Cranberries are a holiday meal staple in the United States. Their bright color and versatile flavor match perfectly with a broad variety of recipes, and they are found in everything from desserts to meat sauces. Cranberries are native to North America and were used by the Native Americans, who then taught the Pilgrims to include cranberries in their recipes. Today, you will find differences in flavor depending on where the cranberries originated: in Europe cranberry sauce is slightly sour-tasting, while in North America it is sweeter.
Cranberries are eaten fresh and dried, as sauces and juices, and in powder form in capsules and tablets. One half cup of dried cranberries counts as one serving of fruit. Fresh cranberries are an good source of vitamin C (18 percent of the daily recommendation), as well as vitamins E and K. Health benefits from cranberry polyphenols include anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-mutagenic, anti-angiogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant effects. Phytonutrients such as proanthocyanidins (PACs), anthocyanins and phenolic acids are responsible for most of these health benefits. While all cranberry products contain PACs, different cranberry products have different polyphenol concentrations, which leads to variations in health outcomes. Below are some health benefits of cranberries:
Large concentrations of polyphenols from cranberries may improve vascular function and systolic blood pressure. The phytonutrients in cranberries may protect against free radicals and heart disease while reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation and maintaining or improving HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Urinary Tract Benefits
The PACs in cranberries provide urinary tract benefits by interfering with the ability of E. coli bacteria to adhere to and cause urinary tract infections (UTIs). According to a meta-analysis published in The Journal of Urology which included 28 studies showing results from nearly 5,000 patients, cranberry products have been recently recognized as a first step in reducing recurrent UTIs. However, people who think they have a UTI should always see a health care provider for diagnosis and treatment. Cranberry products are not a replacement for formal treatment of UTIs.
Improved Gastric Health
Cranberries may reduce the adhesion of Helicobacter Pylori bacteria, one of the main causes of gastric, duodenal and peptic ulcers.
Reduced Risk of Certain Cancers
Research suggests that people who eat foods with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have lower levels of harmful inflammation that could lead to cancer in the long term. In laboratory studies, cranberry extracts and cranberry phytochemicals seem to fight several types of cancer.
More research is needed to support the recommendation of cranberry intake as a nutritional intervention for the treatment of metabolic syndrome, due to inconclusive results.
Cranberry is very versatile and easy to incorporate into many dishes. You can add dried cranberries to pancake and muffin batter or oatmeal, or mix them into salads, yogurt, stuffing, quinoa salads and pilafs.
The Recipe of the Week: Brussels Sprout Slaw with Cranberries and Walnuts
3/4 lb. Brussels sprouts
1 Fuji or Gala apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Trim the bottom from sprouts and remove any loose or bruised leaves. Place shredding disk or fine slicing disk in a food processor, and using the feeder tube gradually shred the sprouts (there will be about 4 1/2 cups). Transfer shredded sprouts to a mixing bowl. Add the apple, cranberries, walnuts, salt, pepper and lemon juice to the mixing bowl and stir with a fork to combine. Add oil and stir well. Cover and refrigerate slaw for 3 hours to overnight. Re-stir before serving. This slaw is best enjoyed within 24 hours.
1. If Meyer lemons are not available, use 1/4 cup regular fresh lemon juice.
2. If your food processor does not have a shredding dish, cut the Brussels sprouts in quarters vertically and place in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Pulse until sprouts are finely chopped, stopping several times to scrape down the bowl. Take care not to leave big chunks or to pulse the sprouts for too long, as they will lose their texture.
Makes 8 ½ cup servings
Per serving: 120 calories, 7 g fat (1 g sat fat), 16 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 3 g fiber, 130 mg sodium.
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Karen G. Alexander, MSCN, BSND