Keen Cuisine: Grape Expectations

It's not that grapes have ever lacked purpose. Just about every form they take—fresh, squeezed, squished and fermented, or dried on the vine—offers delectation. The Greeks assigned a god to them, and Bacchus may owe his immortality to them. In a metaphoric sense, we may, too. Over the past decade, the grape, especially in its red or black variety, has become more than food or libation, more than a source of nutrition and pleasure. It is the founding member of a pantheon of edibles that have remarkable effects on the way we and our bodies function. The more scientists look at grapes, the more they turn out to support a very hardy life.

  • A Need for Seeds
    Phenolic compounds in red grapes—especially in the seeds—may prevent the cognitive decline and memory loss that often accompany aging. When fed to mice, a grape extract designed to mimic the effects of wine prevented the formation of amyloid plaques that slow brain function even in those without Alzheimer's disease.
  • At the Heart of Aging
    Even small amounts of red wine or grapes containing resveratrol can act on the master genetic pathways related to aging and preserve heart function. Starting in middle age, according to research, small doses of resveratrol have a big effect, constituting "a robust intervention" in slowing down cardiac aging. Resveratrol has the same longevity effect as a very low-calorie diet, altering the expression of about a thousand genes that control the heart's aging process.
  • Dieter's Dream
    It's time to rethink your list of diet foods. Perhaps the top spot should go to red grapes and wine. The resveratrol they contain reduces the number of fat cells in the body and may one day be used to prevent or treat obesity. The grape goodie stops young fat cells from maturing and hinders their ability to store the dreaded stuff. It also reduces production of inflammatory substances that contribute to such obesity-related disorders as diabetes.
  • One's Enough
    Drink one glass of red wine and relax. But drink two, and you tense up. Having a drink lowers blood pressure and stimulates the relaxation response, independent of the effects of resveratrol and other phenols in red grapes. But helping yourself to a second glass erases the effects, driving blood pressure and stress above where they were in the first place.

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