The greatness of grapes is real! With the first grape varieties dating as far back as 6000 B.C., this tasty fruit has been a snacking staple for centuries. Although every type of produce has a place in your diet, snacking on green, red or purple varieties can help you get the recommended 1½ to 2 cups of fruit you need each day. Believe it or not, only 10% of Americans eat enough produce according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 99% of the table grapes grown in the United States are grown in California, which is why we chatted with experts at the California Table Grape Commission to learn more about the juicy fruit. Here is everything you need to know about grapes from its health benefits to unique culinary uses.
Grape consumption, health, and longevity
Lead author John Pezzuto, PhD, dean and professor of pharmaceutics of the Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said that his research demonstrates how eating grapes could help to offset some of the effects of a high fat Western diet.
“First, lifespan is increased, which indicates a global, full-body response,” Pezzuto told Healthline. “Next, the antioxidant defense system of the body is enhanced. Additionally, fatty liver, which is estimated to affect 25% of the population and lead to poor health outcomes, is prevented or at least delayed.”
According to Pezzuto, the study findings also indicate that anyone could potentially benefit from eating more grapes, regardless of which diet type or eating pattern a person might adhere to.
“The mechanisms we have shown to be mediated by grapes can be generalized to promote good health, irrespective of diet,” Pezzuto said.
A healthy gut microbiome is important for overall health and well-being and influences the functioning of vital organs, including the brain.
Study co-author Jeffrey Idle, PhD, director and endowed professor at the Arthur G. Zupko’s Systems Pharmacology and Pharmacogenomics at Long Island University, explained that it was apparent in the research that the addition of grapes had a profound effect on microbiota in the mouse model.
But further research is still needed to establish whether the health effects of grapes can be reproduced in humans, particularly if grape consumption could reduce or reverse fatty liver disease.
Grapes may not offset poor eating habits
In general, experts do not recommend a high fat Western diet, even if adding more grapes into the mix could potentially offset some — but not all — of the negative effects.
“Grapes are known to contain resveratrol, a phytonutrient [and] antioxidant that is anti-inflammatory, and may be beneficial to health,” said Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of “Recipe For Survival.”
“With that said, a high fat [or] high-animal-protein Western diet cannot fully be negated with just the addition of 2 cups of grapes [per] day, just as we have seen that adding fish oil supplements to an unhealthy diet is not a panacea for what ails us either.”
Hunnes noted that it’s often difficult to observe any sufficient changes in health outcomes in nutrition studies conducted over short periods of time, particularly in non-human animal studies (Pezzuto’s mouse study spanned just over 18 weeks).
Healthy eating patterns for disease prevention
Research from 2020 attributes the high fat Western diet to the prevalence of fatty liver disease in developed countries like the United States, with as many as one-quarter of all Americans affected.
To reduce the effects of Western eating patterns, most health experts recommend following a healthy, balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods.
For example, a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish and plant-forward foods, is high in nutrients, including healthy fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats), which are known for their health benefits and ability to help ward off chronic disease.
In addition, a whole-foods, plant-based diet, when balanced, is known to lower the risk for chronic conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease.
In other words, simply adding a couple of cups of grapes to an otherwise unhealthy diet is less effective for overall health than following a healthy, balanced eating pattern for life. According to the new research, grapes can be a valuable addition to the current dietary recommendations.
“Such that diet influences disease, a healthy, balanced diet provides the best overall disease prevention,” Idle said.
“Daily consumption of 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetables has been recommended, with no stipulation as to specific fruits, for example. Our research in conjunction with Dr. Pezzuto strongly suggests that table grapes should be a major constituent of these 5 servings per day.”
Areas for further research
A next step worth investigating could be the palliative effect of grapes on the development of fatty liver disease.
“This might be profoundly important since so many people are affected by fatty liver. We need to examine this in greater detail,” Pezzuto said.
“We are particularly fascinated by the effect of grapes on gene expression. We have reported this effect in the brain and liver, both with good outcomes, but we know from unpublished work that gene expression is also changed in other tissues, like the kidney, for example,” Pezzuto said. “We will explore this in greater detail.”
In addition, Pezzuto’s grape study was conducted with females, and his team is currently conducting studies to investigate the effect of grapes on males.
“Some colleagues have suggested the effects may be even greater [in] males,” Pezzuto said. “This is a long-term study, but we are excited to have the opportunity to continue this work.”
Health Benefits of Grapes
“Over 20 years of grape research links grapes to a wide variety of health-promoting activities in the body,” says Courtney Romano, M.B.A., R.D., health advisor to the California Table Grape Commission. “Grapes contain over 1600 natural compounds, including antioxidants and other polyphenols.” She adds that polyphenols help protect the health and function of our cells which is the foundation of good health, and that grape polyphenols in particular promote antioxidant activity and influence cell communications that affect important biological processes in the body. Some specific health benefits of grapes include:
- Heart Health: When it comes to cardiovascular health, grapes are overachievers. “Studies indicate that grapes promote healthy blood vessels through vasorelaxation, which in turn is linked to healthy blood flow and pressure,” Romano shares. “Grapes have also been shown to promote healthy blood lipid profiles, counter oxidative stress and inflammation, and platelet aggregation.” Grapes naturally have no saturated fat or cholesterol and are very low sodium, making them a great heart-healthy snacking choice.
- Brain Health: Not only do grapes boast some impressive cardiac health benefits, but they may benefit your brain too. Research conducted with elderly individuals with mild cognitive decline found that consuming grapes every day helped preserve healthy metabolic activity in regions of the brain associated with early-stage Alzheimers’ where metabolic decline takes hold. Romano explains that grapes of all colors are a natural source of flavonols, and a recent study found that a higher intake of flavonols is associated with a 48% decreased risk of developing Alzheimer dementia; even more of a reason to add grapes to your snacking rotation.
- Colon Health: In a pilot study of individuals with colon cancer, consuming grapes every day for two weeks reduced the expression of certain target genes responsible for promoting tumor growth in the colon. Romano says that this benefit was observed in healthy colon tissue, where no impact was seen in the cancerous tissue, suggesting that grapes may be beneficial in maintaining colon health.
- Weight Management: Grapes are naturally a low-calorie, fat-free food with a relatively low glycemic index. Just one cup of grapes has only 100 calories and is composed of over 80% water, making them a high-volume, nutrient-dense snack that you can eat more for a lower calorie cost.
- Skin Health: Researchers recently found that consuming grapes for two weeks was protective against UV light. Specifically, the study found that significantly more UV exposure was required to cause sunburn following grape consumption. “The grape diet was also associated with decreased DNA damage, preservation of skin cells, and a reduction in inflammatory markers,” Romano explains.
- Immune Health: “Grape compounds including antioxidants and other polyphenols, help protect the health and function of cells which is beneficial to the immune system,” Romano says. “Individual grape compounds like resveratrol and certain flavonoids have been linked to improved immune function.”
- Cancer : Grapes contain powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols. These are thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. One of these is resveratrol. It is found in the skins of red grapes.
Laboratory studies have suggested that resveratrol may be able to slow or prevent the growth of tumors in lymph, liver, stomach, breast, colon, skin cancer, and leukemia.
Resveratrol is also present in red wine. Few studies have looked at the association between red wine and cancer risk in humans, but it has been shown that high intakes of alcohol on a consistent basis can increase the risk of cancer. Moderation is key.
A moderate intake of alcohol is defined by The Dietary Guidelines for Americans as up to one drink per dayTrusted Source for women, and up to two drinks per day for men.
Another natural anti-inflammatory that occurs in grapes is the flavonoid quercetin. Studies have suggested that this, too, may help prevent or slow cancer growth.
A final word
Both red and green grapes contain resveratrol, but red grapes, and specifically their skins, contain more. It is better to get the benefits of resveratrol from eating grapes rather than drinking wine.
Resveratrol is available in supplement form, but the benefits of grapes include fiber and a range of minerals and vitamins. Dietary sources of nutrients are more beneficial than supplements, because they supply fiber and other nutrients.