The Nutritious Fruit of the Vine

February 08, 2013

Grapes and their seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch. Find out what parts of the body they benefit most

Most people who enjoy grapes haven't enjoyed the seeds. Years ago, the demand for a "better" grape led to the cultivation of the seedless grape. Grape lovers rejoiced. Never again would we have to spit out the crunchy, bitter seeds into an unsightly pile; but little did we know, those grape seeds we were disdainfully discarding were humble little packages of powerful ingredients that possessed a variety of health benefits.

The beneficial components of the grape seed are the proanthocyanidins (PCOs). Studies conducted since the 50s, have shown grape seeds to have a wide range of health benefits - most markedly for their role as a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, and for reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol.

As an antioxidant, PCOs have been shown to be 20 times more potent than vitamin C, and 50 times more potent than vitamin E. Vitamin C and E are two of the most common antioxidants, and PCOs actually support the two vitamins in scavenging free radicals in the body.

PCOs are beneficial to the vascular system. They help by strengthening the walls of our blood vessels. This reduces capillary fragility that can make one prone to excessive bruising. Improving the integrity of our veins also helps to keep the vessels pumping sufficiently and reduce backflow, varicose veins, and edema (swelling). PCOs have also been shown to help circulation.

PCOs have also been found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, and anti-allergic properties. They seem to inhibit the production and release of compounds that cause inflammation including histamine. Because of their anti-inflammatory action, PCOs may be used in treating asthma and emphysema, arthritis, joint damage, and swelling, and may even reduce the severity of allergies.

If you can’t find seeded grapes (and by the way the seeds are not as enjoyable as the sweet fruit), grape juice has also demonstrated health benefits. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) supports the possible role of grape juice in maintaining healthy nocturnal blood pressure. It’s healthy and normal for blood pressure to drop at night. Those who do not experience these nighttime dips in blood pressure may, over time, be at increased risk for heart-related health issues.

A literature review published in the Nutrition Reviews also supports grape juice (not only the seeds) in promoting heart health, specifically in supporting flexible, clear arteries and healthy blood flow through beneficial effects on endothelial function, oxidative stress and inflammation as well as LDL oxidation.

Who knew those little grapes had such big potential? If you're shopping for grape juice, read the label and make sure it’s 100% juice. In terms of PCOs, the highest concentration is found in grape seeds, but eating the entire grape is healthy too - PCOs aren't limited to grapes. Blueberries, cherries, and plums are other good sources. And like the grapes, the seeds and peels have the highest amount of PCOs.  Since the seeds are not so fun to eat - eating grapes with their skin will provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and plant nutrients that benefit all body systems.