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Eating Well With Whole Foods: Cranberries

by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski

A cousin of the blueberry, the cranberry belongs to the Vaccinium family. The pilgrims originally named the scarlet, red, tart berry the “craneberry” after the sandhill crane because they believed the plant resembled the head of the bird. The “e” was eventually dropped. Although several species of cranberries grow wild in Europe and Asia, the cranberry most cultivated is an American native. Cranberry cultivation began in Massachusetts in 1840 and soon spread across the U.S. and the sea to Scandinavia and Great Britain. Cranberries are often called “bounceberries” because they bounce when they’re ripe. Native American Indians enjoyed cranberries cooked and sweetened with honey or maple syrup. They also used them for their decorative and medicinal properties. The berries’ vivid color was used as a red dye and its astringent tannins were used on wounds to help stop bleeding. Although available throughout the world, cranberries are still primarily grown in the United States. The cranberry grows wild as a shrub and is cultivated on low trailing vines in great sandy bogs. The cultivated cranberry produces a larger berry then the wild ones. More than 150 thousand metric tons of cranberries are produced annually with half of the yearly crop coming from Massachusetts. Fresh cranberries, which contain the highest level of health nutrients, are at their peak through December.

A phytochemical powerhouse, cranberries are packed with five times the antioxidant power of broccoli and have among the highest levels of phenols of commonly consumed fruits. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, and vitamin K. Cranberries have long been valued for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections due to a specific type of tannin that reduces the ability of bacteria to attach to the urethra and bladder. Now, recent studies show that they may also help prevent cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL and raising cardio-protective HDL cholesterol, aid in recovery from stroke, prevent age-related macular degeneration, and promote gastrointestinal and oral health. The higher concentration of tannins, the greater the health benefits, so it’s important to choose whole cranberry products and undiluted juice.

When purchasing cranberries, choose fresh, plump ones with a rich red hue. They should be firm to the touch. The deeper the color, the better because it signifies a high concentration of cranberries’ beneficial anthocyanin compounds. Opt for fresh ones over dried berries, if possible, because they retain the most antioxidants. If you do select dried ones, avoid those with added sugars. Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for several months and frozen for several years. Be sure to remove any soft, discolored, leathery fruit before storing. Thaw frozen berries at room temperature and drain before using in recipes that do not require cooking. For cooked recipes, use unthawed berries for optimal flavor. Cranberries are a versatile fruit that adds a healthy zest to any meal. To offset their tartness, enjoy cranberries combined with sweeter fruits like oranges, pineapple and pears, or take a cue from the Native American Indians and drizzle some honey, or maple syrup over them. Toss them over salads, top them on oatmeal or bake them into whole grain muffins for an antioxidant boost. They’re also delicious mixed with roasted nuts and their vivid hue makes them a terrific garnish for holiday beverages. When the holidays end so does the peak season for fresh cranberries so opt for 100% pure cranberry juice and dried or frozen cranberries throughout the year for continuous health benefits.

Cranberry Relish

12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup orange juice

¼ cup raisins

1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 tsp. orange zest, minced

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

½ cup pineapple, crushed

½ cup organic honey

Place orange juice, ginger, orange zest, cinnamon, and raisins in a medium saucepan on high heat. Bring to a boil. Add cranberries. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. Add crushed pineapple and honey. Remove from heat and cool.

Yields about 2 cups. Freezes well. Serve with holiday meal. Enjoy! 

Suzann Pileggi is a certified holistic health counselor. She works with clients on nourishing their body and soul by helping them make better food and lifestyle choices. She uses food to naturally increase energy, control cravings and create a balanced lifestyle. She conducts special sugar seminars at Radu’s Physical Culture gym in NYC. Visit her website at www.suzannpileggi.com , email her at suzannpileggi@aol.com, or call her at (212) 799-4169 for a FREE initial holistic health consultation. Phone consultations and group seminars available.

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