Five top reasons for eating cranberries – other than turkey’s sidekick

Photo courtesy Ocean Spray

Photo courtesy Ocean Spray

There’s more to  research on cranberries than just their potential impact on urinary tract infections (UTIs) – not that these aren’t  valuable effects. But these little berries offer a range of weaponry against a number of ailments.

Here are five examples of areas where cranberries may offer health perks:

•    Stomach ulcers

Cranberries’ protection against bacterial infections are not for women alone. The same anti-adhesion effects have been demonstrated with other bacteria besides e. Coli. Cranberries also exhibit the same action with  H. pylori, the microbe now known  to be a major culprit in the development  of the stomach ulcers. This bacteria has  also been implicated as a risk factor for gastric cancer. And when you look at the health care burden of stomach ulcers, the costs are staggering.

•    Dental caries and periodontal disease

Dental caries and periodontal disease are other areas under investigation as they are caused by bacteria adhering to cell surfaces on teeth which create plaque. And again, cranberries are coming up smelling like roses.

•     Certain cancers

The compounds called proanthocyanidins, which are responsible for fighting off  UTIs, may also provide assorted effects in warding off certain cancers such as prostate and ovarian cancer. Research has shown that cranberries may slow the spread  of cancer cells and also cause apoptosis- a sort of cancer cell suicide.  Stay tuned as this research heats up.

Other substances contained such as quercetin may supply anti-cancer actions as well.

•    Oxidative diseases

Cranberries rank near the top of the list when it comes to antioxidant power which makes it a major player in fighting off a range of diseases. For example, oxidized cholesterol is  more easily deposited in arteries than that which has not been oxidized. Other diseases linked to oxidation include certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

•    Affairs of the heart

Cranberries are chock full of a wide  variety of phytochemicals- disease fighting compounds from plant foods- which may act individually but also synergistically to fight disease. Synergism is when together compounds  are more potent than when each is consumed on its own.

Not only do these little berries contain an assortment of heart-healthy substances but they also deliver varied benefits. For example, they may improve blood flow through the arteries due to their effects on endothelial function (the lining of the arteries), artery stiffness and even blood cholesterol profiles.

Not just for the holidays

Despite all of cranberries benefits, we often tend to limit their consumption  to holiday meals. But putting cranberries on the menu on a regular basis can be an easy task indeed. They’re extremely versatile, for both those seeking gourmet fare or for  those who prefer the plainest of options.

At a conference I attended, grilled tuna stewed with honey and cranberries and served with a lemon confit, almonds and pureed parsnips, a  dish of baby leeks marinated with miso and walnut oil and a cranberry mostarda (an Italian fruit and mustard combo) and for dessert, dried cranberry ravioli served with diced apples in a white cranberry broth were all among the dishes included. Each was fabulous tasting and would be a welcome menu addition for any food lover.

As everyday fare, cranberries can be used fresh, in season, frozen, dried and in beverage form. For savory dishes, fresh or frozen can be roasted or stewed for use as a salad dressing or sauce. For dessert, the possibilities are endless – in a crisp, pie, quick bread or compote. As for the dried, savoury options include as a salad addition or added to grain side dishes. They’re also super combined with nuts or seeds as a portable snack. Use them in baked goods instead of raisins for a chewy fibre-packed oatmeal cookie or quickbread.

As for beverage choices, the calories contained in the sugar-sweetened selections can add up over time. Opting for the low-calorie choices offers the benefits of cranberries without the additional sugar and calories. Also, be aware that when it comes to the proanthocyanidin counts, it’s one case where colour doesn’t offer more. The white varieties of the beverage rank up there with the ruby red ones.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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