Winter is just around the corner as the days grow shorter now. All the berries are gone for the season except the ones in my freezer, but there is still one variety in season: the marvelously deep red cranberry, which like so many berries has many nutritional attributes. The cranberry’s tartness and unique flavor make it one of my favorites. I love the sour taste of biting into one in its crunchy raw state. I prefer cranberries served with as little sweetener as possible. The cranberry is a cousin of the blueberry, and is a native of North America that is grown in both Vermont and Massachusetts. It has been around for several thousand years but not in its cultivated state. Only in the last few hundred years—since the early 1800s—has it been cultivated and grown, nearby and across North America. Wild cranberries were presented by the Native Americans as a welcoming gift to the pilgrims in the early 1600s. Eastern Native Americans referred to them as sasumuneash. Their original English name, “crane berries,” came about because their blossoms resembled the neck and head of the cranes that often visited the cranberry bogs.
This small berry has a whopping amount of nutrients to offer for its size, including manganese, vitamins C and K, and fiber. The whole cranberry also provides an amazing array of plant compounds: proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, triterpenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids. It’s not just the diversity of plant compounds but the synergy between all its nutrients and plant compounds that provides us with strong health benefits. Proanthocyanidins or PACS are in the class of polyphenols, and those found in cranberries have a different makeup than those found in other fruits and vegetables. These PACS provide ant-adhesion properties, which help to prevent infection and disease so their consumption has been associated with a decreased risk of urinary tract infections and stomach ulcers, and plays an important role in supporting the healthy flora of bacteria in our gut. We all know now that gut health plays such a crucial part in our overall body health. Cranberries’ plentiful plant compounds also help decrease the risk of cancer, specifically colon, breast, lung, and prostate. There are many cardiovascular benefits too from eating cranberries due to their high concentration of anthocyanins. They also provide anti inflammatory benefits, and promising research shows that cranberries help in immune support, which is always needed. Overall evidence shows that it is important to consume the whole cranberry, not extracts or processed parts of the cranberry, as the synergistic effects of the cranberries’ nutrients and plant compounds are what makes it such a Super food! Don’t miss out on the last of the powerhouse berries readily available now. Winter will soon be upon us and the nutritional benefits of this scarlet berry will support us through the early part of the winter season.
Cranberries are usually available fresh until mid- to late January. Buy fresh firm cranberries and pick through them to discard any soft berries, which become more common later in the season. If you can’t use them within a couple weeks of purchase, put them in your freezer for later use in sauce or baked goods. Two of my favorite recipes to make are here: Cranberry Relish that my mother always made, and Cranberry Bread, a recipe adapted from an old Laurel’s Kitchen calendar. The bread has no refined sugar added, and I use as little sugar as possible in the relish so you may need to modify this recipe to suit your taste buds.
By Chris Ellis, Staff Nutritionist