At present, around 72 million tonnes of grapes are cultivated throughout the world. Although it is true that grapes are mostly used to produce wine or grapeseed oil, table grapes are popularly known for their properties and benefits.
Grapes nutrition provide a range of potential health benefits, including prevention of heart disease, constipation, and improved eye health. In this article, we will find out what properties and health benefits are characteristic of this small fruit.
Grape is a fruit that grows on vines from the plant genus Vitis, so it is botanically considered a berry. This fruit grows in clusters that can contain between 15 and 300 fruits and can acquire different tones depending on its type.
The colors of this fruit can go from yellow to black, including green, orange, pink, crimson, and dark blue. As a curious fact, the popular "white" grapes are actually green and, evolutionarily, they come from the purple varieties.
According to some studies, the cultivation of the domesticated variety started more than 6000 years ago in the Near East. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics already record the cultivation of these purple fruits and, having historical data, the ancient Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans also cultivated purple varieties, both for eating and for producing wine.
Yeast, one of the first microorganisms that humans have been able to control and domesticate, is produced naturally in the skin of fruits, which led to the discovery of some of the first alcoholic beverages, such as wine.
Further on, the cultivation was extended to other European regions, as well as to the north of Africa and North America. Regarding wine production, for the time being, the oldest known winery was found in Armenia and dates back to approximately 4000 BC.
This fruit can be eaten fresh, which are known as table grapes, or they can be used as raw material for elaborations such as wine, jam, juice, grape seed extract, vinegar, and even oil.
The varieties that are cultivated for their commercialization can be distinguished between table or wine grapes. Although it is true that all of them belong to the same species, the Vitis vinifera, both types have significant differences.
While the table ones tend to be bigger, seedless and with thin skin, the cultivated type to produce wine is smaller, with seeds and with a thicker skin, a very desirable characteristic for the elaboration of wine, as the skin gives the wine its full aroma.
As we all know, a diet rich in fruit and vegetable is related to a reduction of the risk of various physical illnesses and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer.
As it happens with other fruits and vegetables, grapes are an excellent source of fiber and water. In addition, antioxidant and other nutrients, present naturally in this fruit, make them particularly healthy.
Although more investigation is needed to confirm some of the benefits, in the following lines, we present how grapes and their nutrients can favor our health.
Studies in animal models suggest that quercetin and resveratrol, two flavonols present in this fruit, may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and protect against vascular damage caused by "bad" cholesterol or low-density lipoproteins.
In addition, research hypothesizes that grape polyphenols have antioxidant, hypolipidemic and inflammatory properties that may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. All this thanks to the prevention of platelet accumulation, the reduction of blood pressure, and the reduction of the risk of irregular heart rhythms.
Finally, these small fruits are rich in fiber and potassium, both very beneficial for heart health. High potassium intake has been associated with a lower risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, and preservation of bone mineral density.
As mentioned in the previous part, increasing potassium intake can help reduce the adverse effects of an excess of sodium in the diet.
Grapes and their high content of potassium may help reduce the effects of sodium in people with high blood pressure. Fiber is also essential to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, including blood pressure.
According to some studies, some fruits can help reduce the risk of diabetes type 2 in adults. It is important to know that it is the fruit and not juices elaborated from them what provides all these benefits that protect against diabetes.
Among the fruits tested in these studies, there are also grapes. Although the relatively high level of sugar found in these fruits may make some people wonder if they are really safe for people with diabetes, vitamins, minerals, and fiber make them a healthy alternative for satisfying those with the sweetest tooth.
In other research, it is suggested that the flavonoids in grapes, particularly resveratrol, can be effective in the protection against diabetic neuropathy. It is hypothesized that this is due to the neuroprotective effects of these antioxidants.
Animal study models indicate that resveratrol may also protect against retinopathy, a condition that can severely affect vision.
Both diabetic neuropathy and retinopathy are conditions that can occur when diabetes is poorly controlled; so, given the benefits of grapes for diabetes, this fruit may help protect against these physical conditions.
Thanks to the anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin (remember it is a powerful antioxidant), some animal studies indicate that its consumption may help relieve some symptoms of allergies, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, and dermal reactions.
As we mentioned previously, grapes are a significant source of water and dietary fiber. This can help people stay hydrated, regulate intestinal transit, and consequently reduce the risk of constipation.
Based on the results of some in vitro studies, it is suggested that resveratrol in this fruit may be effective in treating acne, especially if applied with benzoyl peroxide as a topical treatment.
Among many of the antioxidant compounds present in grapes, these contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which could help keep good eye health. It is hypothesized that these compounds can neutralize the free radicals, reducing oxidative eye stress, damage to the retina, and can help prevent conditions such as cataracts.
In addition, laboratory tests suggest that resveratrol may protect against some vision problems, including age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and also cataracts.
Grapes contain powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties. Laboratory studies suggest that one of these antioxidants, resveratrol, mentioned above, may slow or prevent the growth of tumors of lymph, liver, stomach, breast, colon, skin cancer, and leukemia.
However, we want to point out that all these studies are still in the process of development, so that, although they may offer a small hope for the prevention and treatment of some diseases, the real and exact benefits of this fruit still have to be determined, both in cancer and in any other condition.
Parry, J., Su, L., Moore, J., Cheng, Z., Luther, M., Rao, J. N., Wang, J. Y. & Yu, L. L. (2006). Chemical Compositions, Antioxidant Capacities, and Antiproliferative Activities of Selected Fruit Seed Flours. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 54(11): 3773–3778.
Shi, J., Yu, J., Pohorly, J. E. & Kakuda, Y. (2003). Polyphenolics in Grape Seeds—Biochemistry and Functionality. Journal of Medicinal Food, 6(4): 291–299.