Cranberry Craze

Juiced, dried, fresh, frozen….cranberries are coming to a store near you!

At Eatwell Shanghai, we have mentioned the latest food fads and infamous super foods. So when Margaret and I get the opportunity to attend a seminar about a berry synonymous with health benefits we are always happy to attend – particularly if it’s at Hyatt on the Bund!

Held by the US Cranberry marketing committee, the seminar in Shanghai aimed to explain what’s good, better and best about the cranberry. Cranberries, particularly the American cranberry (formal name vaccinium macrocarpon), will soon be coming to stores in China.

But why export a little berry to China?

The US Cranberry marketing committee listed increased demand for imported foods in China, increased distribution channels and lowered cost of importation. Increased wealth has also resulted in a trend of healthy eating.

But are cranberries actually as good as the marketing?
The fruit’s name was derived from the appearance of their blossom; thought to resemble native cranes. It was first termed ‘crane berry’, then shortened to the now familiar ‘cranberry’. This was in the 1860s. Before then, native Americans used cranberries as healing aids, nutrition and fabric dyes.

Cranberries can be seen as a ‘Functional Food’ as they produce a number of biological benefits:

1) Antioxidant

Like other berries, Cranberries provide a significantly high level of antioxidants; even as much as the famed blueberry. China is facing much of the same concerns as the west particularly in densely populated, well off cities such as Shanghai – obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes are all on the rise in China.

You probably hear the term ‘antioxidants’ and wonder what exactly they are. Put simply, antioxidants protect against oxidation. Oxidation occurs from such things as the environment, diet, and genetics. It results in changes to our cells; our speaker, Dr. Amy Howell, described it as our body ‘rusting’.

2)  Antibacterial

Cranberries contain ‘proanthocyadines’ also known as PACs. PACs are also found in chocolate or grapes, among other foods. However the structure of this compound in cranberries is unique, offering a very beneficial effect.  PACs provide an anti-adhesion effect to bacteria, preventing the bacteria from adhering to cell walls. In particular it has been shown to help with urinary tract infections – preventing the bacterium E.Coli from adhering to the wall of the bladder or kidney and instead being flushed into the urine, stopping a urinary tract infection. Evidence has suggested that drinking cranberry juice or eating cranberries daily can significantly reduce risk of developing a urinary tract infection. This anti-adhesion effect has also shown to work on the stomach preventing H-pylori infections which frequently result in stomach ulcers, as well as preventing plaque adhering to the teeth and gums.

3) Heart Health

Cranberries can also protect the heart and blood vessels. The flavanoids contained in the cranberries improves flexibility of the arteries promoting good blood flow. They are also thought to have a positive influence on cholesterol levels.

So, how many cranberries do you need to get these benefits?

With their tart flavour, it is usual to eat them in a sweetened dried format or in a juice. Providing the juice contains at least a 25-27% concentration of cranberries, such as Ocean Spray, a 240-300ml serving is needed every day.  Or 40g of dried cranberries is required daily. You can also get your daily anti-microbial properties through a pill made from cranberry powder.

Unfortunately, there are some mixed opinions as to the positive antibacterial effects of cranberries. A word of warning: because of their naturally tart flavour they are usually served with added sugar. This will mean that they have additional calories and can have an effect on your blood sugar levels. Also, their effect on blood vessels means they shouldn’t be eaten if you are taking Warfarin.

Margaret and I have definitely decided to increase our cranberry intake and we suggest that you do too!

Sophie Thomas, Dietitian

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