These super fruits contain beneficial compounds called flavonoids, which are phytonutrients that give the fruit it's vibrant purple color, as well as various juices and red wine; the stronger the color, the higher the concentration of flavonoids.
These flavonoid compounds include quercitin, as well as a second flavonoid-type compound (falling into the chemical category of stilbenes)called resveratrol.
Both compounds appear to decrease the risk of heart disease by:
Reducing platelet clumping and harmful blood clots.
Protecting LDL cholesterol from the free radical damage that initiates LDL's artery-damaging actions.
Grapes and products made from them, such as wine and grape juice, may protect the French from their high-fat diets.
Diets high in saturated fats like butter and lard, as well as lifestyle habits like smoking are risk factors for heart disease.
Yet, French people with these habits have a lower risk of heart attack than Americans do.
One clue that may help explain this "French paradox" is their frequent consumption of grapes and red wines.
Protection Against Heart Disease
In a study in which blood samples were drawn from 20 healthy volunteers both before and after they drank grape juice, researchers found several beneficial effects from their juice consumption.
First, an increase occurred in levels of nitric oxide, a compound produced in the body that helps reduce the formation of clots in blood vessels.
Second, a decrease occurred in platelet aggregation, or blood clotting, by red blood cells.
Lastly, researchers saw an increase in levels of alpha-tocopherol, an antioxidant compound that is a member of the vitamin-E family, and this increase was accompanied by a 50% increase in plasma antioxidant activity.
These findings confirmed the benefits found in an earlier study, where researchers found not only an increase in blood antioxidant activity, but also discovered that grape juice protected LDL cholesterol from oxidation, a phenomenon that can turn LDL into an artery-damaging molecule.
(Although LDL is often called the "bad" form of cholesterol, it is actually benign and only becomes harmful after it's damaged by free radicals or "oxidized.)
Additionally, investigators have found that phenolic compounds in the skins inhibit protein tyrosine kinases, a group of enzymes that play a key role in cell regulation.
Compounds that inhibit these enzymes also suppress the production of a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict, thus reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart.
This protein, called endothelin-1, is thought to be a key contributing agent in the development of heart disease.
Resveratrol Helps Keep the Heart Muscle Flexible and Healthy
A team of researchers led by Gary Meszaros and Joshua Bomser at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine has shown that resveratrol not only inhibits production of endothelin-1, but also directly affects heart muscle cells to maintain heart health.
Their research, published in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, shows that resveratrol inhibits angiotensin II, a hormone that is secreted in response to high blood pressure and heart failure.
Angiotensin II has a negative effect on heart health in that it signals cardiac fibroblasts, the family of heart muscle cells responsible for secreting collagen, to proliferate.
The result is the production of excessive amounts of collagen, which causes the heart muscle to stiffen, reducing its ability to pump blood efficiently.
Polyphenols Lower Key Factors for Coronary Heart Disease in Women
More evidence shows these super fruits and their juice, not just red wine, offer considerable cardiovascular benefits.
Consuming a drink made from adding just 36 g (1.26 ounces) of a powder made from freeze-dried grapes to a glass of water daily for 4 weeks resulted in a wide variety of cardioprotective effects in 24 pre- and 20 postmenopausal women, shows a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Blood levels of LDL cholesterol and apolipoproteins B and E dropped significantly.
(These apolipoproteins are involved in the binding of LDL and VLDL cholesterol to blood vessel walls, one of the beginning steps in the development of atherosclerosis.)
Triglycerides dropped 15 and 6% in pre- and postmenopausal women, respectively.
Cholesterol ester transfer protein activity dropped 15%.
(Inhibition of this protein has been shown to increase levels of HDL while decreasing LDL levels.)
Levels of urinary F(2)-isoprostanes (a marker of free radical damage in the body) dropped significantly as did blood levels of TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which plays a major role in the inflammation process).
The rich mixture of phytonutrients found in these super fruits, which includes flavans, anthocyanins, quercetin, myricetin, kaempferol, as well as resveratrol, is thought to be responsible for these numerous protective effects on cholesterol metabolism, oxidative stress (free radical activity) and inflammation.
Wine Protective for Persons with Hypertension
If you have high blood pressure, a glass of wine with your evening meal may be a good idea, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In persons with high blood pressure, the risk of death from cardiovascular disease is much higher in northern Europe and the United States than in Mediterranean countries.
These Super Fruits Provide Many of the Cardio-protective Benefits of Red Wine
While studies show red wine offers numerous protective benefits, grape juice also provides the majority of these effects without the risks of alcohol consumption, which, if excessive can lead to accidents, liver problems, higher blood pressure, heart arrhythmias-and alcoholism.
In addition, red wine causes migraines in some people and may bring on an attack of gout in others.
Wine often contains added preservatives, colors and flavors, which are not listed on the label and may cause adverse reactions.
Sulfur dioxide, for example, is an additive frequently found in red wine that can trigger an asthma attack in individuals sensitive to this chemical.
If consumed by pregnant women, any alcoholic beverage including wine, can cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
So, if you want to avoid alcohol and protect your heart, toast your health with at least three daily glasses of red or purple grape juice.
Enhancing a Woman's Health
Red grape skins and seeds contain recently isolated compounds that a study published in Cancer Research has shown reduce the size of estrogen-dependent breast cancer tumors.
In breast cancer, local estrogen production has been demonstrated to play a major role in promoting tumor growth.
An enzyme called aromatase, which converts other hormone substrates (specifically, androgens) into estrogens, is present in greater amounts in breast cancer tissue compared to normal breast tissue and is thought to play a crucial role in breast cancer initiation and progression.
The skins and seeds contain compounds called procyanidin B dimers that can inhibit aromatase, and in this study, were used to significantly reduce the size of mammary tumors in laboratory animals.
It's believed these phytonutrients in the skins and seeds, while not as powerful as drugs used to inhibit aromatase (e.g., anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane), could play an important role as cancer preventive agents.
If you drink wine, choose red.
And next time you buy grapes, consider choosing the red variety with seeds.
Resveratrol May Lower Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
Resveratrol, a naturally occurring polyphenol found mainly in these super fruits and red wine, greatly reduces the levels of amyloid-beta peptides (Abeta).
Plaques containing Abeta are a hallmark finding in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Purple Juice & Red Wines Protective against Food-Borne Illness
If you get a food-borne illness, drink purple grape juice or a glass of red wine.
Commonly used antibiotics destroy the body's health-promoting intestinal bacteria, but red wines , particularly Cabernet, Pinot noir and Merlot, inhibit food borne pathogens without harming beneficial probiotic bacteria.
Research presented at the Institute of Food Technologists' annual conference tested four food borne pathogens and four pro-biotics.
The pro-biotics weren't inhibited by red wines; the pathogens were.
Red Wine Greatly Cuts Colorectal Cancer Risk, Reduces Risk of All-Causes of Mortality
Drinking at least three glasses of red wine a week could cut the risk of colorectal cancer by almost 70%, researchers reported at the 71st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in Las Vegas.
Colorectal cancer accounts for 9% of new cancer cases every year worldwide, occurring primarily in the United States and Europe.
Fortunately, if diagnosed early, it remains one of the most curable cancers.
Concord Juice Ranked among the Highest in Antioxidant Activity
Not all fruit juices are the same.
They differ markedly in the variety of phenolic compounds and antioxidant activity, according to Alan Crozier, Professor of Plant Biochemistry and Human Nutrition, who, with colleagues at the University of Glasgow, evaluated 13 commercially available popular juices.
Concord grapes came out on top with the highest and broadest range of polyphenols and the highest overall antioxidant capacity.
(The main components in the purple juice were flavan-3-ols, anthocyanins, and hydroxycinnamates, together accounting for 93% of the total phenolic content.)
Other top scorers were cloudy apple juice, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice.
Results for the red grape juice were said to be equal to those for a Beaujolais red wine.
Interestingly, however, white juice, mainly containing hydroxycinnamates, had the lowest total phenolic content.
The products analyzed were: Spray Classic Cranberry; Welch's Purple; Tesco Pure Pressed Red; Pomegreat Pomegranate; Tesco Pure Apple (clear); Copella Apple (cloudy); Tesco Pure Grapefruit; Tesco Value Pure Orange (concentrate); Tropicana Pure Premium Smooth Orange (squeezed); Tropicana Pure Premium Tropical Fruit; Tesco Pure Pressed White; Tesco Pure Pineapple; Del Monte Premium Tomato.
For the most antioxidants, choose fully ripened grapes:
Research conducted at the University of Innsbruck in Austria suggests that as fruits fully ripen, almost to the point of spoilage, their antioxidant levels actually increase.
Key to the process is the change in color that occurs as fruits ripen, a similar process to that seen in the fall when leaves turn from green to red to yellow to brown, a color change caused by the breakdown and disappearance of chlorophyll, which gives leaves and fruits their green color.
Until now, no one really knew what happened to chlorophyll during this process, but lead researcher, Bernard Kräutler, and his team, working together with botanists over the past several years, has identified the first decomposition products in leaves: colorless, polar NCCs (nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolytes), that contain four pyrrole rings, like chlorophyll and heme.
After examining apples and pears, the scientists discovered that NCCs replace the chlorophyll not only in the leaves of fruit trees, but in their very ripe fruits, especially in the peel and flesh immediately below it.
When chlorophyll is released from its protein complexes in the decomposition process, it has a phototoxic effect: when irradiated with light, it absorbs energy and can transfer it to other substances.
For example, it can transform oxygen into a highly reactive, destructive form," report the researchers.
However, NCCs have just the opposite effect.
Extremely powerful antioxidants, they play an important protective role for the plant, and when consumed as part of the human diet, NCCs deliver the same potent antioxidant protection within our bodies.
How to Store
Since these super fruits tend to spoil and ferment at room temperature, they should always be stored in the refrigerator.
Loosely wrap unwashed grapes in a paper towel and place them in a plastic bag.
This way, they'll keep fresh in the refrigerator for several days.
While freezing detracts from some of their flavor, the frozen variety are a wonderful snack and particularly intriguing to children.
To freeze them, wash and pat dry, then arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place in freezer.
Once frozen, transfer to a heavy plastic bag and return them to the freezer.
Marilyn likes to use them frozen as mini ice cubes in her glass of wine.
How to Enjoy
Tips for Preparing:
These super fruits should be washed under cold running water right before consuming or using in a recipe.
After washing, either drain them in a colander or gently pat dry.
If you're not going to consume the whole bunch at one time, use scissors to separate small clusters from the stem instead of removing them individually.
This will help keep the remainder fresher by preventing the stem from drying out.
While some recipes call for peeled grapes, evaluate the recipe to see whether including the skin would actually greatly change the taste and texture, since the skin contains many of the fruit's vital nutrients.
If you do need to use them peeled, it's easier to use the American varieties since their skin more readily pulls away from the pulp.
Try to use the seedless variety in your recipes whenever possible.
You'll find them much more pleasant to eat.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Serve stewed and spiced grapes with poached chicken breast for a light and healthy entrée.
They're are a wonderful addition to any fruit salad.
For an enhanced visual effect, consider using a few different varieties or colors.
Give your curries a fruity punch by including fresh grapes in the recipe.
Add them to mixed green salads.
These super fruits are great served with cheese as a snack or within a green salad.
If you're drinking the juice for health benefits, avoid products labeled as grape "drinks."
This is often an imitation high-sugar product with little real grape juice.
These super fruits are excellent sources of manganese and good sources of vitamin-B6, thiamin (vitamin B1), potassium, and vitamin-C.
In addition, they contain flavonoids: phytochemicals that are antioxidant compounds.
Black Grape Margaritas
This is a quick and flavorful way to serve grapes to your party guests!
Makes 2 cocktails.
1 c. black table grapes
2 shots (3 oz.) tequila
2 shots (3 oz.) sweet and sour mix
2 c. crushed ice
lime slices for garnish
Place all ingredients into the bowl of your blender and puree until blended and slushy, about 2 minutes.
Rim the margarita glasses with coarse sea salt.
Serve in glasses and garnish with a lime slice.
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