Health Benefits of Grapes When Hunger Hits: Not Your Average Snack
Quick and easy; refreshing taste…and amazing health benefits? That’s right, grapes have it all. From heart disease to cancer, address your health concerns with the healthy properties of the fruit of the vine.
Whether it’s hunger pangs or ravenous cravings, you know when it’s time for a snack. In our fast-paced world, lunches need to be quick and efficient—something that can stave off hunger until we can get to a real food source (be it a home-cooked meal or a drive-thru). Fortunately, nature has already provided us with bite-sized morsels that can meet our immediate needs and then some.
Of the snacks that nature has provided, grapes may be the best. Not only are grapes handy and easy to use, but they’re also chock-full of nutrients. And we’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill nutrients either. The nutrients found in grapes have shown promise as preventative measures for some chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and age-associated diseases like Alzheimer’s.
What’s in a Grape?
Not only are grapes an excellent source of vitamins A and C, but you’ll also find vitamin B6 and folate in these fruits of the vine. And that’s not all. Minerals like potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and selenium, as well as trace amounts of copper, manganese, and zinc, are also present in grapes. What’s more, you’ll even get some fibre and protein from grapes.
While these vitamins and minerals are vital to your health, the genuinely spectacular health benefits are in the other compounds contained in grapes. Recent research has been all abuzz over these newly discovered grape components.
Have you ever wondered how certain fruits and vegetables get such vibrant colours? The answer is flavonoids. Flavonoids are polyphenols, and we classify it as flavones, flavonols, flavanones, isoflavones, catechins, anthocyanidins, and chalcones. We have identified over 4,000 different flavonoids.
If all that scientific jargon seems to be just a little much, here’s a term you’ll probably recognise: antioxidants. Simply put, flavonoids are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants work to prevent and counteract the damage caused by free radicals. When it comes to antioxidants, flavonoids are your best bet.
That’s all well and good, you might be saying, but what does that have to do with my health? Let’s get down to the more delicate points. The flavonoids found in abundance in grapes are showing great promise when it comes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, age-associated disorders, and other illnesses and symptoms. In short, what do grapes have to do with your health? Everything.
The Fountain of Youth
You may not have heard of resveratrol, but researchers that have are heralding it as the new “fountain of youth.” Resveratrol is a natural antioxidant that reduces the risk of cancer, found in grapes, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Research seems to indicate that resveratrol influences the genes that control ageing. This discovery may lead to the development of drugs that can extend life or treat age-related diseases. Resveratrol, according to Harvard medical school researchers, has a similar effect as restricting calorie intake. Primarily, it activates enzymes that slow ageing, thus increasing DNA stability and extending lifespan by as much as 70%.
Ageing brings with it many other concerns; one, in particular, is a loss of eyesight. But fruit—especially grapes—may be your answer to age-related macular degeneration, the primary cause of vision loss among the elderly. Boosting your fruit intake to three servings per day can lower your risk of macular degeneration by as much as 36%. While vegetables have many of the components you’ll need to fight macular degeneration—your mother was right, carrots will help your eyesight—fruit, as reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, fruit intake was shown to be “definitely” effective against the more severe forms of macular degeneration.
Grapes and Heart Health
The older you get, the more concerned you become with numbers, especially numbers that have to do with your cholesterol levels. If you’re looking to lower those numbers, then this is for you.
Grapes contain a compound called pterostilbene. The findings of a study shared by Agnes Rimando, PhD, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Products Utilization Research Center in Oxford, Miss., at the 228 National meeting of the American Chemical Society reported on pterostilbene’s ability to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides.
The study demonstrated that pterostilbene affects the enzyme involved with regulating fat levels in your blood. Interestingly, this compound found in the lowly grape rivalled the effects of prescription triglyceride- and cholesterol-lowering drugs. (Pterostilbene has also been found to have an anti-cancer and anti-diabetes action as well.)
It’s not just pterostilbene that helps prevent cholesterol buildup in your blood. Grape skins also contain substances called saponins that bind with cholesterol and inhibit its absorption into the body. Saponins have also been reported to be able to block inflammation.
Remember our old friend resveratrol? Well, it also plays a role in heart health. In a study reported in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, researchers find the resveratrol’s ability to prevent the production of collagen in heart cells. The creation of collagen in heart cells causes the muscles to stiffen, increasing the difficulty of not only pumping blood but also of pumping enough blood.
Another study, involving blood samples taken from healthy volunteers after they drank grape juice, revealed additional heart benefits. The first noted benefit was an increase in nitric oxide levels in the blood. Nitric oxide helps reduce the formation of blood clots. This increase in nitric oxide follows a decrease in platelet aggregation—a contributor to blood clotting. And if that wasn’t enough, researchers also noted a rise in an antioxidant called alpha-tocopherol, raising blood-antioxidant activity by 50%. This increased antioxidant activity protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation (or free radical damage), which is what causes LDL blockage in blood vessels.
You may also have heard of protein tyrosine kinases. Recent studies have reported that we can attribute heart disease to these particular enzymes. Fortunately, grapes contain compounds that inhibit not only this enzyme but also another enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to the heart.
Finally, a fascinating study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition attributed the lowered risk of heart disease from all factors, including hypertension, among the French is due to their increased consumption of red wine.
Grapes and Cancer
In a news release from Elivira Gonzalez de Meija, an assistant professor in the food science and nutrition department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, grapes’ flavonoid-rich content was able to stop cancer spread potentially.
The team of researchers involved in this study discovered ten previously unidentified flavonoids in grapes. Nothing spectacular, until you find out about the synergistic efforts of this new group of flavonoids. These new flavonoids help to inhibit the action of metalloproteinase enzymes, working together. These enzymes are responsible for cell growth and reproduction—a necessary part of life. But when our body overproduces these enzymes, they can contribute to the growth and spread of cancerous cells in the body. By inhibiting the action of these enzymes, these new flavonoids in effect “kill” cancer cells by stopping their growth.
The kicker is, however, that these flavonoids have to work together. “We’re getting direct evidence that these components in grapes work synergistically in fighting cancer,” reported de Meija. “They have to work together to obtain the potency that works.” The only way to get all of these flavonoids is to eat the whole grape—no wine, juice, extracts, or supplements. “It’s obvious that the synergy is critical,” continues de Meija. “The findings add to the argument for eating whole foods.”
We might be elevating it to superhero status, but resveratrol also plays a role in cancer prevention. Scientists have conducted promising research on resveratrol’s ability to prevent cellular events in prostate, breast, lung, and liver cancer.
Grapes and Microbes
Just one more tidbit. In a study conducted at Erciyes University in Turkey, scientists found that grape extracts had an effective antimicrobial action against certain bacteria, including E. coli and Staph.
White vs. Red
When it comes to choosing grapes, at least for their health benefits, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in which you prefer. Admittedly, most studies have been done comparing red and white wines, but the same should hold true for the actual fruit. Each has its pros, but if you’re looking for the health benefits found in grapes, either should be fine.
Wine vs Juice
Most headlines these days tout wine as the best source for the incredible heart benefits of grapes. Recent research, however, may be changing that viewpoint.
A study published in Circulation reported that participants who already showed signs of cardiovascular disease and who drank a glass of grape juice every day showed a significant reduction in cholesterol levels after only 15 days. Additionally, these participants also displayed positive changes in their artery walls, improving circulation.
One drawback for wine may be that you may not be getting enough. “Wine only prevents blood from clotting [when you consume it] at levels high enough to declare someone legally drunk,” states Jane Freedman, M.D., a researcher at Georgetown University. “With grape juice, you can drink enough to get the benefit without worrying about becoming intoxicated.”
Another drawback to wine consumption is that alcohol generates free radicals, increasing the free radical damage caused in the body. Alcohol may also increase the breakdown rate of antioxidants in your body. A study conducted at the University of California, Davis, reported that volunteers who drank grape juice versus those that drank wine enjoyed longer antioxidant protection.
But wine does have one benefit that grape juice does not. Alcohol has been shown to increase HDL—the right kind—cholesterol levels.
Hearing It on the Grapevine
If you’re looking for health benefits, look no further than your local grocer’s produce aisle. Specifically, look for fresh grapes. Not only are these little morsels packed with wholesome goodness, but they’re also relatively cheap—especially when you consider what you’ll pay if you don’t take advantage of these significant health benefits.
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