Skip the Red Wine and Go Straight to the Grapes: Phytonutrient Powerhouses

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In all the hubbub surrounding red wine and its high antioxidant levels, I tend to think people have overlooked the obvious – all these nutrients are also found in grapes, only without the negative health effects of alcohol consumption. Yes, drinking is fun, but drinking red wine specifically for the health benefits is a little like riding a unicycle from Montreal to Toronto – it’ll get you there, but there are more efficient ways of reaching your destination. Namely, eating the grape.

Researchers out of the University of Michigan Health System are working out a hypothesis involving grapes and their ability to reduce risk factors related to cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. It is thought that these observed effects are due to the phytochemicals in the grapes that are naturally occurring antioxidants; the antioxidants which also, not surprisingly, show up in the wine glass. This includes the potent antioxidant resveratrol which has been capturing headlines for the last few years and has been touted as the secret behind the French paradox.

Eating grapes, the researchers speculate, could in fact slow down the progression of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a group of symptoms, including abdominal obesity, blood fat and cholesterol disorders, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which are precursors to heart disease and type II diabetes.

The scientists collected a blend of different types of ordinary table grapes (green, red and black) that were dehydrated and ground into powdered form. These were then incorporated into the diets of lab rats bred to being prone to obesity. Some rats were given the grape-enriched diet while the control group was not, but both groups were fed a “high-fat, American style diet.”

The two rat groups were tested for various metabolic markers throughout the experiment. After three months rats fed the grape-enriched diet had lower blood pressure, greater heart function and reduced inflammatory markers in the heart and blood, had lower blood triglyceride levels and greater glucose tolerance versus the rats in the non-grape group. Surprisingly, these effects were observed despite no change in the rats’ body weight.

“Reducing these risk factors may delay the onset of diabetes or heart disease, or lessen the severity of the diseases. Ultimately it may lessen the health burden of these increasingly common conditions.” said lead researcher E. Mitchell Seymour, Ph.D. The researchers speculate that, although these findings are not necessarily translatable to humans, a diet high in phytochemical-rich fruits in general could be of great benefit to humans.

Indeed, eating nutritious whole foods, including grapes and other high-phytochemical fruits and vegetables, as well as avoiding damaging processed foods could do more than slow the progression of metabolic syndrome, I would speculate. It may prevent any of the symptoms from manifesting at all.

Author by Doug DiPasquale

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