Cranberries are healthy as well as festive |

Cranberries are healthy as well as festive

Rhonda Beckham

Cranberries are much more than a colorful garnish with your holiday dinner. The health benefits of these beauties have only recently become fully known.

According to Wikipedia, in North America, American Indians were the first to recognize and use the cranberry as a source of food. Some tribes called the red berries “sassamanash.” They are reported to have introduced the cranberry to starving English settlers in Massachusetts around 1620. Anything tastes good when you haven’t eaten for a while.

Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., author of the “Fat Flush” plan, uses cranberry juice in her “long life cocktail,” which is simply the unsweetened juice diluted with filtered water and a teaspoon of flaxseed powder or psyllium seed husk. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste. I recommend my clients drink this first thing in the morning and right before bedtime. Gittleman believes it detoxifies the liver and kidneys, which both play a role in fat metabolism.

Cranberries are among the top foods with proven health benefits, according to Amy Howell, a researcher at Rutgers University.

Cranberries are full of antioxidants, which protects cells from damage by unstable molecules called free radicals.

The National Institutes of Health is funding research on the cranberry’s effects on heart disease, yeast infections and other conditions, and other researchers are investigating its potential against cancer, stroke and viral infections.

So far, research has found:

— Drinking cranberry juice can block urinary infections by binding to bacteria so they can’t adhere to cell walls. While women often drink unsweetened cranberry juice to treat an infection, there’s no hard evidence that works.

— A compound Howell discovered in cranberries, proanthocyanidine, prevents plaque formation on teeth; mouthwashes containing it are being developed to prevent periodontal disease.

— In some people, regular cranberry juice consumption for months can kill the H. pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach cancer and ulcers.

— Drinking cranberry juice daily may increase levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, and reduce levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol.

— Cranberries may prevent tumors from growing rapidly or starting in the first place.

— Extracts of chemicals in cranberries prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying in a test tube; whether that would work in women is unknown.

Here is an idea that may make these tart treats more enjoyable.

1 (64-ounce) bottle cranberry juice cocktail

1 cup orange juice

2 cups lemon-lime soda or club soda

Orange and lime slices or ice ring, for garnish

Combine cranberry juice cocktail and orange juice in a large punch bowl. Gently stir in soda just before serving. Garnish with orange and lime slices.

Makes about 15 6-ounce servings.

– Rhonda Beckham is a nationally certified personal trainer, with teaching certificates in Pilates and kickboxing.

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