Grapes & wine: Good medicine
Grapes & wine: Good medicine
By Violeta Tsolova, Ph.D. Professor at the Center for Viticulture & Small Research
Florida A & M University
For many, the clock countdown to the New Year is a reminder to stay resolute toward achieving personal health and fitness goals. In fact, the holistic approach to medicine and dieting that began in the 1970s has received renewed emphasis in the millennium. We are just starting to rediscover that certain foods, due to the presence of specific biochemicals, can have a positive impact on an individual’s mental and physical health. So, as you raise your wine glass in remembrance of days past, it is important to understand the medicinal value of wine that can lead to a prosperous future.
Recently, the discovery of high volume anti-oxidant compounds in berries, juices and wines has brought more attention to muscadine grapes, not only as an important alternative cash value crop for the southeastern United States, but also as a new healthy food. Still, the full potential of American native grapes as a source of healthy compounds remains an untapped market venture. This is mainly because of our limited scientific knowledge of them.
Green vs. red grapes
So what are the basics that every novice wine connoisseur and vineyard owner should know? The medicinal properties of grapes are stored in the seeds and skins of the developing fruit. Green berry seeds are richer in nutritional compounds called flavonoids. During maturity large amounts of these compounds are shifted to the skin. Muscadine grapes, however, follow a different scenario by retaining most of the flavonoids in the seed during maturation. The presence of large amounts of flavonoids in the seeds or the skins does not mean that they are readily bioavailable. The absorbance rate into the small intestines is not significant, and most of these compounds undergo degradation. During the fermentation of red wines, most of the berry flavonoids (from both skin and seeds) are extracted into the wine. This is the reason why red wines are priced as healthier than the white wines produced from green grapes.
Both the quantity and quality of color of grapes during harvest are crucial factors that influence wine making. Each species or variety is affected by several factors. Variety, growing region, and growth conditions can influence the nutritional value and flavor in grapes and determine the diversity and the quality of wine.
Medicinal Use and Nutritional Value
The medicinal use and nutritional value of grapes has been heralded for thousands of years. Egyptians and ancient Greek philosophers praised the healing power of the grape. European folk healers developed an ointment from the sap of grapevines to cure skin and eye diseases. Grape leaves were used to stop bleeding, inflammation, and pain. Unripe grapes were used to treat sore throats and dried grapes (raisins) were used to heal consumption, constipation, and thirst. The round, ripe, sweet grapes were used to treat a range of health problems including cancer, cholera, smallpox, nausea, eye infections, and skin, kidney, and liver diseases.
Despite the higher intake of saturated fat, which contributes to high cholesterol levels, epidemiological studies in France have shown a negative correlation between coronary heart disease and moderate wine consumption. This is known as “French Paradox.” Compared to other alcoholic beverages, red wine contains a much higher level of antioxidants, which remove harmful chemicals that cause cell and tissue damage in the body. Several scientific reports have shown that antioxidants also inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells. Furthermore, grape flavonoids have been implicated in a range of biological functions in human health metabolism including protection against DNA damage, anti-inflammatory properties, and cardiovascular protection.
If you are interested in starting your own grape vineyard, the Center of Viticulture and Small Fruits in Tallahassee, Florida is a valuable resource with several opportunities for a hands-on learning experience.
It is the only specialized research center in grape and wine in the southeastern United States. Until then, be merry, be healthy, and treat yourself in moderation. Happy New Year!
Violeta Tsolova is a professor of viticulture and development biology at the Center for Viticultural Sciences & Small Fruit Research at Florida A&M University. Join Tsolova on Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. for a live Twitter chat get tips on winemaking and the health benefits of grapes. Follow @ FAMU_LivingWell.
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