The first thing that pops into most people’s minds when thinking of cranberries might be Thanksgiving dinner, but you don’t have to wait until turkey day to enjoy the benefits of this nutritious fruit.
Cranberries supply powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients in addition to being a great source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C. Perhaps cranberries’ most well-known benefit is their positive effect on urinary tract health. Special phytochemicals known as proanthocyanidins, found only in cranberries, have unique anti-adhesion properties that help prevent bacteria from adhering to cell walls. A 2017 review showed a significant correlation between the use of cranberry products and a reduction in the incidence of urinary tract infections (UTIs), particularly for those with recurrent UTIs.
That’s not the only reason cranberries are a wholesome superfood, though. According to a recent study, there is evidence that the phytochemicals in cranberries may also have positive effects on cardiovascular health. Other studies support the idea that cranberries may improve insulin sensitivity, increase HDL (“good”) and reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improve oral and gastrointestinal health, and that they may have cancer fighting properties because of the polyphenols they contain.
Fresh cranberries are typically not a “grab-and-go” selection because of their natural tartness. In fact, about 95 percent of cranberries produced are processed and used to make cranberry juice, cranberry sauce and dried sweetened cranberries. The remaining 5 percent are used in recipes and baking, where their strong, sour flavor can be balanced by other ingredients. They are a particularly tasty flavor enhancer when slow-cooked with meats like pork loin and pot roast.
The popularity of dried cranberries has been increasing in recent years, and they are a great way to enjoy the benefits of cranberries in a convenient, ready-to-eat form. They are delicious when added to salads, used as a topping for a healthy oatmeal breakfast, layered with granola in unsweetened yogurt or cottage cheese, baked into whole-grain muffins or even eaten straight out of the bag. Keep it sensible portion-wise, though — a serving size is 1⁄3 cup and has 123 calories, and they do have added sugar as a result of the drying process.
However you get your cranberries, there’s no doubt they provide valuable nutritional benefits. So include them at your holiday table, and also add them into your diet year-round.