Food of the Month with Catherine Saxelby

Cranberries – is the jury still out?

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Catherine Saxelby

The tart, bright red cranberry is a cousin of the blueberry. Fresh or frozen, like other berries, they are low in carbs and calories and virtually fat free. They are a good source of vitamin C along with some folate, potassium and beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body for healthy eyes. They rank highly in terms of antioxidant content and are particularly rich in the OPCs, a group of flavonoid antioxidants also found in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and other blue-red fruit. These phenol-based antioxidants have been shown to protect the heart and blood vessels from the fatty build-up that leads to heart disease.

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Cranberries and cystitis: Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) have a long history as a remedy in traditional medicine. Over the past 15 years, cranberry juice and supplements have been extensively studied as an aid to help prevent recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and incontinence, especially in older women. UTIs or cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), is usually caused by E. coli, a bacteria commonly found in the intestines. It appears that cranberries’ anti-bacterial action comes from a group of plant chemicals called Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs) or simply proanthocyanidins which stop bacteria from ‘sticking’ to the bladder wall and multiplying. Fewer bugs mean less likelihood they can multiply and take hold. The Cochrane Review on cranberries reports that ‘there is some evidence that cranberry juice may decrease the number of symptomatic UTIs over a 12 month period, particularly for women with recurrent UTIs … Further properly designed studies with relevant outcomes are needed.’

Getting cranberry’s anti-bacterial benefits: Fresh may be best, but it isn’t widely available. Some 95% of each year’s crop is processed – frozen, and made into sweetened juices and drinks, sauces and dried cranberries. Check out the recommended serving sizes and see how the calories stack up.
The take-home message: For many people cranberries will qualify as a super food simply thanks to their ability to ward off chronic UTIs. But they just aren’t up there in the truly super food league that includes broccoli, oily fish and almonds.

Dietitian and popular nutrition communicator, Catherine Saxelby, is the author of Zest and Nutrition for Life

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For more information on super foods and healthy eating, visit Catherine’s website: www.foodwatch.com.au