Your Thanksgiving Dinner Can Pack a Healthy Punch with This Tiny Fruit
No Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without cranberry sauce — not even the first one. Native to North America, these tart red cousins of the blueberry were part of the original Thanksgiving feast. In fact, Indians not only ate cranberries, they used them as dyes and poultices for wounds. Later, American whalers and seamen brought cranberries — a good source of vitamin C — on their voyages to ward off scurvy.
Most cranberries come from Massachusetts, but Wisconsin, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, and Canada also produce them. Cranberries grow on vines planted in sandy bogs. This allows growers to cover the plants with water to protect them from the cold.
But there’s no need to get “bogged” down in further details. Just be thankful for all the wonderful ways cranberries protect your health.
Stop urinary tract infections.
Drinking cranberry juice is an old folk remedy for urinary tract infections (UTIs). No wonder it has stood the test of time — it really works.
Several studies have found that cranberry juice can prevent and even treat UTIs. One study of nursing home residents found that drinking 4 to 6 ounces of cranberry juice each day for seven weeks prevented UTIs in two-thirds of the residents.
A Finnish study found that cranberry juice was much more effective than a probiotic drink in preventing UTIs. Even bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotics meet their match with cranberry juice.
Compounds called proanthocyanidins, or condensed tannins, give cranberries their power over UTIs. That’s because they prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of your urinary tract. Tannins may work by crushing tiny hairs on the bacteria’s surface so they can’t attach to the cells in the urinary tract.
You don’t even have to get your cranberries in liquid form. A recent study reports that dried cranberries may also work.
To ward off UTIs, many health professionals recommend drinking two or three 8-ounce glasses of unsweetened cranberry juice a day. Or you can eat about a third of a cup of dried cranberries.
Counteract cancer with phytochemicals.
Cranberries are loaded with phytochemicals that team up to fight cancer. The proanthocyanidins in cranberries — the compounds that make cranberries effective against urinary tract infections — also inhibit lung, colon, and leukemia cells in lab tests. They may even help improve existing cancer treatments. In a recent study, cranberry juice extract made platinum-based chemotherapy, the standard treatment for ovarian cancer, six times more effective.
Quercetin, a flavonoid abundant in cranberries, thwarts breast, colon, pancreatic, and leukemia cancer cells. Ursolic acid, found in the peel of cranberries, stops tumor growth of colon, prostate, lung, cervical, and leukemia cells.
Anthocyanins, the pigments that give cranberries their red color, also may give you an edge against cancer. They may fight inflammation, reducing your risk of developing certain cancers.
Researchers aren’t sure exactly how each phytochemical fights cancer. Likely mechanisms include triggering apoptosis, or cancer cell death, stopping reproduction and colony formation, and limiting the cancer’s ability to invade and spread. But one thing is sure — when you add it all up, cranberries pack one heck of a punch against cancer.
Safeguard your heart.
The high polyphenol content of cranberries means plenty of good news for your heart.
Tests show that cranberry extracts, rich in flavonoids like quercetin, myrecetin, and anthocyanidins, inhibit the oxidation of LDL, or bad cholesterol. If LDL particles do not become oxidized, they can’t do damage to your artery walls. As an added bonus, cranberry juice may also help boost your levels of HDL, or good cholesterol.
In one study of pigs, cranberry juice powder helped improve the ability of blood vessels to relax. Of course, you don’t have to be a pig to reap the heart-healthy benefits of cranberries. Just “pig out” on these delicious fruits.
The same mechanism that helps cranberries prevent urinary tract infections also helps them foil ulcers.
Just as cranberry juice prevents the E. coli bacteria from sticking to the walls of your urinary tract, this tasty beverage also works against H. pylori, the bacteria responsible for ulcers. If H. pylori can’t stick to the mucus lining your stomach, it can’t colonize there.
Even if you already have an H. pylori infection, cranberry juice may help. In a Chinese study, people who had H. pylori infections drank either two juice boxes of cranberry juice or a placebo beverage each day for 90 days. At the end of the study, those drinking the cranberry juice had significantly more negative test results for the infection.
Protect your teeth and gums.
Smile if you like cranberries. Considering all they do for your mouth, it’s hard to suppress a grin.
A Japanese study found that cranberries stop the oral streptococci strains of bacteria from sticking to the surface of your teeth. This slows the development of dental plaque and tooth decay. Researchers at the University of Rochester also found that cranberry juice effectively countered oral bacteria. They credited quercetin, as well as proanthocyanidins, for cranberry juice’s success.
Just remember to drink unsweetened cranberry juice. Otherwise, the added sugar may do your teeth more harm than good.
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- FC&A Staff Writer