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Cranberries — a staple food source with settlers and Native Americans in the northeast — were valued for their thick skins, allowing them to survive harsh winter climates.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, our predecessors regularly snacked on pemmicam, a cake of nuts, cranberries and dried, gamy meats, such as venison and bear.
Even then, cranberries were prized for their medicinal properties. They were prescribed to treat fevers, stomach upsets, swelling and inflammation. And, for centuries, people have turned to cranberries as a natural way to prevent urinary tract and bladder infections.
Today, a growing body of scientific research is proving what the early settlers and Native Americans understood all along: Cranberries help fight infections and disease.
Studies confirm that cranberries may fight a range of infections, from strep and E. coli to the oral bacteria that causes cavities. But we're also learning that cranberries are a very rich source of polyphenol antioxidants, a class of phytochemicals that researchers think could have significant benefits to our cardivascular and immune systems.
According to WebMD, they contain three different types of flavonols that are shown to suppress the growth of some cancer cells.
Scientists now have a better understanding of how cranberries work in our systems. The berries contains chemical compounds known as proanthocyanidins, which bind to bacteria and coat them, preventing them from forming colonies in our bodies.
Cranberry juice can help people with the H. pylori, the bacteria strain that leads to ulcers, and sticking to the linings of the stomach and intestines.
Like any "medication," be aware that cranberries could have negative side effects. Some people can't tolerate them as well as others, and are prone to stomach upsets and diarrhea. Also, there's evidence that blood-thinning drugs are contraindicated in some cases.
Nutritionally, cranberries are loaded with vitamin C and a good source of fiber. A half-cup only has 23 calories.
And as we all know, a low calorie count is always a welcome relief around the holidays.