Maybe I’m being a little selfish. This week’s featured ingredient, grapes, is probably my all-time favorite food. I can’t really think of any food I like more…to me, they are perfect just as they are: a whole-food sweet package of goodness from the earth. Love ‘em, just like ‘em, or not, there’s no denying that they offer a lot of health benefits. For athletes, they offer a good daily nutrition carbohydrate source as a whole-food and a natural option for training fuel as raisins or grape juice (can be used in Kelli’s Homebrew). For those who enjoy wine now and again, they offer health benefits beyond other alcoholic beverages. This week, let’s raise a glass to one of nature’s best fruits while promoting our hearts’ health – and tomorrow, I’ll provide a GREAT GRAPE-CHICKEN RECIPE!
So, obviously, grapes offer an amazing flavor. They also offer wonderful juice and wine. But, beyond taste, what’s the scoop? Glad you asked.
For nutritive benefits, grapes have been well-studied and documented. Over 100 research studies on grapes (or products made from them, like red wine) have shown many of their health benefits to come from a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols. Three types of polyphenols seem most important: (1) flavonoids, (2) phenolic acids, and (3) resveratro.
Flavonoids are phytonutrients that give the vibrant purple color to grapes, grape juice 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 called resveratrol. If you’re familiar with FRS-brand sports drinks and foods, you know that their main energy-ingredient is quercitin. Both compounds, quercitin and resveratrol appear to decrease the risk of heart disease by 1) Reducing platelet clumping and harmful blood clots and 2) Protecting LDL cholesterol from the free radical damage that initiates LDL’s artery-damaging action.
It’s these benefits that likely allow grapes to protect societies that eat both a combo of high fat foods and a lot of grapes and/or wine (Mediterranean and French societies). Let’s take an in-depth look:
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, nitric oxide levels were raised. Nitric Oxide is 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 finding confirmed conclusions of earlier studies which had found that grape juice protected LDL cholesterol from oxidation (once it’s oxidized, it becomes dangerous as it’s able to form plagues in the arteries) by increasing antioxidant levels in the blood stream.
What’s more, investigators have found that phenolic compounds in grape skins inhibit protein tyrosine kinases, a group of enzymes that play a key role in cell regulation. These compounds 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. Maybe these compounds can help cyclist’s arteries to stay dilated and elastic, thereby increasing oxygen flow during intense training?!?
Then, there’s resveratrol.
Resveratrol is a natural phenol that inhibits the production of the potent blood vessel constrictor, endothelin-1 (ET-1). It appears to work at the genetic level, preventing a gene that directs the production of ET-1. In fact, resveratrol prevents any increases of ET-1, at least in part, by significantly reducing free radical formation.
Next, resveratrol helps keep the heart muscle flexible and healthy. A team of researchers at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine have shown that resveratrol not only inhibits production of endothelin-1, but also directly affects heart muscle cells to maintain heart health. Their research 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, heart muscle cells that secrete collagen. It’s their production and the excessive amount of collagen that causes the heart muscle to stiffen and lose its ability to pump blood efficiently – not what an athlete wants!
And, there’s more. Resveratrol also prevents the cardiac fibroblasts that are already present from changing into myofibroblasts, the type of cardiac fibroblast that produces the most collagen.
Beyond the heart, resveratrol may reduce cancer risk, especially estrogen-linked cancers, improve lung function as an anti-inflammatory agent, and an anti-aging agent.
Grapes’ saponins also support a cyclist’s heart. Saponins, plant protective agents found in the skin, are phytonutrients that help lower cholesterol. They are believed to bind to and prevent the absorption of cholesterol and are also known to settle down inflammation pathways, an effect that could have implications in not only heart disease, but cancer and chronic diseases. Some good news for wine drinkers: The saponins dissolve into the wine during its fermentation process.
For the sake of our post, I’ll stop with these heart-health benefits…but, the list of healthy reasons to enjoy grapes goes on and on. If you want a strong heart in life and on the road, water, or trail, include grapes and grape-products in your diet. Eat them in meals and snacks for daily nutrition, and try grape juice within my homebrew (http://www.apexnutritionllc.com/freetools.html) and as raisins for training nutrition (you’ll get 15 grams of carbs in just 2 Tablespoons of grapes). The more we choose natural foods to nourish our bodies, the better we’ll feel in adventures.
Give your body what it needs for great energy and health every day and during training with the right Foods, Drinks and Supplements. If you would like my help with it, I offer comprehensive plans as Instant Downloads and as Custom Clients starting at just $20. And, as a FuelRightBlog reader, get a further discount with coupon code: password-frblog username-reader. I’d love to work with you!
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