Aaahhhh, the cranberry. The bright red berry that so many of us have come to associate with the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is full of tart, sassy flavor and is also packed full of health benefits. In fact, it is so jammed with nutritional goodness that it has been deemed a superfood.
Cranberries are harvested from dwarf evergreen shrubs or trailing vines of the Vaccinium macrocarpon. They are native to the acidic bogs of the northern hemisphere throughout the cooler regions of the United States and Canada. It is also native to the cooler regions of Chilé. These low growing, creeping shrubs max out around 7 feet in length and and 8 inches in height. They feature slender, wiry stems, small evergreen leaves and dark pink flowers that turn into bright red berries with an acidic tang. They are related to blueberries, bilberries, huckleberries and lingonberries.
The Narrangansett people of the Algonquin tribe use cranberries in pemmican and as a dye. They called the berries “sasemineash” and introduced the American colonists of Massachusetts to them. In 1550, James White Norwood made the first reference to the cranberry in American literature. American Revolutionary War veteran, Henry Hall, first cultivated the berries in the Cape Cod town of Dennis around 1816. By 1820, he was shipping them to New York City and Boston, with many of them leaving for Europe through seaports in those cities.
Historically, cranberry bogs have been constructed in wetland regions. Today, they are located in upland areas with a shallow water table that gets irrigated during the growing season and flooded as needed for harvest and protection against low temperatures. Cranberries are harvested in the fall, between the months of September and November. The beds are flooded with 6-8 inches of water and a harvester is driven through the bog to remove the fruit from their vines. Next, the berries are corralled into one area of the bog where they are either removed by conveyor or pump before being sent off for sorting, storage or shipping. Because of the high cost of labor and low yield, only a small percentage of cranberries, between 5 and 10 percent, are dry-picked.
Approximately 40,500 acres of land are devoted to the cultivation of cranberries, with world production topping 683,671 tonnes. The United States, Canada and Chile are the top worldwide producers of fruit while Wisconsin and Massachusetts lead production stateside. Around 95% of cultivated berries are used to make cranberry juice, sauce, jam or dried with the rest being sold fresh.
Raw cranberries are 87% water, 12% carbohydrates and negligible amounts of protein and fat. 100 grams of raw cranberries contain:
- Calories 46
- Carbs 12.2 grams
- Dietary Fiber 4.6 grams
- Fat .13 grams
- Protein .39 grams
- Manganese 17% RDA
- Vitamin C 16% RDA
- Vitamin E 8% RDA
- Vitamin B5 6% RDA
- Vitamin K 5% RDA
- Vitamin B6 4% RDA
- Vitamin B2 2% RDA
- Iron 2% RDA
- Magnesium 2% RDA
- Phosphorus 2% RDA
- Potassium 2% RDA
By now, everyone has heard that cranberries are great for urinary tract health, but they may not be the cure they are often made out to be. While there is evidence that cranberries are a powerful tool in fighting recurrent urinary tract infections, large variations resulting from inconsistent clinical factors and study methods have clouded some studies. It is now believed that to enjoy the highest level of protection from cranberries, you should consume extracts in capsule form and not juice. Just what is it in cranberries that make them a potent weapon against UTI’s? The answer is Proanthocyanins, or PCA’s. PCA’s work in the urinary tract to keep harmful bacteria from building up along the walls and infection from setting in. These same PCA’s also help keep bacteria from adhering to teeth, thus reducing cavities and gum disease. So what exactly do all these numbers mean? Well, they mean that you should add more cranberry goodness to your diet! Keep reading to learn about the number of health benefits cranberries possess.
A diet rich in cranberries also has other health benefits, thanks to:
Vitamin C Vitamin C is a powerful natural anti-oxidant that helps the body fight off the effects of free radicals. It also helps to improve the body’s absorption of iron from plant sources, boosts immunity and helps in the formation of collagen.
Fiber A diet high in fiber helps lower the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and some gastro-intestinal diseases. It also helps control insulin sensitivity and enhances weight loss
Vitamin E Vitamin E is a fat soluble anti-oxidant that helps prevent or delay the onset of some chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, cataracts, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
Vitamin K Vitamin K has cancer-preventing and anti-inflammatory properties.
Manganese Manganese is essential for proper growth and metabolism.
For all of the good that cranberries can bring to your health, there are some potential side effects if you eat too many or drink too much of their juice. Those on coagulants, such as warfarin, should limit their intake of cranberry juice as there is a heightened risk for bleeding and bruising. Consuming large amounts may also result in nausea, stomach inflammation, diarrhea, increased risk of developing kidney stones and increased sugar intake if drinking juice blends or cocktails instead of 100% pure juice.
If these added health benefits sound good to you, there are some easy ways to add cranberries to your diet.
- Add dried berries to your favorite trail mix or granola recipe.
- Toss a handful into your morning smoothie.
- Stir into oatmeal or whole grain cereal at breakfast.
- Mix them into your favorite apple desserts for an added punch of flavor and nutrition.
- Use cranberry sauce as a condiment on your turkey sandwiches.
Check out our growing collection of cranberry recipes for new ways to incorporate these sassy berries into your diet.