Health Matters – Cranberries

When you think of Thanksgiving, what comes to mind is usually a food-filled holiday, complete with turkey or similarly festive fare. And don’t forget the sides: mashed potatoes, in-season vegetables, and, of course, a dish of sparkling red cranberries. But did you know that cranberries are more than just a Thanksgiving dinner add-on? Cranberries boast of a wide variety of health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-aging, antibacterial, and anti-cancer properties.

The deep red colour of cranberries is indicative of their powerful antioxidant properties (this also applies to other dark-coloured fruits, like blueberries, blackberries, and cherries). Antioxidants are chemicals that reduce and prevent the cellular damage that occurs not only from outside agents (air pollution and chemicals in food and water, for example) but also from lifestyle (like stress and diet).

These antioxidant properties also mean that cranberries are anti-aging, since they increase the rate of cell repair and cell protection That’s often slowed by age. The antioxidants in cranberries exert an influence on most body cells, but particularly those in the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels). This means added cardiovascular protection, and better functioning overall when cranberries are consumed on a regular basis.

Cranberries are also antibacterial. You’ve probably heard of using cranberries to help fight urinary tract infections. Why are they so effective? The red berries contain chemicals called proanthocyanidins, which stick to the walls of the urinary tract and bladder and prevent the attachment of infection-causing bacteria like E. coli. Of course, to help treat urinary tract infections you should use unsweetened cranberries; drink unsweetened cranberry juice, or consume the whole berries. The antibacterial properties start approximately two hours after your first dose, and can last up to ten hours.

Cranberries have also been shown to have anti-cancer benefits, potentially reducing the risk of prostate, colon, and lung cancer. For example, cranberries appear to trigger apoptosis of cancer cells because they contain components that lead to cancer cell death. Some preliminary research has also shown that cranberries exert an anti-cancer effect on breast cancer cells in vitro, but It’s uncertain right now whether this would be the case in humans as well.

How to consume cranberries? The most recent research suggests that whole cranberries are more beneficial than the pressed juice. The whole berry contains synergistic chemical components that work together to provide extra health benefits like increased antioxidant power and higher anti-inflammatory effects. Raw, whole cranberries are the best choice; instead of cooking them into cranberry sauce (which reduces some of the benefits), try blending raw cranberries with a sweetener like sugar or honey, and an orange. The fresh, fruity flavour will capture your taste buds instantly!

they’re popular at this time of year, but remember that cranberries don’t need to be confined to Thanksgiving and other holidays. Try incorporating the bright red berries into your daily diet: raw cranberry purée stirred into yogurt at breakfast or added to your afternoon smoothie make a good start.

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.