Cranberries often top the list of power foods and for good reason. Research shows that cranberries contain a unique combination of nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals that have far-reaching health benefits. Not only can cranberries help fight urinary tract infections, studies show they can help prevent stomach ulcers, dental plaque, certain cancers and heart disease.
Cranberry juice has long been known to help fight urinary tract infections. Cranberries contain high amounts of anthocyanins, phytochemicals that prevent certain bacteria, including E. coli, from adhering to the bladder wall. The antibacterial action of cranberries may also help guard against gum disease and stomach ulcers.
Cranberries may also boost heart health by lowering both LDL ("bad") and raising HDL ("good") cholesterol. Cranberries' antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals have also been shown to inhibit the formation of two enzymes that play a role in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
Cranberries' health benefits are due in part to their outstanding antioxidant content. In fact, cranberries outrank most other fruit - including berries - when it comes to antioxidants.
Cranberries are low in calories, fat free and a source of vitamin C. Half a cup (125 ml) of whole, fresh cranberries contains 2 grams of fibre and 7 mg of vitamin C for only 23 calories.
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) fresh cranberries:
|Vitamin C||7 mg|
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
Many varieties of cranberries are grown across Canada. Most of the cranberries cultivated today are hybrids of the wild cranberries found along the northern coasts of North America and include Stevens, Pilgrims, Ben Lear and Searles. Cultivated varieties are larger, glossier and more flavourful than most wild varieties.
In Canada, cranberries are grown mainly on the East Coast, in Ontario and in British Columbia. Fresh cranberries are plentiful from September through December.
When purchasing fresh cranberries, look for those that are plump, deep red in colour, firm to the touch and free of any blemishes. One of the best indicators of freshness is firmness: if a cranberry bounces when dropped, it’s a good sign that it’s fresh and of good quality.
Fresh cranberries are usually sold in 12-ounce packages, although smaller containers are often available as roadside stands and framer’s markets. One 12-ounce bag contains roughly three cups of whole berries.
Dried cranberries and cranberry products, such as canned cranberries and cranberry sauce, are available year round.
Fresh, ripe cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Before storing, remove any soft, discoloured or damaged berries to maximize storage time. Store in a plastic bag or airtight container. Don’t rinse cranberries before storing them, or they’ll spoil.
Fresh cranberries can be frozen for up to one year. To freeze fresh cranberries lay the berries out in a single layer on a baking tray. Place in the freezer until cranberries are frozen; transfer berries into a re-sealable bag or airtight container and return to the freezer.
Cranberries require very little preparation. While not as fragile as blueberries and raspberries, fresh cranberries should still be handled with care. Just prior to use, gently rinse cranberries under cool running water; then pat dry with paper towels.
There are endless ways to enjoy cranberries and reap their health benefits. Cranberries are too tart to be eaten on their own, but pair wonderfully with other, sweeter fruit, such as apples. Their deep red colour makes cranberries a welcome addition to salads, sauces, smoothies, cookies, muffins, quick breads and cocktails.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Garnish a bowl of oatmeal with a small handful of fresh, sliced cranberries.
- Cranberries work well in muffins and quick breads and pair especially well with apples, oranges and other sweet fruit.
- Make your own granola by combining dried cranberries, toasted oats and sliced almonds; serve with low-fat milk and honey.
- Sprinkle dried cranberries over a spinach salad for a mid-day meal; season with a honey balsamic dressing.
- Instead of mayonnaise, make your turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce.
- Add dried cranberries to grain salads made with barley, wheat berries or quinoa.
- Use cranberry sauce as a flavourful glaze for roasted meat, poultry and pork. Click here for a recipe.
- Add dried cranberries to stuffing and rice dishes for colour and extra flavour.
- Make your own cranberry sauce to serve with chicken and turkey. Click here for a recipe.
- Combine equal parts unsweetened cranberry juice, other fruit juice and sparkling mineral water for a refreshing spritzer.
- Fold cranberries into oatmeal cookies dough instead of chocolate chips or raisins.
- Mix dried cranberries with lightly roasted nuts for a delicious, healthy snack.
Did you know?
- Cranberries are also called "bounceberries", because ripe cranberries will bounce when dropped on a hard surface.
- Cranberries are one of the few commercially grown fruits that are native to North America.
- The British Columbia cranberry harvest yields a whopping 77 million pounds of the fruit annually and comprises about 12 percent of the total North American crop.