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Cranberry Extravaganza!

How and Why to Eat Cranberries Year-Round

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Updated June 19, 2014

cranberries
Photo © Anna Hagen
Cranberries have been making a lot of health news recently – it seems they are good for almost everything! This is great for low carbers, because they pack a lot of nutrition, fiber, and flavor into a package without many carbohydrates. Half a cup of whole cranberries has 4 grams of effective carbohydrate, plus 2 grams of fiber, 1/3 of which is soluble (the soluble fiber is what makes the “gel” when you cook cranberries).

This relative of the blueberry is at its peak from October-December but they freeze very well. Just throw the whole bag in the freezer, and enjoy them year round – they will actually keep until the next fall!

Health Benefits

Antioxidants: In study after study, cranberries are coming out at or near the top of the antioxidant heap. They are particularly rich in polyphenols, and have a lot of other helpful phytochemicals as well. These chemicals probably explain some of the studies showing cranberries' health benefits, including:
  • Prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections (tehy are antibacterial and also keep bacteria from “sticking” to the inside of the bladder and ureters).
  • Similar effects in the GI tract – help prevent bacteria from causing food-borne illness.
  • Similar effects in the mouth – may help prevent tooth decay by discouraging bacteria and preventing them from “sticking”.
  • Prevention of the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which may help prevent atherosclerosis.
  • Improves blood vessel function in people with atherosclerosis.
  • Some studies show that cranberries can either raise HDL cholesterol or lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Cranberries may also have anti-cancer properties.

Selection

Avoid bags that have a lot of soft or brown berries. The best cranberries bounce (in fact, cranberries used to be called “bounceberries”).

Storage:

Keep cranberries cool. They will keep for weeks to months in the refrigerator, and at least a year in the freezer. (They will be softer than fresh upon thawing, but they are fine in any cooked dish.)

Cooking and Serving Suggestions

  • Cranberries add a zip to dishes like other sour or acid foods – trying using them in a similar way to lemon, or in a vinaigrette.
  • It takes no more than 10 minutes to make cranberry sauce, and it can eaten on cottage cheese, yogurt, or ricotta cheese for breakfast or a snack. (To make it even healthier, put some flax seed meal on top.) It’s also good with cheeses and nuts.
  • Put sugar-free dried cranberries in trail mix and on salads.
  • The sweet/tart combination of cranberries goes well with spicy flavors as well. Try including horseradish, jalapeno chiles, or other “hot” spices in your cranberry sauce or chutney.
  • Cranberries are good in meat dishes, especially chicken and pork.
  • And, of course, don't forget the more traditional uses, such as in nut breads and muffins.

A Reader Inquires About "Craisins": After reading this article, a visitor wanted to know about whether "cranberry raisins" are a good diet food. Check out my answer.

Do you have a question about low-carb eating? Our Forum is a great place to ask.
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