Americans eat 20 percent of the year's total cranberries during Thanksgiving week, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And while this little red gem wasn't present on the original Pilgrim's table, according to Smithsonian Magazine, cranberries have become a staple right alongside the turkey nowadays.
But why limit eating cranberries to just one week in November? (Hey, we're considering the leftovers, too.) The cranberry offers a host of benefits you can take advantage of year-round.
These tiny fruits are pretty powerful, nutritionally speaking. "Cranberries are rich in antioxidants that may help lower inflammation (and therefore protect against certain diseases), reduce the risk of certain bacterial infections and support a healthy gut," Samantha Cassetty, RD, a nutrition and weight-loss expert, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Ready to incorporate more powerful, healthy foods into your diet? Scroll down for nine cranberry recipes that you can easily make all year long.
1. Cranberry Crumble Oatmeal
According to a November 2013 study in Advances in Nutrition, cranberries have a high phenol content, giving them a high antioxidant profile. Antioxidants are essential in helping your body defend itself from free radicals and toxins that can build up in your body.
To get the most out of your cranberry intake, Cassetty recommends being mindful by pairing them with foods that don't have added sugars.
"Add them to unsweetened yogurt or overnight oats, or create a trail mix with a blend of dried cranberries, nuts (such as pecans or walnuts) and pumpkin seeds," suggests Cassetty. And if you do eat them with oats, such as in this vegan breakfast, you'll get even more fiber and iron, which is an immune-system-supporting mineral that can help you through cold and flu season, according to a 2013 study in Diet, Immunity and Inflammation.
2. Cranberry Baked Brie
Cranberries are a good source of vitamin E. This vitamin, also considered an antioxidant, helps protect the body against molecular breakdown from toxins and is essential for your body's immunity to function well, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Make this stunning dish to take to your next potluck dinner or Friendsgiving. The mild, earthy flavor of brie pairs well with the homemade vinegar-infused cranberry sauce for a tangy, satisfying finish. Use apple slices for dipping rather than processed crackers that are typically high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.
3. 5-Minute Cranberry Chicken Salad Sliders
Move over, chicken Waldorf salad sandwich — there's a new slider in town. What makes this recipe so appealing is that you can take that leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving dinner and give it a new purpose by using it as a spread for this recipe — or any sandwich you make all weekend long.
Along with the benefits you get from the cranberries, pistachios are a good source of a plant-based protein, minerals and vitamins, including fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant compounds, according to a May 2016 study in Nutrition Today.
Cassetty also warns against the sugar content found in cranberry-based products. "Since cranberries are tart, they're often found in foods with added sugars — including sauce, dried cranberries and cranberry juice drinks." Make your own cranberry sauce whenever possible, so that you can control how much sugar is added to your recipe. Canned varieties are full of added sugars — even some of the organic canned cranberry sauces — so you're better off with a homemade version.
4. Citrus and Arugula Salad With Cranberry Dressing
Spicy and tangy, this salad is a great lunchtime go-to that will get you out of your sad, desk-lunch rut. Add some almonds, not just because they are a high-protein food, but for their satisfying crunch. Leafy greens and citrus fruits like oranges are shown to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
To avoid unnecessary preservatives and sugars, make your own cranberry salad dressing by repurposing that leftover homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving dinner.
5. Cranberry-Orange Quinoa
Sweet and tart, cranberries have been shown to have anti-cancer properties, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), since they're high in fiber and vitamin C.
When it comes to dried cranberries, Cassetty suggests pairing them with other nutritious foods that don't contain added sugars. "Use them to add color and flavor to salads and sauteed greens, or add them to unsweetened yogurt or overnight oats," she says.
This gluten-free quinoa dish with cranberry and orange is full of the cancer-fighting fiber that the AICR recommends. Quinoa is one of the only complete proteins offering all nine essential amino acids, is high in potassium and has been shown to help control blood pressure, according to the Whole Grains Council.
6. Cranberry-Orange Spiced Tea Sipper
Many researchers have studied the effect of cranberry juice on ulcers and gastritis, and have come to discover some excellent news when it comes to treating those afflicted with these bacterial infections. It turns out that drinking cranberry juice can inhibit the growth of the bacteria H. pylori, according to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
The reason: Cranberries are high in flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatory agents that stop or inhibit bacterial growth. Pair cranberry juice with tea and you get a double whammy of those agents in just one serving.
Of course, this tea is spiked with vodka (you gotta live a little bit, right?), but you can just leave it out if you don't want the alcohol.
7. Pear and Cranberry Mason Jar Salad
There has been a lot of talk about cranberries and their ability to either prevent or treat urinary tract infections (UTIs), but according to Cassetty, "they need to be eaten regularly in order to get the specific benefit of UTI protection."
She recommends focusing on eating a variety of nutrient- and fiber-rich fruits and veggies and staying within added sugar limits. "This type of eating pattern has a wide range of health-promoting benefits, including better gut health, improved weight management and healthier aging."
8. Harvest Toast With Peanut Butter, Apples and Cranberries
For an even healthier take, choose organic spreads or avoid the store-bought stuff (usually laden with sugar and additives) and make your own in less than five minutes with a food processor.
For the best bread, The Nutritious Life Studio CEO and co-founder Keri Glassman, RD, CDN, prefers sprouted bread. She recommends Ezekiel bread because it doesn't have any sugar and is made with whole grains. If you can't find the Ezekiel brand, look for sprouted breads made with whole grains or legumes, which have more protein per serving, and avoid breads with additives and sugar.
9. Oatmeal Cranberry Gems
Thanks to the heart-healthy oats and the antioxidant-rich cranberries, these cookies will satiate the sweet-tooth cravings while delivering a host of health-related benefits.
These treats provide a satisfying blend of mild sweetness from the dried fruit yet have a spicy kick thanks to the ginger and cinnamon. Plus, this oatmeal cranberry cookie recipe doesn't use eggs, deeming them vegan-friendly.
While this recipe calls for oat flakes, you can boost the nutritional benefit of these gems by swapping in steel-cut oats. Steel-cut oats are healthier due to the way they are processed, which helps them retain more fiber and protein when compared to rolled oats or flakes. Simply add 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time to allow the steel-cut oats to soften.
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: “Cranberries”
- Smithsonian Magazine: “What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving?”
- Advances in Nutrition: “Cranberries and Their Bioactive Constituents in Human Health”
- Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture: “American Cranberries and Health Benefits - An Evolving Story of 25 Years”
- Diet, Immunity and Inflammation: “The Role of Iron in Immunity and Inflammation: Implications for the Response to Infection”
- Nutrition Today: “Pistachios for Health: What Do We Know About This Multifaceted Nut?”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Vegetables and Fruits”
- American Institute for Cancer Research: “AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer: Cranberries”
- American Institute for Cancer Research: “Get the Facts on Fiber”
- Whole Grains Council: “Health Benefits of Quinoa”
- Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: “Peptic Ulcer”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Peanut Butter, Smooth Style, Without Salt”
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin E"