by Madeleine Rouviere
As Thanksgiving approaches, we begin dreaming of juicy turkey, savory stuffing, and creamy mashed potatoes slathered in gravy. This year, make room on your plate because it’s time to be thankful for the cranberry!
American cranberries are one of only three commonly cultivated fruits that are native to North America. Originally native to the swamps and bogs of the northeast, they are now grown from Georgia into Canada, and as far west as Minnesota. In addition to serving as delicious sauces, juices and salad toppings, cranberries have been used in the past as fabric dyes and traditional medicine.¹
Cranberries may be most famous for warding off urinary tract infections (UTIs) but that just scrapes the surface of their numerous unique health benefits. Commonly referred to as a “super food,” cranberries are very nutrient dense, meaning that they have an abundance of beneficial nutrients relative to the amount of energy provided. One cup of raw cranberries provides less than 50 calories! They are naturally fat-free and are low in sodium and sugar. Like many fruits, cranberries provide fiber to the diet and are an excellent source of vitamin C too.²
Cranberries contain high amounts of polyphenols and antioxidants. These compounds have anti-inflammatory properties and are shown to support cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of some cancers.³ Among the 20 most commonly consumed fruits in the U.S., cranberries have the highest total phenol content. This makes cranberries great at preventing bacterial infections that can cause UTIs, gastric ulcers, and cavities.²
Due the tart nature of this fruit, it is important to keep in mind that many cranberry products typically have lots of sugar added to increase their palatability. Commercial cranberry juice, such as Ocean Spray brand, may contain as little as 27% pure cranberry juice!
- 100% unsweetened cranberry juice contains only 9 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving.
- Ocean Spray cranberry juice, on the other hand, provides 28 grams of sugar per serving4 – that’s nearly 5 teaspoons of added sugar per cup!
To avoid consuming as much sugar, try buying 100% juice with no added sugars and then diluting with water and adding honey to taste, as it is pretty sour. Dried cranberries (look for unsweetened) can be great toppings to salads, oatmeal, and trail mix.
Try out some of the recipes below for ideas to incorporate cranberries into your cooking and diet!
- Sugarless Cranberry Sauce
- Cranberry Desserts like cranberry-orange-walnut bread and cranberry-ginger pear pie
* The term “super food” does not have an official medical definition, but is used to describe foods that provide many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that may help prevent disease.
*Polyphenols: phytochemicals found in many plant sources that play a role in disease prevention. The phenolic compounds in cranberries have a wide range of biological effects including the ability to serve as antioxidants, modulating enzyme activity, and regulating gene expression.
*Antioxidants: Molecules that react with free radicals to eliminate oxidative stress in the body. Free radicals destroy cells and can ultimately lead to cell death.
- Cranberry Facts and History. University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Accessed November 3, 2015.
- The Cranberry Institute, 2015. Accessed November 3, 2015.
- McKay DL, Blumberg JB. Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Nutrition Reviews 2007; 65(11):490-502. doi: 10.1301/nr.2007.nov.490 –502.
- Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail, nutrition information. Accessed November 3, 2015.