There may be no fruit that is at once so connected with holidays and health benefits than the cranberry. Native Americans used this perennial fruit for its outstanding nutrition benefits, which have been rediscovered by nutraceutical companies.
Cranberries contain an antioxidant called proanthrocyanins that can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder. This helps prevent bladder and other urinary tract infections.
But if you’ve been getting your dose from cranberry juice cocktail, you may be missing out on benefits. Cranberry juice cocktail contains a great deal of sugar, and not that much real cranberry juice. You’re better off with the whole fruit (fresh or dried), pure juice, or even cranberry capsules, especially if you frequently get UTIs. An independent analysis by Brunswick Laboratories shows that an ounce of whole sweetened dried whole cranberries equals the same antioxidant level as two 8-ounce glasses of cranberry juice cocktail with one-third the calories and half the sugar.
But not all dried cranberries are created equal. Some manufacturers don’t use the whole fruit, relying instead on the skins left over from the juicing process. This is especially true for low-cost varieties. In such cases, all you’re getting is sugar-coated cranberry hulls.
Eating the whole cranberry is important because the seeds have omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids plus Vitamin E compounds.
Fortunately, it’s easy to tell the difference — just look at your dried cranberries and you can see whether there are seeds.
I learned a lot about cranberries a few years ago when I met John Decas of Decas Cranberry Products in Massachusetts (you can shop online at decascranberry.com). He explained how his firm sorts cranberries from its bogs and drops them down onto a belt. If a bright red berry does not bounce, it is discarded for mulch. Other companies press them for juice.
But even whole dried cranberries contain sugar, so they pack a caloric punch.
The best way to serve cranberries at the holidays is to make your own sauce out of fresh cranberries. My favorite is this cranberry chutney. It is easy to make and contains no added sugar. Try additions such as 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger or curry powder for a different twist on tradition.
1 pound (4 cups) fresh cranberries
2 pears, quartered, cored and diced
1 cup juice-packed, canned crushed pineapple
Combine cranberries, pears and pineapple in saucepan. Heat over medium heat to boiling. Cook 5 minutes until cranberry skins pop. Simmer 10 minutes uncovered until cranberries and pears are tender. Pour into serving bowl. Cool and serve. Makes about 3 cups.
Nutrition per 1/4 cup serving: 13 calories, 0 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 22 mg. sodium.