Hi everybody! Where did October go, not to mention most of November?! I cannot believe it is already time for Thanksgiving! In honor of this holiday filled with great food and family, I thought it would be fun to look into a Thanksgiving staple: cranberries. While cranberries are not the main Thanksgiving feast attraction for most, this is the only meal during the year in which they make a prominent appearance (outside of juice at the breakfast table). Of all the food staples included in your Thanksgiving Day feast, cranberries are hands down one of the least caloric (assuming it isn’t coming out of a can and coated in sugar). Intrigued yet?
Much of Thanksgiving is more folklore than history, however, if the Thanksgiving meal had actually occurred there is a good chance that cranberries would have been present on that table. This is because cranberries are a native fruit to the northeastern part of North America. They are found from Canada all the way down to North Carolina. In fact, cranberries are one of only three commercially important fruits that are native to North America, the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes. The United States distributes 85% of the 500-700 million (!) pounds of cranberries produced worldwide each year (1). That’s a lot of cranberries!
The original New Englanders utilized cranberries for many purposes, including medicine. While they probably did not know it at the time, cranberries have been suggested to have many “anti” properties, including antibacterial, antiviral, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, antitumorigenic, antiangiogenic, and antioxidant activities. If that list of benefits doesn’t convince you, cranberries are low in calories, high in dietary fiber, and contain high levels of omega-3’s (the benefits of which were discussed in the Chia Seed article). Furthermore, cranberry juice, even in the cocktail form, contains 100% of your recommended vitamin C (1, 2). From a disease standpoint, research suggests that cranberries and cranberry juice cocktail are capable of preventing urinary tract infections, improving oral hygiene, and preventing stomach ulcer formation by not allowing the adhesion of disease causing bacteria to these tissues (1, 2).
Many of these health benefits are attributed to the high levels of phenol and flavonoid compounds contained in cranberries. (Woah, we are getting a bit heavy in the science here! Stick with me, it will be worth it!) Phenols and flavonoids are just chemicals found in nature that are beneficial to our health for various reasons. I have drawn the basic structures that are common to all phenols and flavonoids in the picture below. See, they aren’t that scary looking. They both are powerful antioxidants that prevent free radical damage, specifically in your gastrointestinal tract, by increasing the levels of toxin-metabolizing defense enzymes. They promote heart health by reducing the oxidation of the LDL form of cholesterol, inhibiting platelet aggregation, and preventing inflammation. Furthermore, there are ongoing studies about the benefits phenols and flavonoids have in preventing diabetes, osteoporosis, as well as cancer. Many fruits contain phenols, including blueberries, apples, red grapes, avocados, and strawberries, but of this list, cranberries are at the top of this list as they have the highest total phenol content.
Still a bit confused about the benefits of phenols and why you may have never heard of them before? Actually, there is a good chance you have. Do you remember all the hype around resveratrol and red wine? While the jury is out on the health benefits around the wine itself, resveratrol is a natural phenol and conveys all these significant health benefits we have discussed here (1, 2).
Are you convinced yet to put down that spoonful of green bean casserole in exchange for more cranberry sauce? I’ll be honest, I personally have never felt the need to smother my Thanksgiving turkey in cranberry sauce before. However, after learning about all these significant health benefits, I may change my tune this year. As you prepare for your Thanksgiving dinner this week, may I suggest forgoing that jar of gelatinous cranberry goo? Instead, why not try using real cranberries in this delicious recipe for Cranberry Pear Sauce by SkinnyTaste? Four, all natural ingredients, one delicious sauce. Happy Thanksgiving!
What is your favorite Thanksgiving dish? Let me know in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d love to hear from you!
Want to learn more? Here are the references:
- McKay, D. L., and Blumberg, J. B. (2007) Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors. Nutr. Rev.
- Halliwell, B. (2007) Dietary polyphenols: Good, bad, or indifferent for your health? Cardiovasc. Res.