For some families, the Thanksgiving meal's main dish is a turkey - for others, it's a ham or perhaps a pork roast, but no Thanksgiving dinner is complete without the side dishes. Whether your family enjoys baked sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with gravy, or green beans, the side dishes are an important part of Thanksgiving dinner. And – although, perhaps, one of the less prominent sides - the cranberry sauce may be one of the healthier additions to your Thanksgiving meal.
Cranberries are primarily water, carbohydrates, and fiber and a rich source of vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, like vitamins C, E, and K, as well as manganese and copper, but these little superfruits have a complex chemical composition that includes being rich in A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) which are unique to cranberries when compared to other fruits (1) (2).
Studies have shown that these unique PACs in cranberries can protect against urinary tract infections (UTIs) (3). UTIs are primarily caused by the E. coli bacteria, and the unique PACs found in cranberries have been found to prevent E. coli from attaching to the surfaces of the urinary tract, preventing the bacteria from causing an infection. It’s important to note here that this is a preventive measure, and once an infection has taken place, the research does not indicate that cranberries PACs clear an infection.
Cranberries also contain polyphenols that are associated with cardiovascular health (2). Dietary interventions, such as consuming polyphenols, can reduce arterial stiffness (measured by carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (PWV)) which is predictive of cardiovascular events and hypertension (2) (4). Further, anthocyanins (malvidin-3-glucoside) found in cranberries have an anti-inflammatory effect on blood vessel cells and can enhance dilation (opening) of blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more easily which reduces blood pressure (2) (5).
Improved immune function is among the benefits of consuming cranberries due to their high level of proanthocyanidins which have been found to help the body fight infections and prevent disease as they reduce oxidative stress in the body (6). Rich in vitamins C and E, cranberries provide further protection as they improve the activity of immune cells like natural killer cells, and as antioxidants protect against reactive oxygen species (ROS) that harm the body (7).
Here’s a simple recipe to get you started if cranberries are not yet a staple at your Thanksgiving table and you’d like to give them a try this year:
Ingredients: 12 oz. Cranberries, ½ -1 orange (juiced), ¼ cup water, 1 tsp. orange zest, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/3 cup honey
Instructions: In a medium saucepan, combine the water, orange zest and juice, honey, and cinnamon stick and simmer to dissolve the honey. Add the cranberries, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer about 10-15 minutes, until the cranberries have popped and the sauce has thickened. Remove the cinnamon stick. Cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.
You can read more about the bioactive components of cranberries here.