Holiday Nutrition Spotlight: Cranberries

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine

Season after season, year after year, cranberries make it onto millions of tables. This diverse fruit can be used for anything from a cocktail beverage to a post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich spread. Luckily, cranberries are a food choice anyone can feel good about; this luscious fruit is packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber that can add wholesome variety to any meal or snack. Get adventurous while you wow guests and family members with creative new ways to use this common and inexpensive fruit.

The Facts

Information taken from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (1).

Serving: 1 cup of whole cranberries:

  • Calories: 46
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrates: 12 g
  • Fiber: 5 g

Healthful Components

Fiber is key for digestion processes, controlling hunger, and aiding in reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer (2, 3). One serving of cranberries can contribute nearly 20% of a person’s daily recommended fiber intake; pretty significant for a food with less than 50 calories per serving.

Cranberries also contain vitamins C, E, and potassium. Vitamin C has an array of functions; it strengthens bodily tissues, aids in assembling hormones and cell structures, and potentially improves immune function (4). Vitamin C is an antioxidant which may also aid in reducing the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease when consumed from whole foods (3). Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin that helps protect cellular function against aging and disease. The beneficially diverse vitamin also helps maintain the activity of essential antioxidants throughout the body (4). Potassium helps maintain healthy nerve and muscle function.

Preparation Methods

Cranberries contain polyphenols, which contribute to the extreme tartness in cranberries making them a challenge to eat raw (2). They are more palatable when cooked but it is important not to overcook them in order to prevent bitterness. Listed below are two simple recipes that can be used for any meal. Enjoy the holiday season and try these new recipes to experience some of what cranberries have to offer.

Apple-Cranberry Salad

Yield: 4 servings

  • Sliced almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2 crisp apples (sweet, crisp variety, Honeycrisp are great)
  • 6 cups mixed greens; any leaf lettuce types
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  •  ½ cup shaved asiago cheese

For the vinaigrette:

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a dry skillet over medium high heat, toast the almond slices, taking care to shake the skillet several times so they don’t scorch. Set aside to cool while preparing the rest of the salad.
  2. Slice the apples lengthwise into thin slices. Combine the apples, lettuce or greens, sliced almonds, and dried cranberries, in a large bowl.

Make the vinaigrette

  1. Add the vinegar, shallot and honey into a small bowl. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking constantly.
  2. Serve the salad on individual small plates. Use vegetable peeler to make thin slices of asiago on top of the individual salads. Pass the dressing at the table.


Yield: Makes about 3 cups


  • 4 apples (about 2 pounds), peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, picked over
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice, cranberry juice or water
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon


In a heavy saucepan cook the apples, cranberries, brown sugar, apple juice or water, stirring for 15 minutes or until the apples are very soft. Remove from stove and add cinnamon. Use potato masher to make the cooked pieces smaller or run mixture through a food mill into a bowl. Serve the applesauce warm or chilled. The sauce, tightly covered, will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture (2011). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Retrieved from
  2. Insel P., Ross D., McMahon K., et al. Nutrition. 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011.
  3. National Institute of Health. Antioxidants and Health: An Introduction (2010) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. Traber MG, Stevens JF. Vitamins C and E: Beneficial effect from a mechanistic perspective. (2011). Free Radical Biology and Medicine; 51(5):1000-1013.

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The Author

National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Since 1987 the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) has been the global leader in delivering evidence-based certifications and advanced specializations to health and fitness professionals. Our products and services are scientifically and clinically proven. They are revered and utilized by leading brands and programs around the world and have launched thousands of successful careers.