When you think of this delicious little fruit, chances are you think of festive times. It is generally eaten dried, or made into a tangy sauce that’s a Thanksgiving mainstay. But today you’ll find out that this little berry can help build your bones, so you’ll want to eat it more often than just during the holidays.
Although the tart and flavorful cranberry is acidifying, it’s a Foundation Food because of its excellent Vitamin C content and other bone-healthy nutrients.
Cranberries – Big Nutrients in a Small Package
The health benefits of cranberries cover a range of body systems, all of which tie into your bone health. Rich in Vitamin C and antioxidants, these berries have a fascinating history and many modern applications in the realm of osteoporosis treatment. This is why they are actually one of the Foundation Foods in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.
But I Thought You Said Cranberries Are Acidifying…?
Yes, cranberries are acid-forming. But as many of you already know, the Osteoporosis Reversal Program is not about avoiding all acid-forming foods. Rather, it’s about balance, and avoiding eating a diet that’s too acidic. If you eat cranberries for their health benefits, simply count them as part of your 20% of acidifying foods for that meal. Cranberries have too many health benefits to cut them out of your diet entirely!
In fact, cranberries’ reputation as a treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs) was once attributed to its high acid content. But in actuality, cranberries contain substances called proanthocyanidins, or PACs that are largely responsible for cranberries’ action against UTIs. PACs are found in other berries, but in cranberries, they have a special structure that prevents bacteria from “latching on” to the lining of the urinary tract. Because of this unique anti-bacterial action, researchers are considering the use of cranberries to prevent bacterial ulcers of the stomach.
The Fruit that Puts “Bounce” in Your Step
Here’s a fun fact about cranberries: they are sometimes called “bounceberries” because they are so bouncy when ripe. (If you share this fact with your family, it will be hard to keep young kids from testing this theory!) This bouncy trait is a convenient way to remember that cranberries contribute to bone flexibility and tensile strength.
North America’s Native Fruit
It makes sense that we associate cranberries with Thanksgiving here in America – cranberries are one of only 3 fruits that are native to the US and Canada (the other two being concord grapes and blueberries…more on blueberries later). Native Americans used these berries for food, healing, and making cloth dyes, and the Pilgrims soon learned how to use these versatile fruits. Settlers took it a step further and started making cranberry juice around 1683.
Cranberries grow on evergreen shrubs in acidic peat bogs, not in water as is sometimes believed. They do require lots of fresh water, and their growing season stretches from April to November. For fruiting buds to mature, the vine-like cranberry bush needs a long, cold winter. This is why they are found in northern climates; but in more southerly locations, cranberries still grow wild in higher elevations where there are bogs.
Did you know that sailors carried cranberries on ships to prevent scurvy? That’s because…
Cranberries are High in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a Foundation Supplement that acts both as a vitamin and an antioxidant, and it is vital in the production of the protein collagen. Without Vitamin C, collagen simply isn’t formed correctly and can’t do its job. And it has a very important job: collagen is manufactured and secreted by osteoblasts, the bone-building cells, and from there is binds the bone matrix cells together. For all of this to occur, the collagen must be “hydroxylated,” a process that cannot occur without the presence of Vitamin C.
Vitamin C also helps the immune system, a well-documented and thoroughly researched attribute of this amazing vitamin. And a healthy immune system is crucial for bone health, primarily because it is so central to the regulation of your body’s inflammatory response. A healthy immune system keeps excessive inflammation under control, which is important for your bones because inflammation has been shown to accelerate bone loss.
The Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant Cranberry
Polyphenols are an inflammation-fighting, antioxidant plant pigment that you’re familiar with if you’re following the Osteoporosis Reversal Program. Cranberries are related to blueberries, and like blueberries, they are rich in polyphenols.
Polyphenols are a class of antioxidants that are responsible for cranberries’ red color (and blueberries’ blue color, and the pigments in a host of other colorful fruits and vegetables). These plant pigments, which occur in high amounts in cranberries, actually increase the production of osteoblasts.
The polyphenols in cranberries also decrease inflammation, especially in the digestive tract and gums. Excessive inflammation is harmful to all body systems, including your bones. Cranberries stop inflammation before it has a chance to go too far, as the polyphenols stop cytokine production. Cytokines act as messengers, telling the body to continue the inflammatory response. Cranberries knock out the messengers, so the message to keep up the inflammation doesn’t get delivered!
Vitamin C and polyphenols are not all that cranberries have to offer. They also contain…
Manganese, another Foundation Supplement
A half a cup of cranberries contains .18mg of manganese. The Recommended Daily Allowance for manganese is 1.8mg for women and 2.3mg for men.
Manganese is included as a Foundation Supplement in the Osteoporosis Reversal Program because it plays such an important role in, among other things, the synthesis of connective tissue in both cartilage and bone. Manganese is also an activator of superoxide dismutase, a key antioxidant.
Enjoying Your Cranberries: Selection, Storage, and Preparation
To get the most out of cranberries, first, avoid buying dried cranberries because of the high sugar content. Second, avoid canned cranberries because of BPA in the inner lining of the can. So go for fresh or frozen berries.
Here are some things to look for when choosing fresh cranberries:
- Firm and springy to the touch (remember “bounceberries”)
- Deep red color
- Plump and round in shape, not withered or wrinkled
Once you get your berries home, follow these storage tips:
- Store in the refrigerator for no more than 20 days.
- Pick out soft, shriveled, or discolored berries before refrigeration.
- Rinse berries carefully in a colander before putting them in the refrigerator.
- Frozen cranberries can be kept for several years.
- Freeze your own by spreading them on a cookie sheet and placing the sheet in the freezer, then remove the berries to a freezer bag.
- Use thawed berries right away (they will be very soft – the bounce will be lost, but the berries are still fine to eat).
Fresh and Raw are Best
To get the maximum benefit from cranberries’ high nutrient content, it’s best to eat them fresh and uncooked.
Here are some other tips for preparing and enjoying cranberries:
- Raw cranberries can be tossed into salads to replace vinegar.
- Try raw cranberry sauce by blending cranberries in a blender with pineapple chunks, a sweet apple, and a whole, peeled orange.
- Bake fresh cranberries into breads and muffins.
A Word of Caution: Warfarin Warning
If you are taking the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin), please note that cranberries inhibit an enzyme necessary to break down and process warfarin, and they also naturally contain salicylic acid. This can increase the chance of dangerous bleeding already present when taking warfarin. So if you’re taking warfarin, consult with your health practitioner.
Cranberries: More Than Just a Food
There’s even more you can do with this amazing little fruit. You can also use it in home-made cosmetics! Here is a recipe for a natural, edible, tinted cranberry lip gloss that is great for wintertime. Of course, you can use it year-round.
Cranberry Lip Gloss
This recipe makes half an ounce of lip gloss.
- 1 tablespoon almond oil
- 10 fresh cranberries
- 1 teaspoon honey (preferably raw)
Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat just to the boiling point. Remove from heat, stir, and gently mash the berries. Cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Strain and cool. Pour the cooled lip gloss into a small container and spread on your lips as needed.
Enjoy in good health!