Cranberries and Your Health
July 26, 2009
A notable green food in a food industry often plagued by the high cost of packing and processing, the American cranberry stands alone. Not only does this native berry abound in commonplace treats like cookies and muffins, it’s also found in health food stores as a medicinal alternative. What is it about this local fruit that is so appealing yet elusive? Why is it that we recommend cranberries to patients when trying to prevent urinary tract infections and ulcers? Promote oral hygiene? Prevent cardiovascular disease?
Certainly the link between cranberries and prevention of UTIs is not new news. But while many people believe that it is the berry’s tartness and acidity that works to prevent UTIs by manipulating the pH of one’s system, it’s actually the anti-adhesive properties of the cranberry that do the grunt work. The tannins in cranberries, known as a proanthocyanidins, prohibit bacteria for adhering and multiplying, consequently promoting urinary tract health.
Tannins are polyphenolic compounds founds in leaves, fruits, seeds, bark, and roots of many plants and the astringency of tannins and consequent bitter taste is familiar to anyone whose lips pucker after brewing their coffee or tea too long. These same tannins exhibit antimicrobial activity giving them potential in fighting off many diseases including cardiovascular disease.
Time and time again, scientific research has proven that a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is inversely related to the risk of developing CVD and stroke. It appears that the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables form the basis for reduced risk. Cranberries are a potent source of phenolic phytochemicals and the red berry is actually the most concentrated source of phenols in the American diet.
The phenols found in cranberries have a wide range of effects; from antioxidant activity to modulating enzyme activity to regulating gene expression. Research has also suggested the phenols in cranberries may increase the resistance of low-density lipoproteins (a.k.a. the unhealthy cholesterol your doctor warned you about) to oxidation, preventing platelet aggregation and thrombosis, reducing blood pressure, and inhibiting inflammation.
While most of the publicity surrounds the use of juice and raw fruit to treat and prevent chronic and acute conditions, there is data to suggest that dried cranberries have some of the same functional properties as juices and whole berries. In a study by Greenberg et al., researchers found that consumption of dried cranberries may elicit bacterial anti-adhesion activity in urine whereas consumption of raisins had no effect. While more research is needed, dried cranberries could be a viable alternative to cranberry juice when looking for a way to prevent UTIs.
When considering oral health, most research is concerned with the effect of cranberry juice, cranberry extracts, and raw fruit as potential cavity-fighting agents. Regardless of the form used, the potent berry continues to inhibit acid production and bacterial adherence to teeth.
In summary, whether you customers are dishing up cranberries as Native New Englanders did on the first Thanksgiving, snacking on dried cranberries while hiking on the trails, or making the heart-healthy buttermilk cranberry scones listed below, it’s clear that there are many different ways to enjoy the benefits of this potent red berry.
Heart-Healthy Buttermilk Cranberry Scones:
Try this delightful treat at your next Sunday brunch. Your guests will love these scones and your heart will too!
Prep time: approximately 15 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ½ cup whole wheat flour
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ cup cold vegetable oil-based spread such as Promise or Country Crock
• 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk, plus ¼ cup to brush scones
• 1 cup fresh cranberries, washed, dried, chopped
• ½ cup dried cranberries
• 3-4 tablespoons Demerara or Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top of scones
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (if you do not have parchment paper, spray sheet with non-stick spray).
In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients and mix well. Cut in the cold vegetable oil-based spread using a pastry cutter or two forks and continue to cut in the spread until a course mixture forms. Add the buttermilk and work in the liquid until a sticky dough forms. Add the berries to the dough and mix well.
Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead until dough comes together. After flouring your hands and a rolling pin, roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. Cut into squares using a knife or pizza wheel and then cut each square in half diagonally, making triangles. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Using a pastry brush, brush the tops with the remaining buttermilk and sprinkle generously with either Demerara or Turbinado sugar. Bake scones for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outsides are crisp and the insides are fully baked. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve warm.
Pamela M. Nisevich, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a nutrition consultant specializing in sports nutrition and nutrition communications. She can be found atwww.swimbikeruneat.com.
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