A Primer on the Different Varieties,
Healthiest Types & Other Important Grape Facts
Grapes have been a part of human civilization since ancient times. They’re mentioned in biblical stories as “the fruit of the vine,” are featured in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and were treasured for winemaking in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
Grapes contain healthy compounds that can fight heart disease and cancer and even extend your lifespan.
Today, grapes are the sixth most popular fruit in the United States (after bananas, apples, watermelon, oranges and cantaloupe). Though there are thousands of different grape varieties, about 20 of them represent the majority of table grapes consumed.
Table Grapes Vs. Wine Grapes
Table grapes refer to those that are traditionally eaten as is, as a snack, in salads or entrees. Wine grapes are the varieties used to make wine, and there are also raisin grapes, which are primarily used to make the dried fruit.
Grapes are classified as either American or European, with American grapes having skins that are looser than European varieties, which are known for their tight skins.
In the United States, the most popular table grapes are the Thompson Seedless variety, which are the red or green seedless grapes that you’ve probably seen at your local supermarket.
Grapes: A Health-Promoting Treat
Kids and adults alike love grapes for their sweet, crunchy, juiciness, and their “popability.” But there are many more reasons to eat grapes than taste alone. Along with being rich in manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B1, potassium and vitamin B6, here is a sampling of the incredibly healthy aspects of grapes.
- Flavonoids, the phytonutrients in grapes that give them their color, appear to decrease the risk of heart disease
- Resveratrol, a flavonoid in grape skins protects the heart, may fight against cancer, reduces the risk of stroke, lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and may even extend your lifespan.
- Sapponins, phytonutrients found in grape skins, lower cholesterol and fight inflammation.
- Grapes contain pterostilbene, an antioxidant that fights cancer and lowers cholesterol.
Consuming grapes in the form of red wine is also often heralded as a healthy habit. Red wine, which has concentrated levels of the antioxidants found in grapes, has been found to benefit the heart and even extend life, but there is some debate as to whether its alcohol content negates some of the benefit.
Imported grapes are among the 20 most pesticide-contaminated fruits and veggies. Seek organic varieties.
While all grapes are healthy, some are even more potent than others. The muscadine grape, for instance, contains higher levels of antioxidants than other grapes. It’s used not only for making wine, but also for snacking and recipes like jelly and jam.
When it comes to wine, a study in the journal Nature found that red wines made from grapes grown in southwest France or Sardinia, and particularly from Nuoro province in Sardinia, and the Gers departement in the Pyrenees, contain up to 10 times more of the beneficial compounds, including procyanadins, than wines from Australia, South Africa and the United States.
How to Best Enjoy Grapes
Grapes make a delicious addition to fruit salad, green salads, and chicken and tuna salads, and also cooked into sauces, rice and main entrees. For a great summertime treat, try freezing them; frozen grapes are especially popular with kids!
Because grapes do contain sugar, you should enjoy them in moderation (a serving of grapes is about 1/2 cup, or 18 grapes) and avoid grape juice drinks, which have added sugar. When it comes to wine, anything more than a glass or two a day is overdoing it from a health perspective.
Keep in mind also that imported grapes are one of the 20 fruits and veggies that are most contaminated with pesticides, so it’s best to seek out organic varieties or thoroughly was conventionally grown grapes before eating them.