A cornucopia of health benefits
Full of antioxidants, cranberries may be the healthiest food on your plate this Thanksgiving. Try these recipes and reap the benefits of this berry superstar.
Nutrient-rich and packed full of disease-fighting antioxidants, cranberries not only make an attractive sauce, but may just be the healthiest food on your plate this Thanksgiving.
Containing more disease-inhibiting phenols than red grapes and with an oxygen radical absorbence capacity (ORAC) score of 9,584 units per 100 g, raw cranberries are one of the best sources of free-radical fighting antioxidants.
Although traditionally used to prevent urinary tract infections in women, research is showing the abundance of antioxidants in cranberries may also provide protection against a wide range of ailments including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and even tooth decay.
Cranberries are a rich source of flavonoids called proanthocyanidins (PACs). This powerful antioxidant is thought to be responsible for cranberry juice’s ability to fight infections.
In one test-tube study, Worcester Polytechnic Institute researchers found the unique structure of cranberry PACs effectively inhibited the bacteria E. coli from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. E. coli bacteria causes a number of illnesses including urinary tract, bladder, and kidney infections.
Although more research is needed, the anti-adhesion effect of cranberry PACs may prove to be useful in preventing other bacteria such as the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori from taking hold as well.
In addition to defending against bacterial infections, preliminary evidence suggests cranberry compounds may be able to fight off viruses as well. When researchers exposed three different viral species, including the stomach-flu-causing rotavirus, to a cranberry juice cocktail, the viral strains were neutralized.
One day cranberry extract may be a common ingredient in toothpaste. Evidence is emerging to suggest that the cranberry compounds that defend tissue from bacteria may also be able to prevent tooth decay.
In one study researchers from the University of Rochester applied a beverage consisting of 25 percent cranberry juice to synthetic tooth enamel and then coated the material with the cavity-causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans. Compounds in the cranberry juice prevented between 67 and 80 percent of the bacteria from sticking to the enamel. The cranberry compound also appeared to block an enzyme required in plaque formation.
Although results are promising, because of the large amounts of sugar present in most commercially available cranberry juices, researchers caution that drinking large amounts will more likely cause cavities than prevent them. Be sure that your cranberry beverage is made from 100 percent cranberry juice to prevent consuming excess sugar.
Studies have shown that a diet rich in flavonoids, such as those found in cranberries, may prevent heart disease by helping to maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels as well as keeping arterial walls flexible and free from plaque.
In a 2006 study from the British Journal of Nutrition 30 overweight men with excessive abdominal fat drank up to 2 cups (500 mL) of low-calorie cranberry juice daily for 16 weeks. At the end of the study period, the participants increased their HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels on average by 8 percent. This positive effect on cholesterol levels may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart attack and stroke.
Cranberry flavonoids not only protect the heart, but may also be able to ward off a number of cancers, including cancer of the breast, prostate, colon, and lung.
Although research is still preliminary, a 2007 review published in the Journal of Nutrition found the flavonoids anthocyanin, proanthocyanidin, triterpenoids, and quercetin found in cranberries may work together to induce death in cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. The review also found data to suggest that cranberries may be able to prevent prostate cancer from spreading to other organs.
Best in the fall
In season just in time for Thanksgiving, fresh cranberries are at their best between October and December. This autumn, harness all the health benefits cranberries have to offer with these four festive recipes.