My Weekly Health Tidbits: The Mouth Puckering Cranberry

Image result for cranberriesCranberries. The tart and sweet fruit that many Americans have come to love on Thanksgiving Day. However, there is more to this unique fruit than meets the eye and they are full of antioxidants. I originally did not know much about cranberries or where they had come from, but they are quite a special fruit and plant since they are native to North America.

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The cranberry is unique in that it is one of only three fruits that are indigenous to North America.  They like to grow in marshes and bogs on long vines and grown mainly in the Northeast region in places like Massachusetts. Other regions have cranberry bogs too including Chile. The history of using the cranberry for eating (and other uses) goes back to the Native American tribes in the Eastern areas like the Pequot tribe. The tribes liked to use cranberry juice as a rich red dye for clothing or rugs, and even strongly believed in the medicinal values it had to cover arrowhead wounds and draw out poison. A special nutritious survival food that Native American tribes would make called pemmican (which is a paste of dried meat and other ingredients) was made with mashed cranberries and deer meat.

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Certain tribes had different names for the berry calling them by the names of ibimi or sassamanesh, and it wasn’t until European settlers had come to America that the name craneberry was used, since they thought the flower of the plant resembled a cranes head and bill. Eventually it got shortened down to the word cranberry and it is now the well known name everyone uses around the holidays.  It wasn’t until 1912 that cranberries began to get canned and by 1940 cranberry sauce was the solid and jiggly log in a can that everyone was buying to put on the side at Thanksgiving.

How can consuming cranberries benefit me? 

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Cardiovascular Benefits: The vast amount of phytonutrients in cranberries that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory help to raise the antioxidant levels in our blood stream. Some of the phytonutrients in cranberries even have some unique stroke and cardiovascular disease preventing compounds, and these can help reduce cholesterol in the blood vessels and heart. You would need to have 2 cups of cranberry juice a day though in order to help change cardiovascular lab levels at around 8-12 weeks.  I would suggest trying to find unsweetened cranberry juice if you are going to have it daily to help with antioxidant levels in the blood and not increase your added sugar habits.

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Digestive Health: Cranberries are great for cleansing the body because they have diuretic properties and help to reduce as well as remove built up toxins in the body. If you have some water retention and bloating, having some cranberry juice can be a good option.

The compounds in cranberries work to prevent certain bacteria from attaching to places like the bladder or digestive tract.  Since it can help reduce bad bacteria, thus balancing the gut flora and giving good bacteria in place of it, cranberries are a great option for those who want to optimize their digestive health. Using cranberry juice for a UTI (or preventing one) seems to be popular, although I would assume you need to drink a lot of it to be beneficial for helping with the pain. Most limited studies did show that you would yield positive results by drinking 1-2 cups daily for at least 1 month or more, so consistency is needed.

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Helping the immune system (including possibly preventing certain cancers):  Cranberries (along with other berries) have a powerful compound with antioxidant capabilities called proanthocyanidins. I know, a really long and complicated word, but in layman’s terms these compounds are basically able to protect the lining of our guts and surprisingly a large amount of our immune system is in that area (something I have forgotten).

By boosting healthy immune system bacteria in the gut, we would be able to have a healthier immune system in general to ward off bad bacteria from things like colds, etc. Cranberries would also be at peak optimization for your body if you have them in their whole forms or in a concentrated extract where the variety of antioxidant compounds (like resveratrol,piceatannol and pterostilbene) can work together to fight disease. The vast array of antioxidants in cranberries also makes them unique to helping fight oxidative stress in the body. This can help to prevent certain common cancers like prostate, breast, colon and lung cancers.

So enjoy cranberries on days when it isn’t just a holiday. Have the juice, add in frozen fresh cranberries into your smoothies for a tart twist, add some with roasted pork tenderloin, or even have them in my scone recipe. 

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