I have a confession to make. I’m not the world’s best cook.
I maintain, however, that it’s not my fault. Growing up in a house full of great cooks…my mom, my dad, and my older brother are all masters of the kitchen…my skills never got much of a workout.
So whenever Thanksgiving rolls around my one contribution to the meal is usually a homemade cranberry dish.
As I was preparing to make my famous cranberry-orange relish this year, I began to wonder about the unassuming cranberry.
It’s one (well-deserved) claim to fame is its ability to fight off urinary-tract infections. But I wondered whether there might also be other less-talked-about health benefits of the cranberry?
The cranberry is an unsung health hero
I did a little research, and it turns out that indeed there are. In fact, the lowly cranberry is a bit of powerhouse when it comes to functional foods.
Cranberry juice has a long tradition of being used to treat and prevent urinary-tract infections (UTIs).
E. coli, the bacteria that most often cause UTIs, come equipped with small hair-like spikes covering their surfaces, spikes that they use to hook onto human cells in essentially the same way that Velcro would. But cranberry causes those spiky projections to curl up, making the bacteria slippery so that they are easily flushed right out of your urinary tract along with your urine.
Just this year a study demonstrated that cranberries have the ability to fight off Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) infections as well. It turns out that a cranberry-juice cocktail was able to significantly suppress a strain of S. aureus that was introduced to the urine of female volunteers who were given the juice to drink. This is, of course, particularly exciting in light of the growing threat of the superbug staph infection known as MRSA that I have written to you about before.
Tooth decay and gum disease:
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria that feed off the sugars in the food you eat. Those bacteria then excrete acid causing tooth decay and eventually gum disease. But cranberry juice can head off this process at the pass. The cranberry juice acts as sort of a nonstick coating, literally preventing the bacteria from sticking to your teeth in the first place.
Researchers at Queen Mary University in London measured the cardio-protective effects of cranberry juice and found that it can help lower blood pressure and promote overall heart health. The scientists identified a compound called oligomeric procyanidins as the key substance in cranberries that helps to prevent the blood-vessel constriction that eventually leads to high blood pressure.
So, when you sit down for any holiday meals this season be sure to grab an extra helping of the cranberries. There’s a whole lot of super-food goodness packed into those little red berries.