Ready or not, the holiday season kicks off in 3… 2…. 1…
Here’s another simple and clean recipe for your holiday spread: honey-sweetened cranberry sauce for the Instant Pot.
Of course, there’s probably nothing wrong with indulging in a little refined sugar with a holiday meal, but cranberry sauce is not strictly a holiday dish at my house. In fact, I probably make more cranberry sauce than anyone I know. Why? It’s our favorite way to jazz up Greek yogurt.
Cranberry sauce + Greek yogurt is the G.O.A.T.
And since we eat cranberry sauce-sweetened Greek yogurt just about every morning with breakfast, I wanted the cleanest cranberry sauce recipe possible. Turns out, you can make a really delicious (and healthy) cranberry sauce with nothing more than cranberries, a little honey and a pinch of salt. ♥
Cranberries are super easy to work with, thanks to their high pectin content. Pectin is a type of soluble fiber found in the cell walls of plants that acts as a natural thickener when combined with sugar and acid and heated. Powdered pectin is commonly added as a gelling agent in jam and jelly recipes to give them body.
While most fruits contain *some* pectin, cranberries are especially high, containing up to 1.2% pectin by weight, so there’s no need to supplement. When the cranberries are cooked, pectin molecules interact with the sugar and acid to form a gel-like structure, giving cranberry sauce its characteristic texture.
Prebiotics for the win
Pectin is also prebiotic.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that promote the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Pectin is resistant to digestion and, instead, passes into the colon where it’s fermented by the gut microbiota to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as acetate, propionate and butyrate. These SCFAs are associated with various health benefits, including reducing inflammation and promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Butyrate is of special importance, as it supports a healthy gut barrier by maintaining the critical tight junctions between colon cells that protect the gut lining. It also stimulates the release of satiety hormones like GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) that plays an important role in blood sugar regulation and appetite control.
Butyrate is the preferred fuel source for colonocytes (the epithelial cells that line the colon) and may even protect against colorectal cancer development by inducing cell differentiation, apoptosis and inhibiting tumor growth pathways in colon cells.
More cranberry benefits
Cranberries are probably best known for their ability to promote urinary tract health. They contain compounds called proanthocyanidins, which have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and may prevent the adhesion of certain bacteria to the urinary tract walls, reducing the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols, which help neutralize free radicals that can lead to all sorts of chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. The flavonoids and polyphenols work synergistically alongside cranberry’s proanthocyanidins to combat inflammation by modulating various molecular pathways involved in the inflammatory response. They inhibit the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes and cytokines, helping to manage and reduce inflammation in the body.
Cranberries are also a good source of vitamin C, which is essential for a healthy immune system, as well as manganese, which plays a role in bone formation and blood clotting.
In order to retain as many of the benefits of raw honey as possible, it is added to this recipe after the cooking is done.
In addition to its natural antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties, raw, unfiltered honey contains natural enzymes that aid in digestion and contribute to overall health. These enzymes destroyed or altered during the heating and pasteurization processes used in the production of commercial honey.
Glycemic index (GI) is a standardized measure of how quickly a food will raise blood sugar levels. Processed commercial honey has a glycemic index of around 58. Raw, unfiltered honey weighs in slightly lower than that. Processing steps such as pasteurization and filtration remove some of the fiber, enzymes, phytochemicals and pollen grains found in raw honey that contribute to its lower glycemic index.
Comparatively, white cane or beet sugar (sucrose) has a glycemic index of 65. Maple syrup has a glycemic index of approximately 54, with darker “robust” grades tending to have slightly lower values than amber.
Honey contains slightly more carbs compared to an equal amount of sugar, but since it takes far less honey to approximate the same sweetness of sugar, in practice, you wind up with a significantly lower glycemic load. I typically use about half the amount of honey as I would normally use plain sugar (same story for dark maple syrup). You just don’t need as much.
Plus, instead of the nutritionally void, empty calories in white sugar, raw honey also contains a variety of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which help to protect your body from cell damage caused by free radicals. Unfiltered, raw honey will also likely retain traces of pollen and bee propolis.
Pollen contributes additional antioxidants like carotenoids and flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Pollen from local plants may also help to alleviate seasonal allergies by helping the immune system to become accustomed to the local pollen.
Bee propolis contains a variety of unique polyphenols that contribute antioxidant effects to reduce oxidative stress. Propolis has demonstrated antimicrobial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungi, in addition to its immunomodulatory actions, which support a healthy immune system.
That right friends — without excessive amounts of processed sugar, cranberry sauce just became a health-food! ♥