Most of the time, when we hear about the benefits of cranberries, it’s always about their ability to support our urinary tract system. Whether or not cranberries can actually cure a UTI is still hotly debated and the research is conflicted. But we do know that they contain PACs, flavonoids that have demonstrated an ability to prevent bacteria (especially E coli) from attaching itself to the wall of the bladder. While no research has shown that supplements or juice have enough PACs to have a marked effect on the bladder wall – not enough to cure a UTI, for example – they can offer additional support to the body and urinary tract system.
But cranberries have much more to offer us than just supporting our urinary tract system. Since it’s November, it seems a fitting time to take a closer look at the cranberry – and you’ll see why this little powerhouse is something you should include in your diet year-round!
Cranberries are an excellent source of many nutrients. At only 46 calories per cup of raw berries, they are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K1. In addition, they contain manganese and copper. Many don’t realize that we need copper in our diets to maintain heart health, and Western diets are often too low in copper, so cranberries can be a great way to boost copper intake. What makes cranberries even more amazing is that they are almost unmatched in terms of their antioxidant properties; only the wild blueberry contains more antioxidants than the cranberry.
Cranberries and Gut Health
The awesomeness of the cranberry goes even further. In a 2017 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, nutritional microbiologist David Sela and his colleagues reported the first evidence that certain beneficial gut bacteria are able to grow when fed a carbohydrate found in cranberries. These cranberry-fed gut bacteria also exhibited a special, non-typical metabolism that produced far less lactic acid than expected.
The special sugars found in cranberries – xyloglucans – were found to be indigestible by the stomach. So when we eat cranberries, those xyloglucans pass through our stomachs and make their way into our intestines, where beneficial gut bacteria are then able to break them down into useful molecules and compounds. What does this mean? Simply put, cranberries are a natural source of prebiotics!
Here’s a recipe for your Thanksgiving dinner that combines both cranberries and apples – both are great natural sources of prebiotics! Note that the original recipe included sugar and brown sugar, both of which are not good for your gut. We replaced the sugar with stevia to taste, and used a dollop of molasses to add the deeper, rich taste found in brown sugar for the topping (when it comes to sugar alternatives, you’ll need to do a little experimentation to find the right amount to use for the level of sweetness you prefer). You can also choose a sweeter apple (such as Jonagold, Cortland, Braeburn, or Honeycrisp) and skip the sugar/sweetener altogether!
4 cups cut-up unpeeled apples (4 large apples)
2 cups raw cranberries
Stevia sweetener to taste
1 stick butter or margarine-melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 cups granola or quick oats
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 qt. casserole. Wash and cull cranberries; cut-up apples. Mix fruit and sugar and put in greased pan. Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over fruit. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Allow to stand before serving. Can be served hot or cold.