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Fall Fruit Feature: Cranberries

Happy Eat a Cranberry Day! I imagine a lot of you will be eating more than one cranberry on Thanksgiving, but this tart little fruit deserves a place on your dining room table more than once a year. Cranberries can not only nourish your body, but have very specific health benefits.

· Antioxidant Protection. Like all berries, cranberries are rich in antioxidants. They’re able to neutralize a broad spectrum of free radicals including superoxide, hydrogen, and singlet oxygen radicals. Why is that important? Free radicals, also known as “oxidants,” are highly reactive molecules that cause damage to the fats, proteins, and even DNA in your body. The more antioxidants you ingest, the more protection you provide your cells against the damaging effects of oxidative stress.

· Heart Disease Prevention. A particularly potent antioxidant flavonoid in cranberries is anthocyanin, a pigment that gives them their ruby-red color. Anthocyanins reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol (in other words, by protecting cholesterol from being damaged by oxidants). A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition several years ago found that a daily cranberry juice cocktail significantly lowered blood levels of oxidized cholesterol in just four weeks.

· Urinary Tract Infection Prevention and Treatment: A lot of people also swear by cranberries (either in juice or supplement form) for preventing and treating urinary tract infections. Research suggests the vitamin C and flavonoids in cranberries may prevent harmful bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and may also protect the gastrointestinal system.

In addition to these health benefits, cranberries are just plain nutritious! A one-cup serving of fresh cranberries provides:

· 22% of the daily value (DV) for Vitamin C, which also aids immune function and is needed for the health of connective tissue.

· 16% of the DV for manganese, a mineral that plays a role in bone, joint, and skin health.

· 4.6 grams of fiber, which is necessary for normal digestion and to reduce the risk of heart disease.

· And just 46 calories!

Although they’re a healthy fruit, cranberries are often consumed in juice drinks that contain a lot of added sugar and not much real juice, or in processed canned sauces that are also quite sugary. If you stock up on fresh cranberries while they’re widely available this month and freeze them to use later, you can better control the sugar content of the cranberries you eat. (You can also buy frozen cranberries or dried cranberries at the grocery store any time of year.)

Check out this low-sugar recipe from Wellness Mama for cranberry sauce. It uses pineapple juice, applesauce, and a little honey to add sweetness. I can’t wait to try it!

If you feel like splurging on something with a little sugar, this pear-cranberry crisp made with dried cranberries looks amazing and is perfectly seasonal, as fall is pear time too!

And just to prove how versatile these red gems are, here’s a unique recipe for cranberry-avocado salsa.

Fresh cranberries are also delicious in baked goods (cranberry muffins anyone?) and tossed into oatmeal (while the oats are cooking), while dried cranberries make a lovely addition to yogurt, fruit salad, and even vegetable salad. In fact, I have a veggie-packed salad every day for lunch and adding dried cranberries on top is the perfect indulgence to make me look forward to eating it! (Check the label of dried cranberries for added sugar. Buying in bulk at a natural foods store could be a good bet if you are looking for unsweetened dried cranberries. You can also purchase dried cranberries that are fruit-juice sweetened for a happy medium.)

When I sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, I will be giving thanks for many things: my friends, my family, my good health, and the abundance of fresh, healthy food available to me (including cranberries!).

How do you like to prepare cranberries? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? 

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