The cranberry plant is indigenous to North America and the Native Americans were the first to use the cranberry as food. A cousin of the blueberry, half the US production of cranberries comes from Wisconsin.
Cranberry juice cocktail, commonly available at supermarkets, contains a teaspoon of sugar per ounce, more than sugary soft drinks that have been linked to obesity. Not only that, the solid part of the cranberry left behind after being pressed for juice, is what contains the best parts of the cranberry from a health perspective.
Cranberries have a low glycemic index and one cup has only 23 calories. Cranberries have moderate amounts of vitamin C, fiber and manganese. They can be kept frozen for up to nine months.
In the last 10 years or so, the cranberry has become know as a superfruit. Cranberries contain polyphenol antioxidants which are phytochemicals (chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants) having potential health benefits.
Cranberries and Urinary Tract Infections
It was commonly thought that the acidity of cranberries and cranberry juice is what helped prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). However, research has shown it is not the acidity but the cranberry’s proanthocyanidins (PACs), which makes it more difficult for certain types of bacteria to attach themselves to our urinary tract linings. (PACs are type of flavonoid, a class of compounds with antioxidant effects.) In a similar fashion, these PACs may prevent bacteria from attaching to the stomach lining and protect us from stomach ulcers.
Phytonutrients are chemicals that occur naturally in plant foods. Unlike vitamins and minerals, they aren’t necessary to keep you alive, but they may help prevent disease and keep your body functioning properly. Cranberries contain 5 important categories of health-supportive phytonutrients, and it is the synergy of all these phytonutrients working together at once that supplies the cranberry’s health benefits. Therefore, it is important that we eat the whole cranberry to achieve these benefits.
Cranberries provide many anti-inflammatory benefits. Cranberries can help lower our risk for periodontal disease. Dietary consumption of cranberry has also been shown to reduce the risk of inflammation in the stomach, large intestine (colon) and cardiovascular system (especially blood vessel linings).
Oxidative stress and inflammation can damage our blood vessel walls and cause the formation of plaque, and increase the risk of atherosclerosis, the thickening and blocking of our blood vessel walls. Ingesting cranberries has been shown to prevent the triggering of two enzymes that are pivotal in the atherosclerosis process. Furthermore, these antioxidant benefits have been clearly associated with decreased risk of high blood pressure.
Cranberries also help lower our LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol, while increasing our good HDL (good) cholesterol.
Consuming cranberries has also been seen to lower risk of developing cancer, particularly in breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers.
Immune System Benefits
The cranberry also has the ability to improve multiple aspects of immune function, and to lower the frequency of cold and flu symptoms.
Finally, the cranberry juice contains chemical that keeps cavity-causing bacteria from sticking to our teeth, thereby helping to prevent tooth decay.
When preparing cranberries, a great idea is to substitute xylitol for sugar. Not only would anyone want to avoid refined white sugar, but also xylitol has its own cavity-fighting benefits, and is only two-thirds the calories of sugar.
A Couple of Inevitable Caveats
Cranberries increase the concentration of both calcium and oxalate in the urine, so those with kidney stone problems or susceptibility to kidney stones should talk to their doctor before including cranberries in their regular diet. Also, the same advice goes for those taking blood-thinning drugs (such as warfarin), medications that affect the liver, or aspirin.
Other than that, what are you waiting for? Start including cranberries in your dietary regimen!
For additional information, please see “What’s New and Beneficial About Cranberries,” at http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145