Here’s why I enjoy this tiny treat all year long
Cranberries are a favorite addition to the holiday table this time of year. But these tart little red berries don’t have to be just seasonal treats…
In fact, when enjoyed regularly, they offer some surprising health benefits. That’s why they’re a staple to my diet—not only for Thanksgiving, but year-round. (Keep reading for some of my favorite cranberry-infused recipes!)
Of course, cranberries are well known as natural remedies for urinary tract infections. But research shows that cranberries also help keep your gastrointestinal (GI) tract healthy—from one end (your mouth) to the other end (your colon). And as I just discussed on page 1, GI health is imperative to a longer, healthier life.
So, let’s “digest” three of the newest and most compelling of those studies. And then, I hope you’ll consider making fresh, dried, or frozen cranberries a staple to your healthy, balanced diet, too…
From the mouth to the stomach
The first study, published earlier this year, involved 16 children ages 7 to 11 with oral plaque.1
(Yes, even young children can have plaque and tooth decay—despite widespread fluoridation of municipal water supplies, as noted by the researchers. And actually, fluoride often causes more harm than good, as I wrote in the 6th edition of my textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine. You can order yourself a copy from the “books” tab of my website,
The researchers took plaque samples from the children’s mouths and then added samples of sweetened and unsweetened cranberry juice, or green, black, and raspberry teas, to the plaque. Then, they analyzed whether plant polyphenols in these drinks could inhibit the formation of biofilms in the oral microbiome, which can harden into plaque. (This is one of the main causes of gum disease and tooth decay.)
The researchers discovered that all of the beverages restricted biofilm formation to some extent, but the two fruit-based drinks—raspberry tea and cranberry juice—performed the best.
(The green and black teas didn’t have as much benefit—which is yet another reason why tea doesn’t merit all of the health lore it’s been steeped in, as I often warn.)
Of course, the oral microbiome is linked to the GI microbiome. So, it makes sense that another research review found that cranberry juice or cranberry extract can suppress a type of bacteria found in dental plaque (Helicobacter pylori) that’s linked to ulcers and stomach cancer, too.2 But that’s still not all cranberries can do…
Another argument for whole fruits
Moving further down the GI tract, researchers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) have done quite a bit of investigation into cranberries’ effect on colon cancer.3 And one of their studies, published in 2015, is particularly notable.
The researchers fed three types of cranberry extracts to mice with colon cancer—one extract contained cranberries’ polyphenol compounds; one had cranberries’ non-polyphenol compounds; and one was made from the whole fruit.
The extracts were mixed into the mice’s regular meals. After 20 weeks, the researchers found that all three extracts reduced colon tumor size and biomarkers of inflammation. But the mice given the whole cranberry extract had half the number of tumors compared with the mice that didn’t eat any cranberry at all.
Plus, in their prior experimental lab studies, the UMass researchers found that cranberry phytochemicals killed cancer cells without harming normal cells. And that more than one of the cranberry constituents was found to be active against cancer.
Of course, this was no surprise to me. As I always say, contrary to single ingredient, “magic bullet” solutions, plants contain numerous related compounds that work synergistically to help fight disease.
That’s why I recommend consuming the whole fruit—fresh, frozen, or dried. You can also choose a high-quality, powdered cranberry extract made from the whole fruit. (Research shows 600 to 800 mg per day is an effective dose.)
Understandably, the UMass researchers cautioned against cranberry juices—but we can’t discount the research that does look at the health benefits of it, like the first two studies I mentioned. However, there is a caveat…
If you choose to drink cranberry juice, always opt for the unsweetened kind. That’s because cranberry juice “cocktails” typically contain sugar or artificial sweeteners that can destroy the “good” probiotic bacteria in your GI microbiome. (The exact opposite from what we want!)
Sure, unsweetened cranberry juice can be tart. But that’s why some like to mix it with fizzy mineral water. It’s a unique and refreshing way to stay hydrated, plus you’ll gain health benefits from both beverages.
More than just desserts
Of course, cranberry juice cocktail isn’t the only dietary choice to be wary of. Many cranberry recipes also use sugar and artificial sweeteners.
The good news is, there are plenty of savory uses for cranberries, too. I personally like to sprinkle a handful of fresh or dried berries on a post-Thanksgiving salad containing leftover turkey, nuts, broccoli, spinach, and hearty lettuces. I also enjoy them with some plain, organic, full-fat yogurt in the morning.
Cranberries also make a great side dish for turkey, pork, and other meats—along with roasted butternut squash or Brussels sprouts. I even like to combine them with wild rice. Here’s one of my favorite recipes, which can be enjoyed as a side dish or a main meal…
Wild rice pilaf with apple cider and cranberries
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves garlic—1 chopped, 1 smashed
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 2 cups wild rice
- ½ cup fresh apple cider
- 2 ½ cups water
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil on medium heat in a saucepan. Add cinnamon and smashed garlic; cook for 1 minute. Add rice and toss. Add cider, water, and ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 16 minutes, until rice is tender. Add cranberries during last 10 minutes of cooking.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat in a skillet. Add onions and ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper. Stir and cook 18 to 20 minutes, until onions are browned and tender. Add chopped garlic and cook 1-2 minutes. Stir in parsley, vinegar, and scallions.
Combine the onion mixture with the rice mixture and enjoy!
A moment of gratitude
This month, as we gather with friends and family to enjoy the bounty of the fall harvest, I also hope you’ll join me in giving thanks. After all, gratitude is one of our most powerful and healthy emotions. The ancient Roman statesman Cicero said, “Gratitude is the greatest of all the virtues and the parent of all the others.”
So, join me in writing down three things you’re grateful for—no matter how big or how small. I hope that you may vow to practice this daily. (It’s a simple step with BIG impact!)
Here’s what I’m thankful for this year…
- I’m thankful for all the delicious, healthy food we consume on Thanksgiving. Including organic turkey, carrots, fresh cranberries (see page 4), squash, sweet potatoes, walnuts, yams, red wine, and more. All of which contain various health benefits, as I often report.
- I’m thankful to spend time at Thanksgiving with friends and family. Including my 1-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte Grace. This day together renews and refreshes relationships that last throughout the years. And provides a prime opportunity to practice being a good listener (the benefits of which I just reported on).
- I’m thankful for my work, my coworkers, and for you, dear reader. I’m grateful to have an avenue to inspire positivity, optimism, and hope to others—as you all do the same for me.
1“Beverages Containing Plant-Derived Polyphenols Inhibit Growth and Biofilm Formation of Streptococcus mutans and Children’s Supragingival Plaque Bacteria.” Beverages. 2021; 7(3):43.
2“Potential of Cranberry for Suppressing Helicobacter Pylori, a Risk Factor for Gastric Cancer.” Journal of Berry Research, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 11-20, 2020.
4“Cranberries and Cancer: An Update of Preclinical Studies Evaluating the Cancer Inhibitory Potential of Cranberry and Cranberry Derived Constituents.” Antioxidants (Basel). 2016 Sep; 5(3): 27.