red & green grapes

Purple, Red & Green

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

Grapes are perhaps the most famous of all the fruit which fall into the berry family. With thousands of varieties around the world, they are also abundant despite their reputation as being persnickety and temperamental to grow. Grown widely in the Old World, grapes may have been introduced to the Americas by early Spanish explorers, and wine-producing varieties found in California and some parts of South America—especially Chile and Argentina—are among the tastiest in the world. California is the largest producer of grapes for U.S. consumption (though the recent drought may severely damage the state's output this year and next).

Among their many health benefits, the typical red, purple or green grape sold in U.S. supermarkets and stores is loaded with Vitamin C—beneficial to the human body in scores of ways, but which most doctors and diet experts agree helps to ward off routine problems like colds and flus. A single one cup serving of grapes can contain up to a quarter of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C. In addition, the grape is a good source of potassium, which, according to Web MD, is the electrolyte essential to the heart’s muscle function; without potassium the heart would eventually stop squeezing blood through your body. The potassium found in fresh fruits like grapes is also useful for healthy muscles and kidney functions.

Grapes are also a particularly rich source of Vitamin K, which—according to the American Cancer Society—is essential for maintaining healthy blood and a reliable liver function. People who suffer from a deficiency of Vitamin K may be prone to problems with normal blood clotting, putting them as risk for higher rates of bleeding. Major studies are also underway to determine if Vitamin K can play a role in the reduction of certain cancer risks, though the ACS website cautions that so far these studies have not proven conclusive.

Grapes, as well as their seeds (which are mostly edible), are also a potent source of antioxidants, a family of substances which include beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene, all of which, according to the National Institutes of Health, help to break down toxins—natural or otherwise—which may increase your chances of cancer and heart disease.

One of the most intriguing and compelling benefits of grapes is their direct link to improved heart health. Major studies over the last 20 years demonstrate that grapes—like other fresh foods high in antioxidants—greatly reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions. Grapes have also been shown to reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and even reduce blood-pressure; all interesting clues which may help explain the European tendency toward lower rates of heart disease and stroke, despite diets which generally contain richer, sweeter foods: Europeans eat a larger quantity of fresh grapes than their American counterparts.

Grapes are a relatively easy to handle and can be eaten anytime—at room temperature or chilled, though they will last longer if stored in the refrigerator (or in a plastic bag in a cooler if you are traveling or picnicking). According to the Dairy Council of California, grapes should always be washed first in cool water. In the hottest months, the grape—like watermelons, peaches or apples—makes a great snack and provides tasty hydration.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Thursday Review in spring 2013, and in the WOW! Knology Health & Wellness Newsletter.

Related Thursday Review articles:

The Tiny, Incredible, Edible Blueberry; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; September 14, 2013.

An Apple a Day: Healthy Benefits of the Apple; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; May 28, 2013.