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Health Benefits of Grapes
Few fruits have garnered as much attention in the health research literature as grapes. Part of the reason may be their widespread presence in diets worldwide. With the exception of Antarctica, grapes are cultivated on all of the earth’s continents, and researchers from many different countries have been especially interested in this food. But an even greater part of the reason involves the amazing nutrient composition of grapes themselves. Every year, it seems like the list of health-supportive grape nutrients grows longer, and it can be challenging just to keep up with the many phytonutrients provided by this popular food.
Organized according to science-based categories, the list below will give you a general idea of the phytonutrient richness of grapes. While a single grape variety is unlikely to contain all of the phytonutrients listed below, grapes as a group have been shown to provide us with the following health-supportive nutrients:
- Phenolic Acids
- caffeic acid
- coumaric acid
- ferulic acid
- gallic acid
In addition to the above-listed nutrients, grapes have also been shown to contain the hormone and antioxidant melatonin as well as unique oligopeptides (small protein-like molecules) that have anti-bacterial and other properties.
With their overwhelming number of health-supportive phytonutrients, it is not surprising that grapes have been shown to provide many of our body systems with predictable benefits. Areas of benefit in grape research include the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, immune system, inflammatory system, blood sugar regulating system, and nervous system. Another area of special benefit is cancer prevention, with risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancer emerging as the most likely areas of grape anti-cancer benefits. The following paragraphs will give you a closer look at some key areas of health research on grapes.
Antioxidant Benefits of Grapes
The wealth of antioxidant nutrients in grapes is somewhat startling! In addition to providing us with conventional antioxidant nutrient like vitamin C and manganese, grapes are filled with antioxidant phytonutrients that range from common carotenoids like beta-carotene to unusual stilbenes like resveratrol, and the total number of different antioxidant nutrients in grapes runs well into the hundreds. (Even the hormone melatonin has been identified in grapes and is known to act as an antioxidant provided by this food.) It’s important to note that the seed and the skin contain the richest concentration of antioxidants. It’s very rare to find a higher concentration of an antioxidant in the fleshy part of the grape than is present in the seed or skin. For this reason, most of the health research on grape antioxidants has not been conducted on whole grapes. Instead, this research has been conducted on grape skin, grape skin extract, grape seed, grape seed extract, or on grape extracts that contain skin and seed and flesh. As a general rule, the flesh of the grape contains approximately 1/20th-1/100th of the total antioxidant capacity of the seed or the skin.
The greater concentration of antioxidants in the skin and seed of grapes does not mean that we don’t benefit from eating the whole grape, including the flesh! But it does mean that we need to treat grape studies as a whole as most likely reflecting stronger short-term antioxidant benefits than would be associated with short-term intake of whole grapes.
Research on antioxidant benefits provided by grapes or grape components includes the following findings. Grapes and grape components can:
- help prevent certain oxygen-related enzymes from becoming overactive. These enzymes include xanthine oxidase and catalase.
- increase our blood levels of glutathione (a critical antioxidant nutrient) and also increase the ratio of reduced-to-oxidized glutathione (one important measure of antioxidant capacity).
- help protect cell membranes from free radical damage.
- lower levels of oxygen reactive molecules in our blood.
- reduce oxidation of fat (lipid peroxidation).
- lower biomarkers of oxidative stress.
Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Grapes
Along with their strong antioxidant support, grapes provide us with equally strong anti-inflammatory benefits. Once again, research studies in this area have seldom involved dietary intake of whole grapes, but rather supplemental intake of grape components or grape extracts. Still, we have every reason to believe that these same anti-inflammatory benefits are offered by whole, fresh grapes, perhaps just not to the same extent in a short-term situation (like the few weeks or months that characterize most research studies). It’s important to remember that we can enjoy grapes over a lifetime!
Grapes have been determined to lower our risk of excessive and unwanted inflammation in a variety of ways. Many pro-inflammatory messaging molecules can have their activity level reduced by grape intake. These molecules include interleukin 6 (IL-6), interleukin 1-beta (IL-1B), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). Overproduction of the pro-inflammatory enzymes cyclo-oxygenase 1 and 2 (COX-1 and COX-2) is also less likely following intake of grape components.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Grapes
No body system is better situated to reap the benefit of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory molecules in grapes than the cardiovascular system. All cells in our blood need protection from potential oxygen damage (especially in our arteries where oxygen concentration in our blood is especially high). Our blood vessel linings also need strong antioxidant support. Chronic inflammation in our cardiovascular system is also a primary concern for many types of cardiovascular disease, and optimal regulation of inflammatory system activity is especially important in lowering our risk of atherosclerosis and other conditions.
The list of cardio benefits provided by grapes and grape components is perhaps the most impressive of all grape benefits. It’s also one of the reasons that consumption of grapes in the form of red wine has been regarded by some researchers as a key for understanding “the French Paradox.” The French Paradox refers to research observations about heart health in the French population in relationship to their saturated fat intake. Despite eating fairly large amounts of saturated fat in their overall diet, the French population as a whole has been observed to have much lower levels of heart disease than would be expected with high saturated fat intake. One of the reasons might be the anti-inflammatory (and antioxidant) support provided to their cardiovascular system on a regular basis by red wine. The idea that red wine (from red grapes) could help explain the French Paradox is just one more reason for us to consider grapes as a great addition to a heart healthy diet.
All of the following cardio benefits have been demonstrated in research studies on grapes and grape components:
- better blood pressure regulation, including blood pressure reduction if high
- better total cholesterol regulation, including total cholesterol reduction if high
- reduced LDL cholesterol levels
- reduced LDL oxidation
- reduced levels of reactive oxygen molecules in the blood
- reduced likelihood of cell adhesion to the blood vessel walls
- less clumping together of platelet cells, when inappropriate
- enhanced release of nitric oxide from endothelial cells lining the blood vessel walls in situations where vasodilation is needed
- better inflammatory regulation in the blood
- increase levels of glutathione in the blood
Blood Sugar Benefits of Grapes
In terms of blood sugar regulation, not all fruits are created equal. Watermelon, for example, has a relatively high glycemic index (GI) value in the range of 70-75, and is not considered to be a food that can be freely eaten by persons having difficulty with blood sugar balance. Grapes, on the other hand, have long been classified as a low glycemic index (GI) food, with GI values ranging between 43-53. In the case of grapes, recent studies have also shown that the low GI value of grapes is a good indicator of this fruit’s blood sugar benefits. Studies have now connected grape intake to better blood sugar balance, better insulin regulation, and increased insulin sensitivity. We suspect that the strong phytonutrient content of grapes plays a key role in providing these blood sugar-related benefits.
Nutrients in Grapes
calories 67 per 100g
|Total Fat 0.4 g||0%|
|Saturated fat 0.1 g||0%|
|Polyunsaturated fat 0.1 g|
|Monounsaturated fat 0 g|
|Cholesterol 0 mg||0%|
|Sodium 2 mg||0%|
|Potassium 191 mg||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 17 g||5%|
|Dietary fiber 0.9 g||3%|
|Sugar 16 g|
|Protein 0.6 g||1%|
|Vitamin A||2%||Vitamin C||6%|
|Vitamin D||0%||Vitamin B-6||5%|
Quick effects on health by grapes
. Prevent Heart Disease
The polyphenols found in grapes have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and support a healthy heart by promoting relaxation of blood vessels to help maintain healthy blood flow and function.
. Weight Loss
To lose weight, you should eat more foods, like grapes, that are low in energy density or calories. This helps you feel full on fewer calories. Research shows eating flavonoid-packed grapes can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
. Eye Health
Research suggests that regular grape consumption may play a role in eye health by protecting the retina from deterioration. Specifically, a grape-enriched diet resulted in a protective effect on retinal structure and function.
. Blood Pressure
Grapes are recommended for people with high blood pressure to negate the effects of sodium on the body. Seedless green grapes contain around 175 milligrams of potassium per cup, red grapes have nearly 290 milligrams, and black grapes have 200 milligrams.
. Blood Sugar and Diabetes
They may taste sweet, but grapes don’t elevate blood sugar, nor do they significantly increase insulin levels. So diabetics can eat grapes. And choosing foods with a lower insulin response rate, like grapes, can prevent you from developing the insulin resistance characteristic of Type 2 diabetes.
. Colon Health
In a small study of colon cancer patients, a grape-enriched diet was shown to inhibit certain genes that promote tumor growth. This was observed in the healthy tissue of the subjects’ colons, indicating the potential role for grapes to maintain a healthy colon.
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