MIchael Hunter, MD, Column

You Can Use Grapes for Health

Did you know that grapes are the world's leading fruit in tons of production?

“Each grape she pulled off grew back again on the cluster. In the dream, it was evident that the girl had spent many years at that infinite window trying to finish the cluster and was in no hurry to do so because she knew that in the last grape lay death.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons

I HAD GRAPES AT BREAKFAST TODAY. My favorites are red, but I love purple ones (and green ones less so). Give me the seedless variety, and I am overjoyed. I like grape jelly, too. What about you?

Did you know that grapes are the world’s leading fruit in tons of production? Not apples or oranges. The numerous varieties add up to a cumulative 72 million tons every year.

Grapes are berries that grow on a vine. Because of their taste, versatility, variety, and portability, I am not alone: Folks love grapes worldwide.

Today, we turn to some of the many health benefits of grapes. First, a bit of history. In the end, I want to share new research showing how grapes can increase the biome diversity of your gut and lower cholesterol levels.

Grapes — A brief history

Here’s what I have learned from Grapes: A Brief HistoryGrape culture may be as old as civilization itself. Archaeological evidence shows humans growing grapes as far back as 6500 B.C. By 4000 B.C., grape growing extended from Transcaucasia to Asia Minor and through Egypt’s Nile Delta. In 1700 B.C. Hammurabi of Babylon likely introduced the world’s first liquor laws.

The Hittites spread grape culture westward as they migrated to Create, Bosporus, and Thrace as early as 3000 B.C. The Greeks and Phoenicians subsequently extended grape growing to Carthage, Sicily, southern Italy, Spain, and France. With Roman influence, grape production spread throughout the European continent.

At the fall of the Roman Empire, grape culture and winemaking appeared associated mainly with monasteries. Later, wine use extended outside the religious realm and became a central part of the culture. Grape culture grew from the 16th to the 20th century.

Today, we primarily use grapes for wine, dried fruit (raisins), and my favorite activity — just eating the fresh ones.

Photo by Jene Yeo on Unsplash

Use grapes for health — What’s in them

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) informs us that one cup of my preferred red (or green) grapes weighing approximately 1541 grams has approximately 104 kilocalories, 1 gram of protein, 0.24 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates (of which 23 grams is sugars).

In addition, you get 1.4 grams of fiber, 288 grams of potassium, 15 milligrams of calcium, 0.5 milligrams of iron, and 11 milligrams of magnesium. You also consume 30 milligrams of phosphorus, 3 milligrams of zinc, 5 milligrams of vitamin C, 22 micrograms of vitamin K, and three micrograms of folate.

You can count on vitamin A and D, high water content, and antioxidants. The last include lutein and zeaxanthin. You may have heard about the phytochemical resveratrol, which may have significant health benefits in the grape’s skin.

Oh, one more thing: The flavonoids myricetin and quercetin may help your body to counteract harmful free radical formation.

Use grapes for health — In the news

A few days ago, this headline caught my eye: “Effect of Standardized Grape Powder Consumption on the Gut Microbiome of Healthy Subjects: A Pilot Study.”

Los Angeles (USA)-based researchers aimed to discover the potential health upsides of grapes. They asked 19 healthy volunteers to eat a special diet, one low in polyphenols and fiber, for four weeks.

Next, each participant consumed the same diet with 46 grams daily of grape powder. Forty-six grams is the equivalent of two servings of grapes. The subjects provided blood, stool, and urine samples during both experiment stages.

After four weeks of grape powder supplement consumption, every volunteer increased gut microbiome biodiversity. Such increases tend to be associated with a more robust immune system.

Akkermansia bacteria (which favorably influence blood sugar levels and cholesterol metabolism) increased. Correspondingly, the participants decreased overall cholesterol levels by approximately 6 percent and a drop in “bad” cholesterol (LDL) by 6 percent.

Finally, bile steroid acids (which play a role in cholesterol metabolism) dropped by nearly half (41 percent).

My take? Eating grapes can improve gut biome diversity and also lower blood cholesterol levels.

Use grapes for health — action

You may want to consider putting grapes into your diet as a healthy snack or a tasty addition to your smoothie. A serving is about 32 seedless grapes or one cup.

Most of the nutrients are in the skin, so eat the skin. Unfortunately, pesticides can coat grape skins — the fruit is number six on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, which compiles the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides in the United States. Wash your grapes thoroughly or buy organic ones (but still wash).

If you are a wine consumer, you know the drill: Keep your alcohol consumption in moderation; that is, don’t let your vino intake go past one (for women) or two (for men) standard drinks daily.

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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