US: The health benefits of a grape rich diet

The benefits of eating fresh fruit are often touted, and with good reason: they are low in calories, high in nutrients and are a good source of fiber. Grapes are no exception, and while they share the same beneficial characteristics of most other fruit, they also contain special compounds that can provide additional benefits to your heart and overall health.

Some of the big health aspects of grapes have been known for quite some time.

“Grapes have no cholesterol, they have virtually zero sodium and they only have 90 calories per serving,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. But continuing research on the compounds within grapes is painting a picture of grapes that helps the body on different levels.

Grapes are loaded with polyphenols, a family of compounds within grapes, which have been receiving a lot of attention for what they can do to help with cardiovascular health.

For one, research has been done on the effect polyphenols contained in grapes have on levels of LDL cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol, can lead to a buildup of cholesterol along blood vessel walls. That buildup is dangerous because it can eventually result in a blockage, which, in turn, can cause a heart attack.

“Recent studies have shown that the polyphenols in grapes help prevent LDL cholesterol from inflaming one's arteries, thereby reducing the chances of bad cholesterol causing an arterial blockage,” said Nave. She added that the same kinds of compounds that mitigate the effects of bad cholesterol have been shown to promote levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, which clears away the stuff that can lead to heart disease.

In addition to stopping bad cholesterol and promoting the good kind, polyphenols in grapes have been shown to manage blood pressure levels by contributing to the relaxation of arteries. While also reducing the aggregation of blood platelets, and so helping prevent blood clots, the compounds within grapes seem to help the overall health of the cardiovascular system.

Antioxidants, specific kinds of polyphenols found in grapes, have garnered a lot of buzz with health-conscious consumers lately, and with good reason.

“Those compounds found in grapes, and in many other kinds of produce, combat free radicals, which are molecules that can damage cells,” said Nave. That's important because, if left unchecked by antioxidants, free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which is a condition linked to cardiovascular disease, strokes and other ailments.

One of the antioxidant effects of grapes that should be of special interest to men is how grapes have been found to relieve prostate issues. Several studies have shown that the compounds in grapes help reduce the bladder damage associated with an enlarged prostate. Specifically, it helps protect against the loss of bladder function that sometimes comes with a partial obstruction.

With those kinds of benefits, you'd think polyphenols were vitamins developed in a lab specifically to keep one's heart in shape and counter the effects of aging. But those compounds are naturally occurring, beneficial and plentiful. And to top it off, they're conveniently wrapped in the edible skin of a grape.

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