By J. E. Davidson
Cranberries are a traditional holiday fruit, often made into delicious salads to accompany Mom’s golden roast turkey and other festive fare. While you should resist the temptation to overeat, feel free to indulge in cranberries since they may be the healthiest food on the table!
The old wives’ tale that cranberries can relieve urinary tract infections has been proven true by modern research, which attributes other health benefits, as well, to this shiny little red berry. Cranberries contain the highest level of antioxidants among the most popularly eaten fruits, and provide significant amounts of potassium Health benefits such as the prevention of heart disease, stroke, tooth decay, gum disease and stomach ulcers have also been attributed to cranberries.
The highest levels of antioxidants are found in fresh cranberries. Processing at high temperatures reduces the antioxidant levels, and canned cranberries or store-bought cranberry products will not contribute as much to health benefits. Unsweetened fresh, dried, and freeze-dried cranberries are the healthiest choice.
In their natural state, cranberries have few calories, add fiber to the diet, and have five times the antioxidant levels of broccoli. Antioxidants are known to reduce levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol), and protect the body against heart disease, stroke, and other age-related conditions.
Cranberries contain compounds that discourage E. coli bacteria from adhering to the cells of the body, and inhibit the bacteria’s ability to produce an infection. Consuming cranberries can keep the E. coli population under control, and prevent food-borne illness.
Some E.coli bacteria naturally live in the digestive tract, and careless bathroom hygiene (especially among females) can spread the bacteria and cause urinary tract infections. The compounds in cranberries keep the harmful bacteria from clinging to the walls of the urinary tract so they are washed out in the stream. Cranberries can be an effective home remedy for mild UTI’s, since the compounds will not kill the beneficial bacteria in our digestive system the way prescription antibiotics will.
Natural cranberries have a tart flavor, and store-bought cranberry products often contain large amounts of sugar (often disguised as high-fructose corn syrup on the label) which can contribute to diabetes and other illnesses. Some juices may be sweetened with artificial sweeteners which may have their own health risks.
“Craisins” are sweetened dried cranberries, which are gaining popularity as a snack food. This product is infused with sugar, so those on low-carb diets should not overindulge in this tasty treat. Kids really love them, though. They are sugary, but at least they are also delivering some important nutrients your children won’t get from candy. Some organic health food stores offer dried cranberries sweetened with apple juice, a healthier alternative to Craisins.
Although fresh cranberries are readily available during the fall holiday season, they can be difficult to find in other seasons. You can enjoy their health benefits year round by buying them when they are available and storing them in the freezer. When buying fresh cranberries avoid bags that contain berries that are soft or brown. A good cranberry will bounce; in fact, they used to be called “bounceberries.” Cranberries may be stored in the refrigerator for several months, or frozen for up to a year. They don’t need any special preparation; just put them in a sturdy plastic bag and toss them in the freezer! (Never wash berries before freezing them). The berries will be slightly soft when thawed but will be fine for recipes that require cooking.