Most people have pretty strong feelings about their Thanksgiving meal. It almost always includes turkey, followed closely by stuffing, mashed potatoes, and some kind of vegetable casserole. And, of course, pumpkin pie.
Then there’s the sometimes controversial issue of the humble cranberry. Some like it canned and gelatinous, while others like the homemade variety. And some don’t like it all.
Little does this group know what they are missing out on. Not just the great taste of cranberries, but the amazing health benefits that seem to be packed into this unassuming little berry.
Cranberry is most often studied and recommended for treating urinary tract infections (UTIs). In fact, it has been become almost commonplace to use cranberry juice and cranberry supplements to prevent UTIs caused by E. coli bacteria.
Given this accepted use of cranberry to treat a bacterial infection, it’s no surprise that additional studies have shown the berry’s power to treat bacteria-based periodontal diseases, as well as H. pylori, a bacteria that has been linked to ulcers and even stomach cancer.
But it’s this cancer tie that really has researchers atwitter. Turns out cranberries contain a rich store of polyphenols, which are nutrients that have amazing antioxidant benefits. Plus, they have several other phytochemicals known to help treat and prevent cancer.
But how do they work against cancer? That’s exactly what one researcher from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth set out to discover.
Cranberries and Cancer Prevention
After reviewing nearly 40 different studies on cranberries and cancer, the author found that there are three main phytochemicals that seem to be responsible for cranberry’s anti-cancer power:
- Proanthocyanidins (powerful antioxidants)
- Anthocyanins (anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory)
- Ursolic acid (anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative)
In vitro studies (think in the lab) have shown that proanthocyanidins (PACs) have blocked the growth of cancer in human lung cells, colon cells, and leukemia cells. Similar in vitro studies have found that PACs induce cell death, particularly with breast cancer, colon cancer, brain cancer (of the glial cells), oral cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer and esophageal cancer cells.
The anthocyanins found in cranberries appear to reduce inflammation, which is commonly associated with cancer risk. Additionally, these anthocyanins have been shown to block an enzyme (ornithine decarboxylase) that is known to promote cancer growth. Plus, anthocyanins limit angiogenesis, or the growth of new blood vessels. This is important because cancer needs this growth to spread.
But the real hero in cranberries just may be ursolic acid. This little-known nutrient has been shown to be cytotoxic toward cancer cells. In fact, an in vitro study found that PACs and ursolic acid from cranberries brought on cell death in colon cancer cells. But, more promising, is that an in vivo study found that ursolic acid decreased the size, weight, and eventually presence of breast cancer cells in mice.
Back to the Dinner Table
Given the known power of cranberries to fight bacteria and infection, and the promising research surrounding cancer and this little berry, it only makes sense to have cranberries play a larger role in our diet. But the form matters.
I’m not talking about jellied or fresh (we’ll get to that in a minute); I’m talking berry versus juice. In short, skip the juice. Not only is it often sweetened, but the whole fruit has a higher amount of ursolic acid than the juice.
Now, back to fresh versus jellied. While jellied is better than juiced, you still have the sugar issue. So, for your Thanksgiving Day table (and throughout the year), think berry.
To help inspire you, I’ve included one of my favorite cranberry recipes. Enjoy!
Cranberry Chutney Recipe
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 cups fresh cranberries
- 1/3 cup powdered stevia (can use Truvia also)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- dash sea salt
- Heat oil in saucepan.
- Add onion and cook until soft.
- Add ginger and juice. Cook 1–2 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients (cranberries through salt) and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until thickened.
- Serve warm.
- Can also be stored in refrigerator and served chilled. Keeps for a week.
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