phytochemical or plant chemical that have antioxidant properties.  These health-promoting polyphenols may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing platelet build-up and by reducing blood pressure through anti-inflammatory mechanisms.

It has been shown by studies that cranberry extract reduce oxidation of LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) which also can lead to maintaining a healthy heart.

  • Cancer

Because cranberries contain phytochemicals, it is believed that the combined actions of many different phytochemicals can act as antioxidants which can help neutralize harmful free radicals in the body.  These same antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage to cells that can possibly lead to various forms of cancer.

  • Oral health

The proanthocyanidins cranberries contain that prevent UTIs may also boost oral health by preventing bacteria from binding to teeth and could also be beneficial in preventing gum disease.

  • Digestive health

Cranberries are beginning to be recognized as a powerful player in keeping the gut healthy and functioning properly.  Thanks to the compound of proanthocyanidins found abundantly in cranberries, it interacts with other bioactive compounds in cranberries protecting the gut microbiota along with providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions that benefitting the cardiovascular system and immune functioning.  All of this interaction between various compounds may help to strengthen the gut to protect against infection.

Using cranberries

Cranberries are very versatile and can be combined with many other flavors.  Cranberry juice can be mixed with other juices to give a different twist on flavor.  Consider mixing it with apple, orange or grape juices. Dried cranberries can be added to trail mix, granola, oatmeal, salads or even chicken salad.  Fresh or dried cranberries go great in quick breads such as muffins, sweet breads, and yeast breads.  Consider them also in pies, cobblers, chutneys, salsas, and relishes.

Fresh cranberries should be stored in the refrigerator preferably in a crisper for about three to four weeks.  Cranberries also freeze well either whole or sliced.

For more ideas and recipes on how to use cranberries all year round visit: http://www.oceanspray.com/Ocean-Spray-Recipes.aspx

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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