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Preventive Maintenance: Cranberries – the healthy holiday treat

Well, Christmas is over. But, if you are like most of us, you've eaten plenty. And you don't really need to eat for a few more weeks. Your last few days have likely been filled with eating goodies upo...


Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen


Well, Christmas is over. But, if you are like most of us, you’ve eaten plenty. And you don’t really need to eat for a few more weeks. Your last few days have likely been filled with eating goodies upon goodies, with a few extra goodies in between. Add to that a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Not all of these foods were good for you. But, if you spooned out a healthy-sized helping of cranberries beside your turkey, you should be proud of how well you took care of your health over the holidays. Cranberries are really good for you.

As we all know, a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which are full of phytonutrients, lowers your chance of getting a chronic disease, but cranberries are particularly good for you. Cranberries have a certain compound, proanthocyanidins that fight some kinds of bacteria floating around in your body. This compound in cranberries is good for your urinary tract, stomach, heart, teeth and gums and your overall health.

For one thing, this compound stops E.coli from sticking to the lining of your urinary tract. If you’re prone to urinary tract infections, drink cranberry juice on a daily basis. A 2002 study showed that one eight-ounce glass of cranberry juice stopped the bacteria that were floating around in the urinary tract from sticking to the lining for up to 10 hours after the drink, even if that bacterium was resistant to antibiotics. Additionally, by drinking cranberry juice regularly, you can keep a urinary tract infection at bay.

As well as fighting the bacteria in your urinary tract, cranberries also work on the bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) in your stomach that lead to stomach ulcers. In the past, most people thought that ulcers were caused by too much stress. However, over the past years it’s been seen that ulcers are often caused by a bacteria which breaks down the lining of the stomach. Cranberries can stop those bacteria from sticking to the mucous and/or the cells on your stomach lining. So, the bacteria don’t get a chance to cause an ulcer.

Cranberries are also good for your heart because they are full of flavinoids and polyphenolic compounds. The flavinoids act as strong antioxidants which can reduce your chance of getting atherosclerosis. The polyphenolic compounds in cranberries have been seen to inhibit low density lipoprotein oxidation which increases your good cholesterol and lowers your bad cholesterol. That’s why it’s believed that cranberries may offer a natural defense against atherosclerosis.

The compound found in cranberries also works on the bacteria in your mouth that lead to gum disease. A study published by the American Dental Association noted that cranberries have a unique component, which inhibits and/or reverses the accumulation of the oral bacteria (Streptococcus mutans) that leads to cavities, dental plaque and periodontal disease.

This was shown in a trial test on a mouthwash they created which contained this component from cranberries.

When they tested the saliva of those using this mouthwash, the oral bacteria was a lot lower than those who didn’t use the mouthwash. Not only did it reduce the amount of bacteria, it also stopped the remaining bacteria from sticking to the surface of the tooth (so it can’t start a cavity).

Cranberries have also been seen as a cancer fighter.

Recently researchers at the University of Western Ontario found in a preliminary study that when an experimental group’s diet was supplemented with cranberries, their breast cancer cells didn’t develop tumors as often as those not supplemented with cranberries.

There have even been studies showing that eating cranberries protects your brain. The compounds in cranberries appear to protect brain cells from free radical damage which can make you lose control over your movement as well as thinking processes.

On a broader scale, since many bacteria today are becoming resistant to antibiotics, perhaps cranberries can partially fill that gap, and help your body fight bacteria without antibiotics. What a tasty alternative.

The National Kidney Foundation suggests drinking a 10oz (300 ml) glass of cranberry juice cocktail a day may help prevent urinary tract infections.

Why not include a serving of cranberries as one of the five fruits you need every day? One serving of cranberries is 1/2 cup (55 g) of whole fruit (only 22 calories if unsweetened) or one 3/4 cup (180 ml) of 100 per cent juice. (I enjoy combining cranberry juice with ginger ale for a sparkling drink.)

Along with the unique compounds I’ve already mentioned, cranberries are also full of beta-carotene, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and Potassium, with lots of Calcium and Phosphorus besides.

Cranberries are full of goodness. So, for goodness sake, don’t wait for next Christmas to eat them again.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.


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