There’s a reason the cranberry is Wisconsin’s state fruit.

Wisconsin harvests more than 60 percent of the country’s crop. Cranberries were first harvested in Wisconsin around 1860 by Edward Sacket in Berlin, Wis. Today, more than 250 growers produce cranberries throughout central and northern Wisconsin. Cranberries are harvested each year from late September through October.

Only 5 percent of Wisconsin’s cranberry crop is sold as fresh berries — probably because the fresh berries have a very sharp, sour taste. The other 95 percent wind up in the more than 1,000 food and beverage products on the market that contain cranberries.

Most cranberries are consumed in the form of juice, which is normally sweetened and blended with other fruit juices. Sweetened dried cranberries, often called Craisins, are becoming more popular. They are often added to salads, vegetables dishes and, of course, desserts and sweet breads. You can now purchase dried cranberries and cranberry juice with less added sugar — but that doesn’t always mean they are healthier.

There is much misinformation on the health benefits of cranberries and cranberry juice. Here are the facts we know so far:

If you eat the berries whole, you’ll be eating carbohydrates and fibers. They contain no fat and are a source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins C, E and K. You will not get any fiber if you drink the juice.

They’re a rich source of antioxidants and plant polyphenols. Again, these compounds are in the skin, and are greatly reduced in the cranberry juice. Antioxidants and polyphenols are proven to be effective in reducing free radical cells, or cells that promote certain cancers or diseases.

Cranberries and cranberry supplements may reduce the risk of getting urinary tract infections, but are not effective for treating infections. Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; it is not known how much of the active ingredient each product contains. Therefore, many of the products may not have enough of the active ingredient to be effective in preventing bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

There is no medical evidence that cranberries prevent certain cancers, like stomach cancer.

High consumption of cranberries may increase the risk of kidney stones if you have a family history of them and/or have had kidney stones. This is because of their high oxalate content.

If you take blood thinners like Coumadin or warfarin, please check with your medical provider regarding drinking cranberry juice or eating cranberries as it might elevate your INR.

½ cup whole cranberries, unsweetened, contains 25 calories, 7 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.

¼ cup Craisins contains 130 calories, 33 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber.

¼ cup reduced sugar Craisins contain 100 calories, 31 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of fiber. Please note that the carbohydrate count is not significantly less than the regular. People with diabetes need to be aware of this. Always check the total carbohydrate amount on the nutrition label. Also, the increased fiber content is from an added ingredient: “soluble corn fiber.” Evidence suggests this type of added fiber supports healthy blood sugar by lower how quickly the carbohydrate/sugar is digested. Choosing the reduced sugar Craisins may be the best choice because of the added fiber.

1 cup regular cranberry juice cocktail and 100% cranberry juice-no sugar added — both have 110 calories and 28 grams of total carbohydrates. Always check the nutrition label!

1 cup diet cranberry juice contains 5 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrates. An artificial sweetener is added to these products, like aspartame or sucralose.

With the holidays fast approaching, we all will be thinking more about cranberries. Have you ever made homemade cranberry sauce? It’s very easy and you can add less sugar that is normally in canned sauces. When the holidays are over, try using more fresh cranberries in salads, smoothies or homemade baked goods for extra nutrition and taste. Here are some recipes to try this holiday season to help enjoy the fresh and tart taste of cranberries.

Fresh cranberry orange relish

Ingredients

1 unpeeled orange, cut into eighths and seeded

1 package (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and drained

¾-1 cup sugar (try adding less!)

Directions

Place half the cranberries and half the orange slices in food processor container. Process until mixture is evenly chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining cranberries and orange slices. Stir in sugar. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Makes about 3 cups. NOTE: May also be prepared in a food grinder.

You can also get creative and add walnuts, apples, cinnamon or lemon juice to the recipe.

Nutrition information: Per serving (¼ cup): Calories 67, fat 0 g, protein 0 g, carbohydrates 17 g, dietary fiber 3 g, sodium 0 mg.

Recipe from: Ocean Spray

Fresh cranberry sauce

Ingredients

3 cups of water

1 bag (12 ounces) of cranberries

1 large box of sugar-free cherry gelatin

Directions

Boil water and add cranberries. Gently boil for about 10 minutes. Add gelatin and cool.

You can also add orange rind for extra flavor after it is cooked.

Nutrition information: Per serving (¼ cup): Calories 14, fat 0 g, protein 0 g, carbohydrates 4 g, dietary fiber 1.5 g, sodium 14 mg

Recpie from: Mayoclinic.com

Cranberry spritzer

Ingredients

1 quart reduced-calorie cranberry juice

½ cup fresh lemon juice

1 quart carbonated water

¼ cup sugar

1 cup raspberry sherbet

10 lemon or lime wedges

Directions

In a large pitcher, mix together the chilled cranberry juice and carbonated water, lemon juice, sugar and sherbet. Pour into chilled glasses and garnish with a lemon or lime wedge. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information: Per serving (1 cup): Calories 60, fat 0 g, carbohydrate 15 g, dietary fiber 0 g, sodium 20 mg,

Recipe from: Mayoclinic.com

Paula Przywojski is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System.

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