Health Benefits and Nutritional Information on Cranberries
Cranberries grow on groundcovering vines in the Northern Hemispheres of Canada, United States and Europe. The berries are dark red and are commercially harvested between September and December. They are related to the billberry, blueberry and huckleberry. There are several different varieties of cranberries and they include Ben Lear, Early Black, Stevens and Howes.
The cranberries are usually grown in man-made bogs or wetlands. The vines of the cranberry plant can reach as long as 2 m, and a height of 5 to 20 cm. The plant produces runners ranging from 1 to 6 feet long. These runners produce short (5 to 7.5 cm), vertical upright branches that are non-trailing. Most of the berries grow on these uprights.
The leaves are a dark green color during growing season, and when the plants go dormant in the fall they become a reddish brown color. The flowers are either white or pink and the berries are white when they first begin to grow, but then as they ripen they turn into a deep red color.
Most commercially grown cranberries are harvested in September and October. 95 percent of the crops are harvested for processing, and only 5 percent are harvested for fresh consumer consumption.
Those that are harvested for processing are processed into juice and juice blends, as well as into sauces, and others are sweetened and dried.
When harvesting cranberries to be processed they are harvested by flooding the bogs with water as high as 8 to 10 inches. The berries are then shaken loose from the vines by a machine that is driven through the bogs. The berries float to the top and are pushed off to one side of the bog where they are collected and conveyed onto trucks or crates.
Cranberries that are harvested for fresh consumption are harvested without flooding, and can take more work. There are several different methods used to pick the berries; one method is with a machine that gently rakes the berries off the vines, mechanical pickers are also used, and in some cases they are picked with a hand held scoop.
What do They Contain
Cranberries are a good source of antioxidants, phytochemicals, dietary fiber and proanthocyanidins (PACs).
Vitamins. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, and contain many other essential vitamins such as beta carortene which turns into vitamin A, vitamins B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B6, B9 (Folate), E and K.
Minerals. They also contain many essential minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, sodium, iron, selenium, manganese, copper, zinc and potassium.
Acids. Some of the beneficial acids that cranberries contain are quinic, hipuric, citric, malic, ellagic and pantothenic acid.
Cranberries have long been used to treat many common ailments such as preventing scurvy, for wounds, the common cold and flu, diarrhea, gout, infections, and skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and skin wounds.
But recent studies have shown that cranberries can do much more than that, as they can help to prevent heart disease, cancers, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, arthritis, diabetes and help you in weight loss, which is a risk factor for many serious diseases.
Cranberries can also help your mental health. Studies have shown that they help to improve your memory. Additionally they have relaxing properties that help you to stay calm in tough situations, and if you suffer from depression, they can help to lift and stabilize your moods.
Dental health can also be improved, as cranberries help to prevent the buildup of plaque, and thus they help to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Overall, cranberries help to clean out your digestive system, so that your immune system can heal and become strong, thus allowing you to fight off almost all diseases.
How to Eat
Cranberries are best when consumed in their raw state, as you will obtain the most nutrients from them this way. However, they tend to have a sour and bitter taste to them, and may be too bitter to eat by themselves in the raw state.
To help you sweeten them up naturally, you can add them in to your smoothies, fruit juices, raw fruit pies, and other raw deserts. Just keep in mind that cranberries have a small pit in the center that will have to be removed.
Cranberries are safe to eat and will not cause any negative symptoms. However, if you are on warfarin you should check with your health practitioner as they could interfere with each other. Additionally, if you have problems with your kidneys, or bladder you should also check to see if you should consume them, as they could worsen your symptoms.