We know that Thanksgiving is upon us when we see the grocery store lines getting longer and longer. So, to get in the spirit, today’s recipe post will focus on a popular Thanksgiving ingredient: cranberries. Cranberries are one of the few native north American fruits and were rumored to be at the first Thanksgiving. This recipe includes sweet potatoes, carrots, honey, coconut, ginger, cinnamon, and cranberries–a powerhouse of cancer preventive ingredients!

Health benefits of fresh raw cranberries

You will be pleased to know that cranberries have a low glycemic index; there are only 46 calories per cup of cranberries! A one cup serving of cranberries also provides these percent daily values24% vitamin C, 18% dietary fiber, 20% manganese, 8% vitamin E, 7% copper, 6% vitamin K, and 6% pantothenic acid. You can throw away that Gatorade because cranberries provide a balanced level of electrolytes including potassium and sodium.

According to many sources (including the one above), cranberries are one of the highest sources of antioxidants, even outshining such “superfoods” as blueberries and strawberries. Cranberries are rich in fiber, nutrients, and phytonutrients such as anthocyanins, flavanoids, polyphenols, proanthocyanidins, and triterpenoids. Their health benefits include antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Cranberries have also been found to be good in moderation for oral health by preventing oral bacteria from bonding to teeth and thus reducing the formation of damaging plaque

Fresh raw cranberries have higher levels of phytochemicals, specifically phenols, versus their cooked or dried counterparts. It is thought that their vitamins, antioxidants, and enzymes are unable to withstand baking temperatures, typically 350°F. Nevertheless, cooked cranberries still have many health benefits, you just might want to prepare them yourself. Unfortunately, commercial canning, concentrating, pressing, or drying can lead to these nutrients being compromised due to physical separation, thermal degradation, or oxidation. Homemade sauce has more anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins than canned sauce processed with whole berries and considerably more than the jellied-type. Processed cranberry products also typically include a lot of refined sugar. 

Although eating fresh cranberries might be too tart for your taste buds, the recipe below incorporates fresh cranberries in a way that lessens the tartness in the overall dish. In fact, the tartness from the fresh cranberries packs these desserts with a delightful punch.

 

Evidence for cancer prevention by raw cranberries

While there have been no clinical trials in cancer prevention with cranberries, there are some intriguing in vivo studies. One study found that 20% cranberry juice significantly reduced aberrant crypt foci in the proximal and distal colon of rats. In another study, cranberry juice concentrate administered by gavage reduced nitrosamine-induced bladder tumor weight and cancerous lesion formation in the bladder of rats. Scientists have also reported that cranberry-derived proanthocyanidin extract induced esophageal adenocarcinoma cell death in mice with esophageal tumor xenografts at non-toxic concentrations. A summary of preclinical studies of cranberries and various cancer types published in 2014 is shown in Table 1 on page 5 of this article.

The vast majority of research assessing cranberries as cancer inhibitors has been conducted in vitro using a number of cranberry extracts and diverse human cancer cell lines. These lab studies show that cranberry juice extract and isolated compounds can inhibit a wide variety of cancer cells. Cranberries have been found to help protect against cancer in many ways, including triggering of programmed cell death via apoptosis, autophagy, and necrosis of tumor cells.  

Here is a great video from NutritionFacts.org about the anticancer properties of cranberries, particularly fresh whole cranberries:

 

Sources of fresh cranberries

The most commonly grown species is the North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), but other types of cranberries are found in nature. It might be easiest to check out the produce section in your local grocery store! Fresh cranberries can last for a couple months in the refrigerator or for several years if frozen.


 Interesting tidbit: “If berries floating on top of water get exposed to increased amounts of natural sunlight (in comparison to other growing and harvesting conditions), they are likely to develop greater concentrations of anthocyanins. These greater concentrations of anthocyanins are likely to provide us with stronger health benefits.”  

Safety suggestions

Raw cranberries have been shown to be highly acidic, so damage to your teeth may occur if too much is consumed. You may want to avoid raw cranberries if you suffer from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), since high-acid foods can aggravate your esophagus and stomach. Cranberries also contain salicylic acid, a metabolite of aspirin, and may cause allergic reactions for people who are allergic to aspirin.

There is advice on cranberry juice intake that may be worth repeating here. Do not drink cranberry juice if you are taking warfarin, CYP 450 substrate drugs, or upper gastrointestinal tract drugs. For people who are prone to kidney stones, eating cranberries should be limited as they contains oxalates, compounds found in the most common form of kidney stones. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea have occurred with large amounts of cranberry juice (3 cups daily).

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