10 surprising facts about cranberries

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Cranberries

There's no doubt that tiny, crimson cranberries make a delicious sauce to serve with turkey. But here are 10 reasons why you should enjoy these nutrient-packed berries year-round:

They're nutrient-rich. They may be little, but cranberries pack a big nutritional punch. A specific type of polyphenol in cranberries, called proanthocyanidins, interfere with the ability of specific strains of bacteria to cause infections, including urinary tract infections (UTIs). Research has also shown that they may have heart health and anti-cancer benefits. One cup of fresh berries or ½ cup of dried cranberries equals a fruit serving. They're also a good source of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

They really can help prevent urinary tract infections. Cranberries are known for their ability to help maintain a healthy urinary tract. UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics, but as concerns over antibiotic resistance mount, more attention has been given to preventative measures, like cranberry intake. More than 70 studies have shown that cranberries may help reduce UTIs, especially in women experiencing recurring infections, making them a great alternative to antibiotic treatment.

They're naturally very low in sugar. Unlike most other popular berries that are naturally higher in sugar, cranberries will make you pucker up because they have just 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of natural sugars per cup. That's why cranberry juice, dried cranberries and other cranberry products require some type of sweetener to make them palatable.

[See: The 12 Best Diets for Your Heart.]

They're heart-smart. Cranberries have the same heart-smart flavonoids that are commonly found in red wine and grapes. These bioactive natural plant compounds help reduce risk for cardiovascular disease by helping reduce inflammation and inhibiting low-density lipoprotein oxidation and boosting the good high-density lipoprotein. Cranberries also help relax blood vessels to improve blood pressure.

They can brighten your smile. Studies consistently reveal that the proanthocyanidins in cranberries can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria that cause plaque, cavities and gum disease. Based on these studies, several brands of cranberry-infused toothpaste and mouthwash are readily available to improve your oral health.

Related: Foods that can help you avoid illnesses:

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10 foods that will help you avoid illnesses
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10 foods that will help you avoid illnesses

1. Beets 

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2. Parsnips

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3. Kale

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4. Almonds

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5. Walnuts

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6. Sunflower seeds

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7. Tuna 

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8. Oysters 

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9. Mushrooms

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10. Yogurt

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They may help fight stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers are linked to Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections, and studies show that cranberries can inhibit the growth of H. pylori. A randomized controlled trial of 189 adults with H. pylori ulcers revealed that those who drank two servings of cranberry juice daily were more likely to test negative for H. pylori, compared to those who drank a placebo beverage. What's more, if cranberries can help reduce bacterial infections, this could help manage the global issue of antibiotic resistance.

[See: Seeds 101: A Guide, From Chia to Hemp.]

They're authentically North American. Cranberries, along with blueberries and Concord grapes, are one of three cultivated fruits that are native to North America. Native Americans used the cranberries for food and medicine, as well as a dye for clothes and blankets, as early as 1550. Some cranberry vines in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old. In addition to Massachusetts, the fruit is also grown in several other states, including Wisconsin and New Jersey, as well as in parts of Canada.

They're more than just an ingredient for sauce. Dried cranberries are available year-round, and they can pump of the flavor of everything, from breakfast foods to baked goods. Add them to hot or cold cereal; pancakes; yogurt; on top of salads; and in side dishes, salsa and baked goods. Two of my favorite dried cranberry side dishes include this cranberry-couscous salad and this farro, cranberry and goat cheese salad.

They don't grow in or under water. It's a common misconception that cranberries are grown in water. In fact, the fruit is grown on trailing vines in sandy bogs or marshes. Water is used during a so-called "wet" harvest because each berry has an air pocket so they float and can be easily collected. Cranberries are also harvested using a "dry" method with mechanical pickers that comb the berries off the vines.

Atoqua, Craneberry and Ibimi are some of its aliases.

Native American tribes had different names for cranberries. To Easter Indians, they were "Sassamanesh." Cape Cod Pequots and South Jersey Leni-Lenape tribes called them "Ibimi," or bitter berry. And the Algonquins of Wisconsin dubbed the crimson-colored fruit "Atoqua." The Pilgrims called the fruit "crane berry" because of the flower's resemblance to the head and bill of a crane.

Related: High fat foods that are good for you:

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High fat foods that are good for you
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High fat foods that are good for you

Avocados

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Full fat yogurt

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Extra virgin olive oil

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Cheese, specifically: Swiss, parmesan and feta 

(Photo: Olga Nayashkova)

Whole Eggs

(Photo: Getty Images)

Dark Chocolate

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Nuts

(Photo: Jon Boyes)

Chia Seeds

(Photo: Getty Images)

Coconut Oil and Coconuts

(Photo: Joanna Wnuk)

Salmon and other fatty fish 

(Photo: Shutterstock)

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[See: Unusual Uses for Greek Yogurt.]

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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