Thursday 21 October 2021

The #1 Best Fall Superfood Is Cranberries—Here's Why

 Pumpkin seems to always get all the praise in the fall—and for good reason. Pumpkin is full of gut-healthy fiber and beta-carotene, an antioxidant that synthesizes into vitamin A supporting your eye health and your immunity. And yet, while pumpkin is a great addition to your diet as the months get colder, there is one superfood people that seems to be the underdog of the fall season, and that's cranberries.

It's likely that you have some memories linked to cranberries during the holiday season. Cranberry sauce on the table at Thanksgiving, stringing cranberries and popcorn together for a garland on the tree, or even sipping on a vodka cranberry cocktail at a holiday party. Yes, cranberries are an essential part of the holiday season, but given the number of health benefits that cranberries can provide your body, they should easily be a superfood that you consider incorporating into your diet on the regular.  

Cranberries promote a healthy urinary tract.

cranberry cocktail

Ladies, did your mother ever tell you to drink your cranberry juice for, well, you know?

It's not an old wives' tale. In fact, there's plenty of research that shows how cranberries in any form can actually help maintain a healthy urinary tract and reduce the risk of certain infections in your body. That's all thanks to an antioxidant called proanthocyanidins (PACs) that are known for flushing toxins out of your body and keeping you healthy.

"What it really does, in the simplest way, is it helps with [urinarty tract infections]," says Ocean Spray Cranberry Farmer Alison Gilmore. "It helps to get bad bacteria, in the most simplest terms, out of your body. So it really helps to keep your body nourished and healthy."

As previously mentioned, you can benefit from the PACs in cranberries in any form—whether it be from the juice bottle you buy in the store, the can of cranberry sauce on your table, or even the dried cranberries sprinkled into your salad.

"All cranberry products, including fresh and frozen cranberries, cranberry juice cocktail, dried cranberries, and sauces, contain unique, health-promoting flavonoids called PACs," say medical expert board members Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, also known as The Nutrition Twins. "PACs help reduce the incidence of certain infections, maintain a healthy urinary tract, improve heart health and reduce inflammation associated with chronic disease and aging."

The Nutrition Twins regularly recommend cranberries for any clients looking to prevent recurring UTIs. They reference a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which found that women who drank 8 ounces of cranberry juice a day saw a 40% reduced risk of recurring UTIs for healthy women, followed by an announcement from the FDA in 2020 recommending women regularly consume cranberry juice for the same reason. 

Cranberries also benefit the heart.

homemade cranberry sauce with cranberries outside the bowl

While a healthy urinary tract is certainly a major benefit to regularly having cranberries in your diet, this tiny superfood can also benefit your heart health in powerful ways.

"PACs, as well as some other antioxidants in cranberries, have been shown to benefit the heart in multiple ways ranging from helping to lower blood pressure and raising HDL (good) cholesterol to lower inflammation in blood vessels as well decreasing stiffness in vessels in those with heart disease," say The Nutrition Twins.

Cranberries can improve gut health.

healthy orange cranberry relish
Mitch Mandel and Thomas MacDonald

The Nutrition Twins also point out that cranberries can even benefit your gut health thanks to—you guessed it—those PACs.

They specifically point out a clinical trial published by the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology which linked the consumption of cranberry juice and a reduction of the H. pylori infection rate in the gut. Participants drank an 8-ounce serving (that contained 44 milligrams of PACs) twice a day and saw a 20% reduction rate. H. pylori are known to be the primary identified cause of gastric cancer.

"Although more research is needed, this is encouraging," say The Nutrition Twins. "Cranberry juice has the potential to support gut health as a natural, complementary management strategy for adults in this population infected with H. pylori."

Don't overlook the seeds.

cut open cranberry with seeds

While there are the typical forms we consume cranberries—like juice, sauce, salads, or hey, even cocktails—cranberry seeds can also benefit your body in a number of ways.

"They're tiny and they're absolutely beautiful," says David Ehrlinger, senior manager of culinary innovation at Ocean Spray. "They're almost like a plant-based sprinkle because they are bright red and they're crunchy, they don't have a ton of flavor but they have a huge list of benefits."

Ehrlinger points out how cranberry seeds are slightly bigger than chia seeds, yet smaller than flaxseed—yet still full of all kinds of good-for-you benefits. The seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, are full of fiber, and even some plant-based protein. These seeds can easily be sprinkled on top of salads, oatmeal, or even blended up into smoothies.

Ehrlinger also points out that these bright red seeds can also be turned into cranberry seed flour, which can be used for baked goods.

"They still have that bright red color but they don't have that much texture, so you can use them in your smoothies you can use them in your baked goods," says Ehrlinger, who is currently working on a list of recipes using the cranberry flour, like a bright pink gluten-free brownie.

So if you're looking to give your meals a super boost (pun intended), adding cranberries into your meals this fall is certainly beneficial—in whatever form you enjoy them. Even if that means a cranberry vodka cocktail this holiday season. Because it's all about balance, right?

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