Cranberries offer an assertive, healthy kick which is particularly needed after the sugar-laden indulgences of Christmas. So don’t forget about the nutritious, tart cranberry just because you’ve used up all the turkey.
There’s plenty of health reasons to add the undervalued cranberry to your 2014 shopping list. A recent study has discovered these miraculous little berries may contain the power to extend our lives. They contain high levels of vitamins C, E, and K, as well as fibre, calcium and valuable phytonutrients. The antioxidants found in cranberries are able to reduce oxidative damage created by environmental stress, while other compounds have anti-inflammatory properties which reduce the risk of various diseases. Their rich ruby colour screams high-nutrition, as well as cheering us during the winter months which still loom.
Cranberries are also highly convenient to eat. Grab a handful of dried cranberries along with some unsalted nuts and you have a great post-workout snack. Refuelling mid-workout with a few sweetened cranberries is healthy, easy and gives quick energy to your muscles. Frozen cranberries are common in supermarkets and have the advantage of retaining optimum nutrients. Fresh cranberries are available this time of year and are easy to add to smoothies, juices, breakfast cereals and porridge as well as homemade cakes and cereal bars. The tartness of fresh cranberries requires adding sweetness to make them more palatable. Try natural sweeteners such as honey and agave syrup to give you added nutrients.
No one knows exactly why cranberries have become so associated with Christmas, but it’s believed to be linked to the North Americans. Pilgrims first served them at Thanksgiving dinner as they came into season. Even earlier, red Indians pounded cranberries and applied them to high energy foods such as deer meat to preserve it for winter and long journeys. The Indians knew that the acidity in cranberries helped to resist bacteria developing. This mixture of fruit and meat was called pemmican and could be considered the earliest energy bar!
The Americans are still more cranberry-crazy than the UK, and over 40,000 acres of land are used to grow cranberries each year, which are harvested in September and October. Fresh cranberries already have more antioxidants than any other berry, but Americans are working on a new ‘super-berry’ which will boost their power even more.
However, most nutritionists would agree that the health benefits of the natural, unmodified cranberry are already enough for most people.
The health benefits of cranberries
Anyone hoping for a long, healthy life will be delighted to learn that cranberries have recently been discovered to offer highly beneficial compounds for promoting a long lifespan. The study, due to be published in Experimental Gerontology in February, found that fruit flies fed on cranberry extract and sugar extract lived 25 per cent longer than those fed only on sugar. A similar effect is believed to be possible in humans. The age-reducing effect was tested during the three different life stages of the fruit fly. These stages equated with human adulthood, middle age and old age. While other studies have shown other foods (such as turmeric) extend lifespan only if taken during a particular life stage, cranberries are unique in offering longevity benefits when taken at any age.
Detox and weight loss
Cranberry juice is very effective at flushing toxins from the kidneys, lymphatic system and intestines. There are various diets based on cranberries and cranberry juice which claim to boost weight loss through this detoxification process.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
The link between cranberry juice and prevention of urinary tract infections is well documented. Cranberries contain a unique form of phytochemical called proanthcyanidins (PACs) unfound in other fruits and berries. This is what gives them their special ability to prevent bacteria developing in the urinary tract. Drinking 3oz of 100% cranberry juice is recommended for the most potent effects.
Heart disease and cancer
Some evidence shows that the polyphenols in cranberries are able to prevent the build-up of platelets, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cranberries have also been shown to slow tumour growth in cancer cells. One study showed breast cancer cells began to die after 4 hours of small cranberry doses, an effect which was increased as the dose and time increased. Cancers of the colon, lung and prostate are also believed to benefit from cranberries.
As well as preventing UTIs, the proanthcyanidins in cranberries can benefit oral health by slowing and even reversing the development of dental plaque. They may even reduce cavities by killing the Streptococcus bacteria colonies responsible for making holes. The anti-inflammatory properties of cranberries are also effective at reducing the incidence of gym disease. Swishing sugar-free cranberry juice around your mouth after you eat may be just what your over-indulged sore gums need!
For your next gym visit, take along some cranberry juice to rehydrate you. Every thirst-quenching calorie you consume will be nutrient-dense and packed with unique health benefits to get your body off to a great start this New Year.