And not just on Thanksgiving Day. This low-calorie fruit packs a lot into its little red morsels. Not only are they a good source of vitamins and antioxidants, but the polyphenols and proanthocyanidins (PACs) found in cranberries can be attributed to several important health benefits.
According to Medical News Today, “Early settlers from England used them to treat poor appetite, stomach complaints, blood disorders and scurvy.” Through anti-inflammatory mechanisms, the polyphenols in cranberries help prevent platelet build-up, thereby reducing blood pressure. Nutrients in cranberries have been shown to help slow tumor progression, positively impacting prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers. And the proanthocyanidins in the berries can avert gum disease by preventing bacteria from binding to the teeth.
Cranberries are certainly best known for their role in preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs), particularly reoccurring ones caused by E. Coli bacteria. Even the Native Americans knew about this, using them for bladder and kidney infections. Apparently, the high level of antioxidant PACs in cranberries stops the E. Coli bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract walls. Before you start stocking your pantry with gallons of cranberry juice, however, you should know that researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Houston found that, while cranberry capsules are effective at treating UTIs, cranberry juice is unlikely to have the same effect. This is because it takes such a high concentration of berries to prevent bacterial adhesion that one would have to drink an excessive amount. I would also interject that the high level of sugar in many brands today is counter-productive.
Lastly, cranberries are high in vitamins C, E, K and fiber. According to Ayurveda, they have anti-fungal and anti-viral properties and can be used to combat Pitta disorders such as skin rashes, toxic blood, burning urination and edema. They can be used as a diuretic, although some reports show they release a higher excretion of oxalate in urine, which can contribute to kidney stones. Not everyone agrees, however. In his book, Health and Consciousness Through Ayurvedic Cooking, Dr. Nibodhi Haas presents a slightly different perspective, stating that “small amounts of cranberries reduce calcium levels in the urine, preventing stone formation.” In any case, people with a history of kidney stones or those on blood-thinning drugs like Coumadin or Warfarin should consult with a practitioner before increasing cranberry consumption.
THE AYURVEDIC PERSPECTIVE
Cranberries are considered sour and astringent (or drying) in taste, heating in energy and pungent in post-digestive effect. These qualities typically increase Vata (dryness), Kapha (heaviness and moisture) and Pitta (heat). However, due to the special blood-cleansing and infection-fighting qualities of cranberries, they are considered Pitta-balancing. Cranberries are known to be diuretic, alterative (blood-cleansing) and hemostatic. The red of the cranberry is indicative of a food signature that balances the blood. Red is also the color of the muladhara chakra, the base chakra. This chakra affects urination, elimination and reproduction, so it is no surprise that the red cranberry has a prabhav (special affinity) for infections of the urinary tract, kidneys, prostate and the blood.
In Ayurveda, the sour taste is considered to be energizing and strengthening to the digestion by increasing the digestive fire and the body’s circulation in general. As John Immel states on his website, www.joyfulbelly.com, “When you’ve overdosed on tryptophan (the chemical in turkey that makes you sleepy), the sour tart taste of cranberries refreshes your mind and stimulates your palate with a gush of saliva and juiciness. From saliva to the skin, from your liver to your GI tract, sour taste floods all your glands with juiciness. That makes sour taste a useful aid in protein digestion – and cranberries an indispensable accompaniment to your Thanksgiving meal.”
Click here for more details on on how to create an American version of Thanksgiving dinner with an Ayurvedic twist.
And for great ways to use cranberries in recipes all year ’round, check out the following healthy ideas! Namaste.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org.