Reap all the health benefits of cranberries with these delicious healthy recipes, including cranberry relish and muffins
Pumpkin spice may get all the glory this season, but fall's other favorite fruit, the cranberry, deserves some serious love too. Not only are the little round reds beautiful to look at—adding an artistic flair to any dish—but the bitter berry packs major health benefits too.
Cranberries are probably best known for their ability to help fight the dreaded urinary tract infection (although research shows it's really only helpful for unfortunate females prone to recurrent UTIs, not those who get them once in a blue moon). But the tart fruit is also a rich source of antioxidants, fiber, and phytochemicals, all of which can help manage weight and prevent certain diseases, says Jennie Miremadi, an integrative nutritionist and member of the American Nutrition Association and The Institute for Functional Medicine. Drinking cranberry juice may protect you from a heart attack or stroke by lowering your blood pressure, lessening arterial stiffness, and increasing blood flow, according to a recent study presented at the yummy-sounding Berry Health Benefits Symposium 2015. And the little berry may even help prevent some cancers, including esophageal, colon, prostate, stomach, mouth, kidney, and lung, says the American Institute for Cancer. (Learn about the other Best Fruits for a Heart-Healthy Diet.)
But how you eat the berries may determine how much of the benefits you can reap, says Miremadi. That tastebud-friendly version of drenching the tart fruit in sugar? Turns out, that's not so nutritious. "Stick to unsweetened, 100 percent pure cranberry juice and avoid any sugar-sweetened dried cranberry products," she says. Fresh or frozen are fine, but freeze-dried or dried cranberries are often covered in a sugary coating.
So without sugar, do you have to choke down the sour fruit like medicine? Of course not: "Cranberries are perfect when mixed with other ingredients that take the edge off of the tart taste," Miremadi adds. Plus, recipes that use natural sweetners like other fruit or stevia get the green light. Check out these 11 tasty ways to enjoy the nutrient-packed fruits:
1. Blend them in a smoothie. It's practically gospel in the fitness-verse: Smoothies hide everything. Whether it's kale or cranberries, blending can go a long way in making a healthy food into a tasty treat. Miremadi's favorite is her Coconut Blueberry Smoothie. To make it, blend 1/2 cup frozen cranberries with 1 cup frozen blueberries, a handful of coconut, 1/2 cup coconut water, 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1 tbsp spirulina, 2 tbsp raw walnuts, water, and, if you like, stevia to taste.
2. Add them to overnight oats. Add a nutritional punch to your breakfast and still get out the door on time when you combine cranberries (either fresh or dried) with a classic overnight oatmeal recipe. Try our Red, White, and Blue Overnight Oats and mix and match berries to see which ones you like the best.
3. Cook them with savory grains. Quinoa, barley, and other fall grains get a flavor boost from cranberries. Add a handful of dried, unsweetened berries to your grains while they're cooking and they'll plump and soften right along with them. Try this Mint and Cranberry Quinoa Pilaf for a hearty fall meal.
4. Make a relish. Cranberry relish shouldn't just be relegated to the once-a-year Thanksgiving dinner table. Using the berries as a condiment is a great way to add healthy flavor to meats, sandwiches, fish, and salads without getting punched by the powerful flavor. Plus, it will keep in the fridge for a week or can be frozen in ice cube trays for convenient individual servings year round. Our Sweet Tart Cranberry Relish is a healthy twist on your favorite classic.
5. Toss them in a salad. Cranberries add color and tang to boring greens. For instance, they bring out the flavors of the veggies in this Kale, Swiss Chard, and Butternut salad without overwhelming them.
6. Mix them into muffins. Move over pumpkin spice latte, there's nothing as soothing on a crisp fall morning as a warm Cranberry Orange Muffin. Even better, our recipe turns it from a sugar-laden calorie bomb into a guilt-free snack.
7. Bake them in granola. This Fall Spiced Homemade Maple Granola has every fall flavor you could wish for: Pumpkin, maple, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cranberries. Add in the oats and nuts for a filling dish with fiber, protein, and lots of vitamins.
8. (Apple) Sauce them. All you need to make this grown-up version of your school-lunch staple are apples and cranberries. Chop the fruit, add them to a slow cooker with some water, and in six hours you'll have tangy-sweet Cranberry Applesauce.
9. Freeze them into ice cubes. Your lemonade just got 90 percent cuter with these adorable cranberry cubes from The Kitchn.
10. Stir them into mixed drinks. Cranberry juice on its own is, shall we say, an acquired taste. But there's a reason it's a staple in drink recipes like cosmopolitans, sangria, and vodka tonics—the tartness balances out sweeter juices and mixers. Try our Cranberry Cocktail for an easy, romantic drink.
11. Bake them (in about a thousand different ways). Rest assured there is a cranberry dessert to suit every mood. Cranberry Coffee Cake. Flourless Thumbprint Cookies. Cranberry Orange Creme Brulee. Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies. Cranberry Almond Crunch and Pear Crumble. Banana Oatmeal Power Cookies. Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti. You're welcome.