Cranberry Health Benefits and Nutrition

How and Why to Eat Cranberries Year-Round

handful of cranberries
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Cranberries are often in the health news—it seems they are good for almost everything. This is great for low carbers because they pack a lot of nutrition, fiber, and flavor into a package without many carbohydrates. Half a cup of whole cranberries has 4 grams of effective carbohydrate, plus 2 grams of fiber, 1/3 of which is soluble (the soluble fiber is what makes the “gel” when you cook cranberries).

This relative of the blueberry is at its peak from October-December but they freeze very well. Just toss the whole bag in the freezer, and enjoy them year round—they will actually keep until the next fall.

Health Benefits

Antioxidants: In study after study, cranberries are coming out at or near the top of the antioxidant heap. They are particularly rich in polyphenols and have a lot of other helpful phytochemicals as well. These chemicals probably explain some of the studies showing cranberries' health benefits, including:

  • Prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections (they are antibacterial and also keep bacteria from “sticking” to the inside of the bladder and ureters).
  • Similar effects in the GI tract—help prevent bacteria from causing foodborne illness.
  • Similar effects in the mouth—may help prevent tooth decay by discouraging bacteria and preventing them from “sticking”.
  • Prevention of the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which may help prevent atherosclerosis.
  • Improves blood vessel function in people with atherosclerosis.
  • Some studies show that cranberries can either raise HDL cholesterol or lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Cranberries may also have anti-cancer properties.

Selection

Avoid bags that have a lot of soft or brown berries. The best cranberries bounce (in fact, cranberries used to be called “bounceberries”).

Storage

Keep cranberries cool. They will keep for weeks to months in the refrigerator, and at least a year in the freezer. (Frozen cranberries will be softer than fresh upon thawing, but they are fine in any cooked dish.)

Cooking and Serving Suggestions

  • Cranberries add a zip to dishes like other sour or acid foods—try using them in a similar way to lemon or in a ​vinaigrette.
  • It takes no more than 10 minutes to make cranberry sauce, and it can be eaten on cottage cheese, yogurt, or ricotta cheese for breakfast or a snack. (To make it even healthier, put some flax seed meal on top.) It’s also good with cheeses and nuts.
  • Put them in baked goods like these ​cranberry walnut cookies.
  • Put sugar-free dried cranberries in trail mix and on salads.
  • The sweet/tart combination of cranberries goes well with spicy flavors as well. Try including horseradish, jalapeno chiles, or other “hot” spices in your cranberry sauce or chutney.
  • Cranberries are good in meat dishes, especially chicken and pork.
  • And, of course, don't forget the more traditional uses, such as in nut​​ breads and muffins.