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by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
With thanksgiving behind us it is far from the end of the preparation and enjoyment of cranberries. The bright red color and vitamin C rich tang has added a pizazz to poultry, pork and fish throughout American history.
The cranberry, along with the blueberry and Concord grape, is one of North America’s three native fruits that are commercially grown. Cranberries were first used by Native Americans. Today, cranberries are commercially grown throughout the northern part of the United States and are available in both fresh and processed forms.
The name “cranberry” derives from the Pilgrim name for the fruit, “craneberry”, so called because the small, pink blossoms that appear in the spring resemble the head and bill of a Sandhill crane. European settlers adopted the Native American uses for the fruit and found the berry a valuable bartering tool.
American whalers and mariners carried cranberries on their voyages to prevent scurvy. In 1816, Captain Henry Hall became the first to successfully cultivate cranberries. By 1871, the first association of cranberry growers in the United States had formed, and now, U.S. farmers harvest approximately 40,000 acres of cranberries each year.
Cranberries are well known for treating urinary tract infections, this is due to their ability to protect the delicate lining of the bladder and the urethra, from opportunistic bad bacteria and erosion damage from the acidic properties of urine. Stress and aging along with hormone decline and a history of low water consumption also contribute to kidney and bladder challenges. Cranberries health attributes go far beyond what they do for the bladder and kidneys, their health properties, also aid in cardiovascular protection and cancer prevention. The anti-oxidant rich complex of cranberries support the body in healthy immune system response, it is this response that builds and repairs cells and maintains health.
The phytonutrients in cranberries include phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavonoids, and triterpenoids and they are high in fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. All of these are central to the maintenance of tissue elastin, cell permeability and tissue flexibility, along with this comes reduced inflammation which is the major contributor to chronic illness. Inflammation has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, muscle and joint disorders, and disorders of the brain. All of these nutrients play a role in the prevention of premature aging and degenerative conditions like dementia.
Cranberries help the entire digestive tract from aiding in gum health in the mouth through supporting the balance of bacteria in the gut, over the last five years in particulate research has been able to show the gut and the complex beneficial bacteria present are central to the bodies ability to ward off illness. The proanthocyanidins in cranberries inhibit harmful bacteria from latching onto the lining of the urinary tract and the stomach lining (preventing ulcers).
Cranberries are both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, especially when the berries are eaten as a whole food. The anti-inflammatory properties reduce inflammation in the stomach, the colon and the cardiovascular system. In the vascular system, these properties inhibit the formation of plaque on the vessel walls. Studies have confirmed that cranberries help prevent cancer, specifically breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer. With so many dependent on manufactured foods, we are losing many of the nutrients along with unnecessary increases in sugar by buying canned cranberry sauce and juice, which drive the bodies immune system down farther. The incorporation of nutrient rich cranberries into the diet in easy to make sauces, dried fruit and juice will do more for you then just prevent bladder infections and add color to your life, it may give you the keys to health and longevity.
Are there genetically modified cranberries?
Cranberries are not genetically modified; however, cranberry juices and dried cranberries are sweetened with either high fructose corn syrup or beet sugar and 90% of corn and beet crops are genetically modified.
Organic verse conventional cranberries
Proponents of conventional farming methods for cranberries state that the bogs used to raise cranberries are rife with natural pests and that the wetlands encourage fungi. The What’s On My Food website reveals 13 pesticides found on cranberries. Of these, 3 are known or probable carcinogens, 6 are suspected hormone disruptor, 5 are neurotoxins, 1 is a developmental or reproductive toxin and 6 are honeybee toxins.
Things you didn’t know about cranberries.
Cranberry vines do not need to be replanted each year. If properly cared for, vines last for years. Many cranberry farms produce crops each year from vines 150+ years old.
The cranberry was a key ingredient in the original energy bar, 400 years before anyone knew what a superfood was.
The Algonquin, Chippewa, and Cree, among others, gathered wild cranberries where they could find them in what is now Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, all the way west to Oregon and Washington, and north to areas of British Columbia and Quebec, according to Devon Mihesuah, a professor at the University of Kansas and citizen of the Choctaw Nation.
The berry was called sassamenesh (by the Algonquin) and ibimi (by the Wampanoag and Lenni-Lenape), which translates literally as “bitter” or “sour berries.” Cranberries were used for everything from cooking to dyes for textiles to medicines.
How to store cranberries so they last longer
Be sure to sort, removing any damaged or shriveled berries before refrigeration. Berries can be refrigerated for up to 20 days. Frozen berries can be kept for several years. Do not thaw the berries until you are ready to use them.
How to pick good cranberries
Choose firm, plump, dark red berries. The should not be bruised, broken, shriveled, tough, slimy or sticky.
Things to consider
There is one contraindication for adding cranberries to your diet. If you suffer from kidney stones, especially calcium-oxalate stones, cranberries may exacerbate your condition.
Remember that the benefits of cranberries can be negated with pesticide consumption, GMO consumption, or sugar consumption. Look for organic dried berries sweetened with juice, organic unsweetened juice which can be sweetened with stevia or other juices, and organic fresh or frozen whole berries.
Cranberry juice has huge health benefits, but whole berries pack a much greater nutritional punch.
Raw Cranberry Relish
1 cup fresh cranberries
4 Medjool dates
2 Tbsp chopped ginger
tsp. sea salt
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup loose mint leaves
1/2 cup Johnagold or yellow delicious apple
Place ingredients into a food processor and chop. Serve chilled with a garnish of blueberries and grape leaves.
To your colorful good health and Christmas season.
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