I talk a lot about the health benefits of blueberries. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, they grow in the wild near our summer house in New England.
Of course, at this time of year, it’s hard to find fresh, local blueberries. So I find myself reaching for fresh cranberries instead. These berries actually belong to the same plant family as blueberries. And they offer many of the same health benefits.
In fact, a recent study has found that eating both of these types of berries reduces your Type II diabetes risk. But before I get into that study, let’s focus for a moment on the origins of cranberries…
Scarlet-red berries have potent health benefits
Like blueberries, cranberries grow wild on low bushes in northern North America, northern Asia, and Europe. But they were unfamiliar to early European settlers who arrived in New England, who originally thought of them as a Native American food.
Today, cranberries are primarily cultivated in colorful “cranberry bogs.” The major areas of production are: New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec.
I’m partial to the cranberry bogs in the old, glacial wetlands of southeastern Massachusetts, the state where I grew up. For generations, nearly 400 New England families have cultivated these cranberry wetlands, which are also home to hundreds of plant and animal wildlife. In fact, some vines on Cape Cod are more than 150 years old and still bear fruit.
The water in the bogs makes cranberries easier to harvest because they float on top. In addition, the intense sun exposure on the surface increases the potency of the berries’ nutritional content. (Like strong sun exposure activates our skin’s own natural production of vitamin D!)
Indeed, cranberries are chock-full of important nutrients. And in many ways, I think of them as potent, nutritional supplements, as they’re rich in:
- Vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K (essential for all aspects of your health)
- Copper (which is important for red blood cells and your immune and nervous systems)
- Manganese (which is important for building bones and connective tissues)
- Magnesium (which is important for bone, brain, and heart health)
I should also note that cranberries contain potent plant pigments called anthocyanins, which give cranberries (and other berries and fruits) their deep scarlet, purple, and blue colors. They also contain another type of plant pigment called carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which give fruits and vegetables their yellow-orange-red colors and support brain and eye health.
So, when I tell you to “eat a rainbow” of foods for your health, I’m telling you to eat a variety of foods with these beneficial plant pigments.
(I investigated the role of these plant pigments while I was with the National Cancer Institute [NCI] in the mid-1980s. In fact, I was wrapping up my initial research with the team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland around Thanksgiving time back in 1984.)
Now, let’s get back to the new study I mentioned earlier…
Berry intake linked to lower Type II diabetes risk
For this analysis, researchers evaluated five previously published studies looking at berry intake and Type II diabetes risk. They also evaluated three other studies on anthocyanin intake specifically and diabetes incidence. Together, the eight studies involved nearly 400,000 people—about 26,000 of whom had diabetes.
The researchers found that higher anthocyanin intake was associated with a 15 percent reduction in Type II diabetes risk. And, perhaps more importantly, they found that higher berry consumption overall led to an even greater 18 percent reduction in Type II diabetes risk.
Plus, there was a convincing “dose-response” effect, which means the more berries the study participants ate, the lower their risk. Specifically, for every additional 17 grams of berries consumed per day ( less than one handful of berries), there was a 5 percent reduced risk of developing diabetes.
These impressive findings make sense. And they show that there’s way more to berries than just anthocyanins. (As I always say, people eat foods…not individual nutrients!)
Try making my cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving
So, this Thursday, as you prepare your annual Thanksgiving feast, I suggest making your own cranberry sauce with fresh or fresh-frozen cranberries from your local farmer’s market or grocer.
Here’s what I do almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas, depending on the main course…
Dr. Micozzi’s Fresh Cranberry Sauce
- Bring a couple cups of water to a boil in a saucepan.
- Add fresh, cold—or fresh-frozen—cranberries to the boiling water. (The temperature difference will make them burst, releasing their juices.)
- Add “pumpkin spices”—including allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—to taste.
- Add in some fresh, quartered orange slices for zest.
- Boil the mixture uncovered for a few minutes until it thickens, then simmer until it reaches a syrupy consistency.
- Take the saucepan off the burner and let the mixture cool.
Or, you can take an even simpler approach, as my friend Tom Fenlon does. Just combine a bag of fresh, uncooked cranberries and one sliced orange, including the rind, but without the seeds, in a food processor. Pulse them together in the processor until you get a relish-like consistency.
If you’re looking to add a little more sweetness to your cranberry sauce, try adding a some lo han guo or blueberry powdered extract to taste.
Then, place the relish in the refrigerator until ready to serve cold. I may try Tom’s approach myself this year, as uncooked cranberries actually provide you with even more nutritional benefits than cooked berries.
No matter what, both versions of this fresh, homemade cranberry sauce would make a healthy and tasty addition to your holiday meal…or, really, to any meal. You can also serve it as a healthy topping over dessert.
And be sure to tune back in later this week! I’ll tell you more about the “pumpkin spices” I mentioned earlier.
P.S. I also discussed the many health benefits of cherries in the current issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“The delicious, tiny fruit that packs a triple threat against aging”). Subscribers have access to this article and all of my past content. So don’t wait another moment…sign up today!
“Associations of dietary intakes of anthocyanins and berry fruits with risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug 17.