Cranberries can strengthen the immune system, increase bladder health, fight bad cholesterol and maybe even help prevent stomach cancer and other illnesses.
In short, they’re more than supporting players in an annual turkey-centric production.
“Cranberries contain high amounts of vitamin C and dietary fibers,” said Rachael Vega, dietetic intern at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health. “We know that vitamin C is really good for your immune system—preventing the com- mon cold and flu—and fiber is great for keeping your digestive system regular.”
The fiber, she added, can help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol. The tart berries are also known for helping prevent urinary tract infections in women.
“The main bacteria that causes urinary tract infections is E. Coli and cranberries prevent the E. Coli from attaching to the cells on the urinary tract,” said Larissa Grigoryan, M.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
Although antibiotics remain the most effective course of treatment for urinary tract infections, researchers are eager to find alternative treatment options because of the growing risk of antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organization maintains that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.
“There still needs to be a lot of work done on the active ingredients of cranberries,” Grigoryan said. “We know they are packed with antioxidants and proanthocyanidins—the active ingredient that prevents bacteria from sticking to bladder cells. All of the studies that have been done to learn more about the preventative properties of cranberries have used different cranberry products and very different study populations, and have come back inconclusive.”
Some researchers believe the special properties of cranberries might be able to prevent stomach cancer and other illnesses.
“Because cranberries have a compound that can basically block bacteria from attaching, researchers are now looking at whether it helps prevent bacteria from attaching with other illnesses like HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] in your stomach or candidiasis [a fungal infection] in your mouth,” Vega said.
Cranberries come in many forms—fresh, frozen, juice, tablets and canned.
“Fresh or frozen cranberries are the best to buy,” Vega said. “Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their prime and then they are flash-frozen. They don’t lose nutrients and they usually do not have added sugars.”
Although cranberry juice is a very popular option year-round, Vega suggests using caution when heading to the juice aisle.
“A lot of times with cranberry juice, all of the dietary fiber is gone,” she said. “Juice has a lot of added sugar which can be bad for weight gain, cardiovascular health, diabetes and a number of different things.”
But canned cranberries are a healthy, store-bought option, according to Vega.
“Canned is great,” she said. “It’s kind of a similar thing to frozen and it can be a more affordable way for people to get fruits and vegetables into their diets. The main thing you want to watch out for is that the canned cranberries are in water and not a sugar syrup.”
Vega has a few suggestions on how to incorporate cranberries into your diet.
“Throwing frozen cranberries into your smoothie in the morning or adding dried cranberries to your oatmeal is a great way to start,” she said. “Making your own cranberry sauce at home for Thanksgiving can be really fun and a healthier option than buying store-bought.”
For an easy-to-make cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving, Vega recommends mixing fresh or frozen cranberries in a saucepan with orange or lemon, and cooking over low heat. Once the cranberries have cooked down, mash them and add a dash of honey for sweetness.
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