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November 25, 2014, last updated August 15, 2015
By Joseph Strongoli,Contributing Columnist
Among the secret pleasures we men enjoy but never talk about,
Thanksgiving is high in the list. And other than the juicy turkey,
cranberries are one of the key reason we like to saddle up to the table
every November. But cranberries actually should be more than just a
one-a-year comfort food. They really should be more of a steady date.
Cranberries are literally loaded with polyphenols and other powerfully
bioactive compounds that researchers say bear fruitful health benefits.
Cranberries, first used by Native Americans as a rub for dried meat, are
one of only three commercially grown fruits native to North America.
The other two are blueberries and concord grapes.
Most of the world’s cranberries are cultivated on 48,000 acres in the
United States, with the majority of those acres found in Wisconsin and
Massachusetts. Other countries that produce cranberries include
Canada, Argentina, and Chile.
Americans consume 400 million cranberries a year, with 20 percent of
that consumption comes during Thanksgiving week. Just how much
cranberry consumption happens during the holidays? Americans
consume 5,062,500 gallons of jellied cranberry sauce every holiday
season, with more than 94% of Thanksgiving dinners featuring
cranberry sauce. And while cranberries are 90% water, they are also
nutrient-dense, making them delicious and healthy --- a double bonus.
Here are the top 8 health benefits of everyone’s favorite turkey day
1. Cranberries Lower Your Blood Pressure
A 2011 study from the Department of Acute Medicine at Oslo University
Hospital suggests that anthocyanins found in cranberries can lower
blood pressure and reduce hypertension.
A 2006 study conducted by the Department of Food Science at the
University of Massachusetts corroborated this claim by suggesting that
cranberry extracts inhibit an angiotensin converting enzyme, thus
lowering blood pressure.
2. Cranberries Fight Diabetes Side Effects
Animal studies conducted by the USDA in conjunction with the
Department of Food Science at the University of Arkansas have shown
that cranberry extracts lower glucose levels in the blood and improve
insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, a 2003 study at the University of Maine
claimed that “cranberry juice may decrease the side effects of diabetes
and increase the quality of life for people with diabetes”.
3. Oxidative Stress
Oxidation in the body is harmful and is thought to be a factor in a
number of syndromes and conditions, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s,
cancer, and heart failure.
A 2008 study conducted at the University of Scranton showed that the
bioactives found in cranberries have powerful antioxidant properties
and that they may reverse damage done by oxidative stress.
4. Cranberries Decrease Internal Inflammation
A 2013 report at Tufts University concluded that the bioactive
compounds in cranberries can decrease inflammatory cytokines, and
thus have a significant anti-inflammatory effect.
5. Endothelial Function
The endothelium is the layer of cells that lines the interior surface of
blood vessels. It has many functions, including vasoconstriction and
vasodilation, and hence the control of blood pressure, the formation of
new blood vessels, inflammation, blood clotting, barrier function, and
the repair of damaged or diseased organs via an injection of blood
Endothelial dysfunction is a hallmark of many vascular diseases such as
atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus,
hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia.
Scary stuff, but yes, you guessed it! A 2004 study at the Boston
University School of Medicine showed that cranberries have beneficial
effects on endothelial vasodilation and on endothelial progenitor cells,
which work to restore vascular function after injury.
And, as you know if you read other articles on this site, vascular heath
is the key to erectile performance and prevention of erectile
6. Healthy Urinary Tract
A 2010 study from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute found that the
polyphenols in cranberries have powerful anti-microbial properties,
specifically preventing bacterial adhesion in the urinary tract; if bacteria
cannot adhere to cells in the urinary tract, they cannot reproduce and
cause an infection. Cranberries represent an important alternative to
antibiotics as well; a 2010 study from Southampton University found
that their mechanism of action is complex enough that it is unlikely that
bacteria will adapt and develop a resistance to them—all the more
important when you consider the dangers of antibiotic overuse and the
antibiotic resistant bacteria that develop as a consequence.
But..and it is a big "but"...it is unlikely that you can eat enough
cranberries to matter. The active ingredient in cranberries that prevent
adhesion to the walls of your urinary tract is not present in large
enough quantities to make a difference. (Read more about why you
may experience pain or burning when you pee., and natural remedies
that can help.)
7. Cardiovascular Health--Cranberries IMprove Your Cholesterol Count
All of the above benefits that consuming cranberries can provide are
important in their own rights, but they all (except for urinary tract
health) also contribute in their own ways to cardiovascular health and
are thus good for the heart and the circulatory system as they bring
There are a few other ways in which cranberries contribute to
cardiovascular health. Studies conducted at Laval University in Quebec
suggest that the consumption of cranberries help to lower LDL-C and
increase HDL-C; in other words, decrease bad cholesterol while
simultaneously increasing good cholesterol.
A 2011 study at Boston University School of Medicine indicated that
cranberries also reduce arterial stiffness, a predictor of cardiovascular
disease, and 2012 research found that "anthocyanin", one of the
compounds found in cranberries, improves blood platelet function,
specifically the inhibition of platelet aggegration, which leads to
unwanted clotting and blockage that can cause ischemia, thrombosis,
embolisms, and strokes.
8. Cranberries Are Naturally Low In Sugar--Helps Weight Control
Lastly, because cranberries contain so little natural sugar (they are
bitter without sweetener), even sweetened cranberries will have a less
amount of sugar than other artificially sweetened fruit.
So this Thanksgiving, scoop that extra helping of cranberries guilt-free,
whether they are fresh, frozen, dried, boiled, pressed, or jellied, and
encourage your family to do so as well.
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