In tribute to the soon upcoming Thanksgiving day, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss that infamous holiday berry, the cranberry! Not only does the cranberry boast a wonderful nutrient profile with claims as an extremely potent antioxidant, cranberries add a wonderful tart and sweet punch to a number of food dishes.
A glossy, scarlet red, very tart berry, the cranberry belongs to the same genus as the blueberry, Vaccinium. (Both berries also belong to the food family called Ericaceae, also known as the heath or heather family.) Like blueberries, cranberries can still be found growing as wild shrubs in northern Europe, Asia, and North America. When cultivated, however, cranberries are grown on low trailing vines atop vast sandy bogs. The variety cultivated commercially in the northern United States and southern Canada, the American cranberry, produces a larger berry than the European variety.
So, why is the cranberry so nutritionally awesome? Let’s take a look.
For starters, not only is the cranberry an excellent source of naturally occurring Vitamin C and fiber, this bright red berry is also a phytonutrient super star. The phytonutrients found in the cranberry are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties, and in a number of documented cases, the results have been quite impressive. As we discuss the health benefits of the cranberry, its important to note that one will attain the most health benefit in eating the berry in its whole form. Unfortunately, the cranberry is most commonly consumed in a juice state which is typically produced by adding generous amounts of sugar. The juice alone will simply not provide the cranberry’s full phytonutrient power. As I’ve mentioned multiple times over, specifically for fruits and sweet vegetables, consuming the juice alone is not nearly as effective as eating the whole fruit itself. The reason for this is simple. Both the juice and whole food contain natural sugar. But when you ingest the whole food, you are also consuming significant amounts of fiber which slows down digestion and the rate at which the sugar is absorbed int the bloodstream. From a nutritional standpoint, our overall focus is to keep blood sugar level and reduce the number of sugar spikes throughout the day. Also, natural cranberry juice is much more tart and less palatable than the Oceanspray or other commercial varieties found in your typical supermarket. I never advocate purchasing a commercially produced juice, even if the outside label states “natural” or “no sugar added”. There is one exception to this rule, however, in regard to the cranberry.
For centuries now, scientists have advocated for the use of cranberry juice in the treatment of UTI (urinary tract infection). A compelling new clinical trial shows that a prescription drug for the prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs) had a “very limited advantage” over cranberry extract. And the use of the pharmaceutical came at a cost — a “marked reduction” in antibiotic resistance among the study participants. I find these results not at all surprising as time and time again, we attempt to emulate the healing power of food in pill form, with limited results and a slew of adverse reactions. Urinary tract infections are responsible for nearly 8.3 million doctor visits every year, making them the second most common type of infection in the body, so this certainly isn’t a small issue. You want to look for a juice which is preferably organic, fresh-pressed, non-concentrated with no added preservatives, sugars or additives. Drink 2 ounces every 4 hours to see results.
So, we know that the cranberry is not only nutritious but that it can help the body heal in a number of ways, as well. We also understand that with limited exception, we should always attempt to consume the whole berry and not simply its juice. So, how do we incorporate the fresh cranberry into every day foods? Here are a few tips:
- Add cranberries to any recipe for an extra taste of sweet and tart: chicken, lamb, or even Thanksgiving stuffing!
Check back for a few tantalizing recipes and when it comes to the cranberry – get creative! When you nourish your body, you nourish your mind and your soul – don’t forget to nourish your loved ones too!