LIKE A CHOIR of holiday angels, cranberries wear the halo of good health.

But are all cranberries created equal?

Fresh cranberries are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium. They're high in fiber and phyto chemicals. By contrast, a large portion of the calories from dried cranberries come from sugar.

But even fresh cranberries are too tart to eat without a bit of sweetener. So don't shy away from dried. Instead, look for a product that has been sweetened with natural sweeteners such as apple juice instead of corn syrup.

An easy way to enjoy cranberries is to sprinkle "craisins" in your baked goods. Investing in a mini-muffin pan is a small price to pay if you can avoid the holiday bulge.

This recipe for Cranberry Orange Mini Muffins is versatile and holiday-inspired. Serve the mini muffins straight up, for breakfast or lunch, or split open and garnish to create a festive party appetizer.

Serving tip: For Cranberry-Smoked Turkey Appetizers, top each split muffin with about 1/2teaspoon whipped, light cream cheese, softened, 1 teaspoon cranberry sauce and 1/4to 1/2-slice deli-style smoked turkey folded to fit.

CRANBERRY ORANGE

MINI MUFFINS

1 cup dried sweetened cranberries

1/4 cup boiling water

1 cup whole-wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 egg whites

1/4 cup canola oil

2/3 cup orange juice

Grated zest of 1 orange

3/4 cup sugar

Place cranberries in a small, deep bowl; pour boiling water over cranberries and stir to coat. Set aside and allow cranberries to plump, about 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line miniature muffin pans with paper baking cups or spray cups with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Combine egg whites, oil, juice and zest in a medium mixing bowl. Add sugar and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients and mix just until flour is moistened.

Drain cranberries and add, stirring just until blended. Do not overmix.

Fill miniature muffin cups about 3/4full of batter. Bake 10 to 11 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to stand 10 minutes, then remove to a rack. Serve warm. Makes 36 muffins.

Per muffin: 62 calories (25 percent from fat), 2 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 10 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 49 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Jill Wendholt Silva is an award-winning food journalist and editor for the Kansas City Star. She is the author of the cookbook "Eating for Life" ($24.95, Kansas City Star Co.), featuring 100 recipes from her weekly column. Contact her at