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Preventive Maintenance: Grapes make for a great sweet and sour treat

Around 6,000 years ago, grapes were cultivated in Asia and Europe. Then about 200 years ago, monks brought grapes to North America. And we're glad they did!

Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen

Around 6,000 years ago, grapes were cultivated in Asia and Europe. Then about 200 years ago, monks brought grapes to North America. And we’re glad they did!

What makes this small, round fruit so popular? Well, their combination of crunchy texture and dry, sweet, tart flavour makes them an excellent between-meal snack as well as an interesting addition to both fruit and vegetable salads.

In a salad, or on their own, grapes are more than just a sweet treat. Because of their high water count, grapes are an excellent source of fluid for these hot days. As well, they are low in calories – under 62 calories per cup. As far as nutrients go, grapes are high in: manganese (.66 mg); Vitamin C (3.7 mg); Vitamin B1 (.08 mg); Vitamin B6 (.10 mg); and potassium (175.7 mg). Grapes also contain fiber (1 g) and protein (.58 g). In addition to these nutrients, grape seed extract is a natural antihistamine and anti-inflammatory agent.

Grapes also have flavinoids (specific antioxidants) – the darker the colour of the grape, the more concentrated the flavinoids are. One grape flavinoid compound includes resveratrol which seems to lessen your chance of getting heart disease by reducing platelet clumping (forming harmful blood clots), and protecting LDL cholesterol from the free radical damage that begin its artery-damaging activity.

Resveratrol has many additional health benefits. It appears to keep the heart muscle healthy by keeping its muscle fibers flexible.

Research has shown that it can also improve the blood flow to the brain, thus making it less likely that you’ll have a stroke. Other recent studies have shown resveratrol can be used as a cancer-preventative agent to avoid prostrate, liver, lung and breast cancer. It is especially effective in preventing cancers caused by being exposed to chemical toxins.

Since grapes are so good for you, why not grab a bunch the next time you’re getting groceries? They’re available year-round. When making your selection, choose grapes that are plump and don’t have any wrinkles. They should be intact, not dripping juice, and firmly attached to a healthy looking stem (not a dried out one).

If you’re looking for really sweet grapes, one way to guess their sweetness is by paying attention to their colour. Green grapes should look slightly yellowish, red grapes should be mostly red, while purple and blue-black grapes should have a deep, rich, dark colour.

When you get them home, put them in the fridge since grapes tend to spoil and ferment at room temperature. But, don’t wash them until you want to eat them. Instead, loosely wrap the unwashed grapes in a paper towel and place them in a plastic bag. By doing this, they’ll keep fresh in the refrigerator for several days.

When you decide to eat them, just be sure to wash them under cold running water first. Then, either drain the grapes in a strainer or gently pat them dry with a towel or paper towel. If the grape cluster is too big to eat at one time, cut off the amount you want with scissors instead of taking each grape off individually. This will help keep the remaining grapes fresher because the stem won’t dry out.

If you’re looking for a slightly more substantial snack, add cheese and biscuits with the grapes – delicious and satisfying!

Or, for a change, eat grapes that have been frozen. Although frozen grapes are not quite as tasty as fresh ones, many people enjoy snacking on frozen grapes. To get them ready, wash the grapes and pat them dry, then arrange them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. When they’re frozen, put the grapes into a heavy plastic bag and then back into the freezer until you want to eat them. Later, when you’re hot for a cold snack, pop a few into your mouth.

Or, if you’ve got some time off and you’re really adventurous, try grapes in a recipe. They add a special touch. Even though many recipes call for peeled grapes, leave the skins on if at all possible, since the grape skin contains many of the fruit’s vital nutrients. If you decide to use peeled grapes, buy the American varieties since their skin peels more easily than others. As well, seedless grapes work better for most recipes.

If you’re having fruit salad, add grapes. Including different varieties and colours of grapes can really add to the look (and taste) of the dish. Include grapes in curries for a fruity punch. Or, you may want to add a few grapes to mixed green salads. Be adventurous! I particularly love grapes in coleslaw.

This fall, when packing your cooler, add some grapes. Or, pick some up at a fruit stand on the road. They’ll do you a bunch of good.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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