I must confess that I’m not a big into traditional meals especially around the holidays. I prefer a classic lobster bake to a traditional thanksgiving meal and a seafood spread to a Christmas feast. Maybe it goes back to one year when my mom bucked all of our traditions; we had homemade pizza for Thanksgiving and pasta for Christmas. That was the infamous “Smurf” Christmas — now that’s a story for another day! However, in homage to the start of turkey eating season, I made my signature turkey burgers last week with the added zip of a cranberry side dish. That got me thinking about these round, ruby-colored rascals and what they may be the start of a healthy holiday tradition.
C’s for K’s
Cranberries are filled with vital nutrients that support healthy bones and a stronger immune system. Their dark red color is a hint that they are also loaded with anti-oxidants. Did you know that there is even a Cranberry Institute? According to CranberryInstitute.org, these antioxidants may “help protect agains heart disease, cancer and other diseases.”
- Vitamin K and Manganese — supports bone health and blood clotting
- Vitamin C — supports a healthy immune system
- Low Cal — a cup of cranberries is only 45 calories
- PACs — are proanthocyanidins that help support a healthy urinary tract, healthy gums and help protect against stomach ulcers by preventing “the adhesion of certain bacteria.” (Source: The Cranberry Institute)
Much like their berry brother, the blueberry, the nutritional benefits of cranberries extend way beyond a fresh bag for holiday hosting. When they are in season, usually October thru December, buy several bags of locally grown cranberries to pop in the freezer. Then you can enjoy the health benefits of these juicy gems year round. Here are some other good tips to follow:
- Look for firm berries — when at their peak, they literally bounce!
- Avoid soft or brown berries — remove bad berries from the bag as soon as possible
- Keep Cool — store fresh cranberries in the refrigerator for up to one month. In the freezer they can last a full year and maintain their nutrient load.
- Cans don’t count — as much as you may have loved canned cranberries or jellied cranberry sauce growing up, they are typically loaded with sugar.
- Sweeter Sauce — if you prefer to tone down the tangy tartness, try sweetening with a natural sweetener like stevia or Rebiana (derived from stevia plant but less bitter in my opinion, see below for more details).
Here are some more fun ways to get cranberries into your day:
- Soup — Mark and I actually served this at our wedding — awesome cold or hot.
- Salad topper — add some dried cranberries (make sure they’re sugar-free as many dried cranberries add high fructose corn syrup) to a spinach salad. My favorite is to add chicken, walnuts and a little feta — outrageously good!
- Trail Mix — replace raisins with dried cranberries for a refreshingly tart treat.
- Smoothies — drop fresh cranberries into your favorite smoothie for a great anti-oxidant boost.
- Breads & Muffins — cranberries make a great addition to any homemade bread or muffin. Load ‘em up!
- Side Dish It — beyond turkey, cranberries make a great addition to pork and chicken.
- Top off a protein packed snack of cottage cheese, greek yogurt or ricotta cheese with your homemade cranberry sauce for an extra zip of antioxidants.
Although I may still opt for some non-traditional treats this holiday season, you can be sure I’m stocking my freezer with cranberries. Be sure to share with me your favorite ways to enjoy cranberries and we’ll start our very own cranberry craze this year and beyond.
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“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart…”
Copyright © 2012 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.