Cranberries are for life, not just for Christmas

Is a spoonful of sauce with turkey the closest you ever get to a cranberry? You wouldn’t believe just how packed-full of nutrition these tiny berries are and once you’ve read this, you may be reaching for the cranberries all year round. As well as being crammed with nutrients, these little power houses of nutrition have all kinds of bug-busting clout:

Fight urinary tract infections

For centuries, women in the know have drunk cranberry juice as a traditional remedy for urinary tract infections. It is now thought that cranberry juice is effective in treating these complaints through its anti-bacterial action (see below) as well as the presence of acids in the juice that are not fully broken down during digestion, so changing the acidity of urine.

Combat cancer

Cranberries contain high levels of anti-oxidant nutrients including vitamin C, at a level of 13.5mg/100g fruit, flavonoids and quercetin. All these compounds have high anti-oxidant activity and mop up free radicals, the bad guys which cause cell damage and can promote the development of cancer.

Fight heart disease

As well as having anti-oxidants, flavonoids are vasodilators (they increase the inside diameter of blood vessels) and can inhibit blood clotting. These actions mean that blood vessels are less likely to be blocked by a blood clot, as happens in a heart attack. The anti-oxidant activity of flavonoids can also stop the build-up of plaques inside blood vessel walls, reducing clogging of the arteries or atherosclerosis.

Anti-bacterial activity

Compounds found in cranberries and cranberry juice help prevent bacterial infections in our bodies by interfering with the process which allows bacterial adhesion. These compounds help fight Staphylococcus aureus, the bugs which can give us sore throats, as well as E. coli and Salmonella enteritidis, which can both lead to digestive upsets or food poisoning.

Drinking cranberry juice can also help fight stomach ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori infection as well as reducing the ability of plaque-forming bacteria to stick to our teeth, leading to lower risk of gum disease.

Anti-fungal activity

Cranberry juice can reduce the growth of fungi which causes skin infections including athlete’s foot and dermatitis.

With all these health benefits, we should all try to include more cranberries in our healthy diets. Add cranberries to salads or salad dressings, baked fish or meat, desserts and all kinds of fruit crumbles and compotes. Or try these delicious cranberry recipes and remember, a cranberry is for life, not just for Christmas.

Cranberry chutney

Place 350g of cranberries, 8 dried apricots, 150g of demerara sugar, 100g of sultanas, an inch of grated root ginger, 2 tbsp of orange juice and a pinch each of ground cumin, allspice, mixed spice and cloves in a large pan. Heat slowly until the sugar dissolves, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes. Allow to cool and store in sterilized jars, or freeze.

Makes 20 servings.

Nutritional information: 50 calories, 0.1g fat and 12g carbs per serving.

Fruity spice muffins

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Line a muffin tray with paper cases. Mix together 150g of plain and 150g of wholemeal bread flour, 1 tbsp of baking powder, 50g of caster sugar and 1 tsp of mixed spice in a large bowl. Mix together a beaten egg, 300ml of skimmed milk, 2 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 tbsp of melted butter and 5 tbsp of apple sauce. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the liquid, 125g of cranberries, 2 chopped oranges and the zest of one orange. Mix gently and spoon into 14 muffin cases. Bake for 20 minutes or until the muffins are golden and cracked on the surface.

Makes 14 muffins.

Nutritional information: 120 calories, 1.8g fat and 23g carbs per muffin.

Banana and cranberry oat smoothie

Place 50g of rolled oats and 100ml of skimmed milk in a bowl and allow to soak overnight in the fridge. Place the 3 small chopped bananas in a blender with 100g of cranberries, 150ml very low fat plain yoghurt, 150ml of very low fat fromage frais, 3 tbsp of runny honey and a pinch mixed spice and blend until smooth and frothy. Serve in chilled glasses with ice.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional information: 135 calories, 1.2g fat and 28g carbs per serving.

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