7 So Called “Bad” Foods That Are Actually Good For You

Are you shying away from bad foods that are actually good for you? With all the hoopla about healthful eating, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction.

As a nutrition consultant, I’ve come to realize there is no shortage of surprises and superstitions in the world of nutrition. As a follow-up to my recent Washington Post article, “5 So-Called Health Foods You Should Avoid,” I thought it would be fun to give you reasons to enjoy some of your favorite so-called “bad” foods that could actually be good for you, originally published in The Washington Post

Gluten and Wheat

They are “the most demonized ingredients beyond high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil,” said Melissa Abbott, culinary director at the Hartman Group, a company specializing in consumer research.

Yet decades of studies have found that gluten-containing foods, such as whole wheat, rye and barley, are vital for good health, and are associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and excess weight.

“Wheat is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals,” said Joanne Slavin, nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. She added that the confusion about gluten, a protein, has caused some people to avoid eating wheat and other grains.

Only about 1 percent of the population  - those with celiac disease or wheat allergy – cannot tolerate gluten and must eradicate it from their diet to ease abdominal pain and other symptoms, including the ability to fully absorb vitamins.

One reason wheat-free or gluten-free diets are popular is that people who don’t eat wheat often end up bypassing excess calories in sweets and snack foods. Then they start feeling better, lose weight, and mistakenly attribute their success to gluten or wheat avoidance. Learn more about a gluten free diet and who may benefit from it…

Eggs

Eggs also don’t deserve their bad reputation. In recent decades, their high cholesterol content has been thought to play a role in increasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and heart disease risk. But cholesterol in food is a minor factor contributing to high blood cholesterol for most people, and studies have not confirmed a correlation between eggs and increased heart disease risk. The major determinant of LDL (bad) cholesterol is saturated fat, and while eggs are high in cholesterol – 184 milligrams in the yolk – they’re relatively low in saturated fat – about 1.6 grams in the yolk.

Interestingly, some of the biggest egg eaters in the world, the Japanese, have low cholesterol and heart disease rates, in part because they eat a diet low in saturated fat. In contrast, Americans eat eggs alongside sausage, bacon, and buttered toast.

“The amount that one egg a day raises cholesterol in the blood is extremely small,” says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Elevations in LDL (bad) cholesterol of this small magnitude could easily be countered by other healthy aspects of eggs.” Learn more about eggs…

Potatoes

Potatoes have been blamed for increasing blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, excess weight and Type 2 diabetes. A recent Harvard study that followed large populations and their disease rates linked potato eating with being overweight, blaming  it on the blood glucose rise.

But many foods, including whole-wheat bread and whole-grain cereals, cause similar spikes in blood glucose, and are correlated with superior health and lower body weights. How could the higher body weight in the Harvard study be explained? The study lumped all potato products together, including potato chips and french fries, very fattening versions of potatoes usually eaten in large portions alongside hamburgers, hot dogs, and sodas.

“It’s an easy food to attack; but the meal pattern may be the culprit,” said David Baer, a research leader at the Agricultural Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. “Other epidemiological studies have not verified a connection between potatoes and weight gain or any diseases, and no clinical studies have shown a connection.” Learn more about the Harvard study…

Potatoes are a great source of potassium, Vitamin C and fiber that many cultures – Scandinavians, Russians, Irish, and Peruvians – relied on as a nutritious staple for centuries. And they were not fat.

Fruits

People often ask me if fruit is too high in sugar, especially for diabetics. This fear of fruit, I believe, is left over from the Atkins craze, which discouraged eating some fruits on the grounds that they are high in carbohydrates.

Avoiding fruit could actually damage your health. Study after study over many decades shows that eating fruit can reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, blood pressure and fruit. Lean how fruit reduces diabetes risk

Fruit is high in water and fiber, which help you feel full with fewer calories, one reason why eating it is correlated with lower body weight. Even though they contain simple sugars, most fruits have a relatively low glycemic index. That is, when you eat fruit, your blood sugar raises only moderately, especially when compared with refined sugar or flour products.

Several health organizations, including the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Heart Association, recommend Americans eat at least five cups of fruits and vegetables a day because of their superior health benefits.

Soy

Though popular for centuries in many Asian cuisines, soy is sometimes seen as dangerous after studies found elevated rates of breast cancer among rats when they were fed a concentrated soy derivative. But studies looking at whole soy foods in humans have not found a connection. In fact, the reverse may be true.

Soy, “when consumed in childhood or adolescence may make breast tissue less vulnerable to cancer development later in life and probably has no effect on breast cancer risk when consumption begins in adulthood,” said Karen Collins, registered dietitian and nutrition adviser with the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Actually, Collins said, the evidence is so strong for protection against heart disease that the FDA allowed a health claim for labels on soy food products.

 Alcohol

Alcohol is feared because of the potential for abuse and alcoholism and complications such as liver disease, which are valid concerns.

But decades’ worth of research shows that moderate alcohol consumption “can reduce deaths from most causes, particularly heart disease, and it raises HDL (good) cholesterol,” the USDA’s David Baer said.

Wine may have additional benefits because its grapes are filled with nutrients called polyphenols, which reduce blood-clotting, inflammation and oxidation.

The key is to drink alcohol moderately and with meals. What’s moderation? One serving daily for women and two servings for men, with a serving being 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Learn more about wine…

Fried Foods

While it’s true that frying food usually increases its caloric content, that doesn’t necessarily make it unhealthful.

As long as food is fried in healthful oil instead of butter, shortening, or trans fat, and it’s eaten in moderation, it isn’t less healthy. In fact, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and heart-healthy, cancer-preventive carotenoids such as beta-carotene (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes), lycopene (e.g., tomatoes) and lutein/zeaxanthin (deep-green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale), need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.

“The consumption of certain fats, such as saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids [fats that are solid at room temperature],is associated with an . . . increased risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, the unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids [canola, safflower and olive oils] have significant metabolic benefits and are health promoting,” said the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Learn more about healthy fats…

Read my Washington Post “Local Living” cover story 24 May 2012

and

 Read the Washington Post Web Chat Transcript

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Berry Bonanza

Strawberries (Photo: Swedish Embassy)

Spring is wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is the return of fresh ripe berries. Every week, I hustle to my farmers markets to see what is waiting for me. Right now, it’s strawberries: picked at their peak, they are tender, sweet, juicy and red throughout – but they have a very short season, so get them while you can!

There are very few foods that match the beautiful color and intense flavor of berries. And, fortunately, these fruits are nutrition superstars.

For many years, most berries were regarded as nutritionally inferior because of their lack of traditional essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C. But that was before scientists recently discovered the presence of large amounts of beneficial phytochemicals (“phyto” is Greek for plant).

Apparently, each berry contains at least 100 nutrients and phytochemicals, the plant compounds with potent powers of healing. Some of the most important phytochemicals in berries are antioxidants, powerful substances believed to reduce inflammation, improve immune function and help prevent heart disease and cancers.

Antioxidants are compounds that absorb oxygen free radicals — molecules that cause oxidation in the body’s cells. Scientists believe that these molecules cause most of the diseases of aging, such as immune system decline, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and neurological impairments affecting cognition and balance. Think of oxidation as being similar to rusting. Or imagine an apple slice turning brown. By simply adding lemon juice, an antioxidant, the apple’s flesh stays fresh and prevents the browning or oxidation.

A similar thing happens in your body. Oxidation is constantly occurring in your cells because of environmental pollutants, smoking, exposure to the sun, heat generated through basic metabolic functioning, unhealthy diets and other factors. It takes a large supply of antioxidants to counter this. Berries have been found to have one of the highest antioxidant scores of all fruits and vegetables.

But there are other good reasons to eat berries. The berry family contains 300 to 400 beneficial, disease-fighting chemicals. The phytochemicals in berries, depending on the type, also stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, enhance cancer-fighting enzymes, positively influence hormone metabolism, have antibacterial and antiviral effects and may even reverse some aspects of brain aging.

The most potent berries are the more deeply colored varieties, especially blackberries, blueberries and cranberries, followed by raspberries, strawberries and cherries (not technically a berry, but similar nutritionally) but all more potent than most other fruits. Their color is provided by one of the most powerful phytochemicals, called anthocyanins, which berries synthesize to protect themselves from the elements.

Anthocyanins play a role in . . . protecting against cancers of the gastrointestinal tract,” says Ronald Prior, nutritionist at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock. “Blackberries have been shown in animals to protect against colon and esophageal cancer.” A preliminary human study found blueberries inhibited blood clotting, a risk factor in cardiovascular disease.

The anthocyanins in berries also may be responsible for improving some aspects of aging, such as memory, motor coordination, balance, vision and even symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, according to many years of animal studies.

Blueberries have interesting, surprising qualities,” said Prior. “We’re hoping foods such as blueberries can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease in humans as they do in rats.”

The scientists found similar effects in cranberries, which have additional phytochemicals called tannins. They may be responsible for helping to prevent urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers, gum disease and even ear infections in children. Cranberries are also effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria — and 20 percent of urinary tract infections are resistant to antibiotics. The tannins work by blocking the disease-causing bacteria and preventing it from adhering to human cell walls.

Resveratrol

New research has found that raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and huckleberries contain a phytochemical called resveratrol, also present in wine, which is thought to help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, and is implicated as an important compound in the health benefits of the “French Paradox.”

Strawberries contain large amounts of phytochemicals called ellagitannins, which are also in raspberries and blackberries. Studies at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition found those berries are capable of inhibiting a number of key steps in the development of cardiovascular disease and may have immense potential for the prevention and treatment of heart disease and stroke. Strawberries are also high in antioxidant Vitamin C and folic acid, important in preventing birth defects.

Most of what scientists know about berries has been determined in animal studies and in labs using cell cultures. But the few human clinical studies are showing promising results. Human studies on berries are limited because they’re very expensive, and as one scientist explained, “You can’t patent a berry!” This means that big pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to foot the research bill. Groups such as blueberry or strawberry growers fund some, but it’s up to Uncle Sam to find out if we can save millions on medications and hospitalizations by simply eating more berries.

Berries are an ideal food. Besides being absolutely delicious and colorful on a plate, they’re loaded with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and they’re low in calories. They have maximum flavor and nutrient content when picked at ripeness. Freezing them when ripe or buying ripe frozen berries is a great alternative. But, simply ripening a berry on your kitchen counter will increase its phytochemical content, too.

Berries can be eaten morning, noon or night – whatever your preference. I eat berries every morning on my oatmeal. In the summer, I’ll use any fresh local berry but in the winter, I stick with frozen blueberries.

“Berries are extremely versatile; they fit perfectly with any meal or snack,” says Janie Hibler, author of “The Berry Bible” (William Morrow, 2004). In “The Berry Bible,” Hibler provides a berry encyclopedia and berry recipes ranging from smoothies, drinks, and breads to soups, salads, salsas, main courses, and desserts.

So, what are some ways we can eat berries every day?

“A no-brainer,” she says, “is a berry smoothie for breakfast.” For lunch, she says, throw a handful into your salad. For snacks, carry dried berries and nuts. At dinner, berries go beautifully with meats, grains and main courses.

You will eat more berries if you simply keep them on hand and ready to grab. Get them now when they’re fresh and freeze them yourself. Frozen blueberries are fun snacks for kids to pop in their mouths, like hard candy. You can also make berry popcicles, syrups for pancakes and spritzers.

Berry Coulis

Hibler recommends always having berry purees, or “coulis” on hand. “A sauce rivaled by none,” she says. But they also are great added to drinks, smoothies, yogurts, cereal, you name it. To make a coulis, rinse and drain the berries, process in a food processor. Add a little sugar or even liqueur, if desired. It will keep in your refrigerator for three to four days or be frozen for a month.

Some of my favorite berry recipes:

Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Toasted Almonds and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Katherine’s Spicy Mexican Salsa with Strawberries

Soupe aux Fraises et Rhubarbe (Strawberry Rhubarb Soup)

Kjerstin’s Curried Chicken Salad with Strawberries and Toasted Almonds

Strawberry Soy Milk Smoothie

Strawberry – or any Berry – Granita

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Originally Published in The Washington Post

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Liquid Calories

Listen to Katherine discussing juicing on National Public Radio’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 FM.

Juicing is all the rage these days, with juice cleanses, celebrity juicers, and Starbucks opening its first Juice Bar. On National Public Radio’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, I discussed juicing and juices. Find the link below…

I’ve been drinking orange juice every morning of my life. You’d think I’d be sick of it by now. But every morning, I look forward to my “sunshine in a glass,” and it never disappoints. Especially on those occasions when it’s fresh-squeezed. I could live on the stuff. Just thinking of it makes me salivate!

But I save my juice for 4 ounces in the morning because, while it packs a nutritional punch, it also puts on pounds, and fast! Here’s how…

My client, Caroline, who was successfully losing weight, was disappointed one recent week that she didn’t lose weight as usual. It didn’t make sense to either of us. Her food intake was stellar. She was even a little more physically active than usual. It wasn’t until we reviewed her food diary thoroughly that we discovered the culprit was liquid calories, and they added up in a way that surprised her. In her case – as is the case with many of us  – that extra glass of wine or mixer, juice as a snack here and there, can add up in ways we don’t expect.

Liquid calories in just about any form, whether alcohol, juices, or sodas, are stealth calories. They come in undetected under the radar screen but have an impact that can be enormous. Scientific evidence is confirming that though these liquids count as calories, our bodies don’t detect them the same way they would if we were eating solid food. When we eat calories in the form of solid food, we naturally compensate by reducing the rest of our meal’s or day’s food intake. But when people ingest liquid calories, studies show, they don’t compensate for them by eating fewer calories.

“Fluid calories do not hold strong satiety properties, don’t suppress hunger and don’t elicit compensatory dietary responses,” says Richard D. Mattes, MPH, PhD, RD, Professor of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University. “When drinking fluid calories, people often end up eating more calories overall.”

This may help explain the results of the Harvard Nurses Health Study of more than 50,000 women over eight years. The researchers found those who increased their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas or fruit punch, from one per week to one or more per day, increased their calories by 358 daily and gained significant weight. Women who reduced their intake cut their calories by 319 calories and gained less weight. Earlier studies demonstrated that consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks increased the likelihood of obesity in children, but this is the first finding from a long term observational study in adults.

The mechanisms controlling hunger and thirst are completely different, and liquids, even if they contain calories, don’t seem to satisfy hunger even if they quench your thirst. Physiologically, your thirst is quenched once your blood and cell volume is increased by water. This signals your brain that you are no longer thirsty.

Hunger is regulated in your stomach and intestines. While you’re eating, nerves in the stomach wall detect that it is stretching and send satiation signals to the brain. The intestines also release nerve regulators and hormones. At the same time, the hunger hormone, ghrelin, released by the stomach when it is empty, goes down. All of which help you feel satiated.

 There are several theories explaining why liquid calories cause lower satiety and increased overall calorie intakes, but it’s still not fully understood. First, cognitively, people have a harder time realizing that liquids count. Also, the mouth-feel of a liquid versus a solid may generate different signals, less time and involvement with food, and reduced psychological satisfaction. Finally, liquids, because they travel more quickly through the intestinal tract, alter the rate of nutrient absorption, which can affect satiety hormones and signaling. It’s likely that all of these reasons are relevant.

Emerging research is finding the hunger hormone ghrelin may play a physiological role.

 “When the number and type of calories are the same, the calories in liquid form won’t suppress ghrelin as effectively as if the same calories were in solid form,” says David E. Cummings, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington and the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System.

While Cummings hasn’t tested many types of fluids and their varying effects on ghrelin, other researchers have found drinking fluids may produce varying degrees of satiety, depending on what they contain.

It’s fairly well-established that alcoholic beverages and sugary liquids, especially sodas and fruit drinks aren’t completely registered or compensated for and simply add extra calories.

 “Some beverages cross over the line into being a food,” says Barbara J. Rolls, professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University. She conducted studies which found people felt more satiated and consumed fewer calories when they had milk-based drinks at the beginning of a meal. The high protein levels in addition to cognitive beliefs about milk being a food may make it more satiating.  Also, fluids with food in them, such as soups, are very satiating.

 But most caloric fluids Americans consume are not satiating. When you consider that an appropriately sized meal is anywhere from 400 to 700 calories, and one Big Gulp is 640 calories, you understand the scope of the problem! A Starbuck’s Frappuccino can total anywhere from 300 to 600 calories. One glass of wine contains at least 100 calories. And one mixed drink can set you back 300 calories or more. Double or triple these numbers at any given party, tack on the calories in your meals, and you can understand how weight gain is the inevitable result.

My clients who have become aware of liquid calories have achieved impressive results. Take Bob Levey, former Washington Post columnist. Bob wrote about the importance of cutting out his daily lemonade in his successful weight loss effort. My other client, Julie, easily switched her daily Frappuccino to a skim coffee latte and saved 250 calories. My friend, Linda, slowly phased out her daily soda by adding more and more ice to it each week until she was only drinking water. She lost 30 pounds over a year.

 Most people find reducing liquid calories is an easy change. Since liquid calories don’t contribute to feelings of satiety, cutting them doesn’t lead to feelings of deprivation or hunger. And there are so many great substitutes. The one liquid that’s important to keep drinking is water. In the winter time, I love sipping water as herbal teas through the day. In the summer, it’s selzer with a twist of lemon or lime, and the occasional diet soda.

Of course, if we are mindful of our calorie intake, a moderate daily dose of wine or other caloric beverage can easily be integrated into our routines. The key is mindfulness and moderation.

Listen to Katherine discussing juicing on National Public Radio’s Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 FM.

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Health Food Contest: Wine or Concord Grapes?


Reader Question: Does Concord grape juice have the same antioxidant value as red wine?  Can you address the issue of the value of alcohol as a health food, especially wine and most particularly red wine?

This is a question which has intrigued me for years. I’m a huge fan of Concord grapes, the dark purple- almost black- intensely flavored grape in season now. I’ve always wondered, as I enjoy these delicate treats, if they, or juice made from them, would give me or my non-wine-drinking clients the same health benefits as red wine.

Recent research is bolstering the claims that Concord grape juice is similar to red wine in many respects, but the issue is very complex and the answer far from definitive.

To get the bottom of this mystery, let’s start at the beginning: with the grape. Concord grapes have one of the highest antioxidant scores among fruit, surpassed only by blueberries, blackberries and cranberries, according to Ronald Prior, research chemist and nutritionist at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock. “Concord grapes contain at least fifty to sixty compounds which may play a variety of roles in the body,” says Prior.

Concord grapes are high in a class of phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals) called polyphenols, antioxidants which are concentrated in many fruits, some vegetables and in wine, tea and cocoa. They protect against heart disease by reducing blood clot formation. They also prevent cellular and organ damage caused by oxygen radicals, molecules which are believed to be a primary cause of many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Certain polyphenols, such as anthocyanins, which give grapes and blueberries their purple pigment, have been found to reverse both physical and mental deficits in aging rats. Preliminary studies in humans are showing similar promising results.

Other polyphenols, called tannins, responsible for the astringent flavor in cocoa, tea, grapes, and other fruits, are powerful antioxidants.

Concord grapes also contain a tiny amount of a newly discovered polyphenol called resveratrol, primarily in the skin, which may help prevent cell proliferation and cancer. Other polyphenols found in the seed, proanthocyanidins, may also prevent cell proliferation and cardiovascular disease.

Another class of antioxidant polyphenols in grapes are called flavonols. Grapes contain the flavonols quercetin, also in apples, and kaempferol, also in broccoli, which are thought to reduce cellular proliferation and cancer.

“All of these compounds work in synergy to create health benefits,” says Beverly Clevidence, research leader of the Diet and Human Performance Laboratory at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, MD. “They’re showing promise in our fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.”

But if you’re eating a standard American table grape, you may not be receiving many of these benefits. That’s because half of the antioxidants are in the seed and, to please the American consumer, table grapes (and raisins) have been bred to be seedless. Much of the rest of the antioxidants are in the skin. The darker the skin, the more beneficial compounds are present, which is why green and white grapes contain a small fraction of the antioxidants that red or purple grapes contain.

And that brings us to the juice of the grape. Since most of the antioxidants are found in the seed and skin of the grape – 80% unless the flesh is darker and has more antioxidants, a juice’s or wine’s antioxidant content will be higher if it includes the seeds and skin.

This is why red wine contains eight to ten times the polyphenol content as white wine. Red wine is made by mashing red or purple grapes with their skin and seeds and letting it sit to ferment, whereas white wine is made skin and seedless.

wine and grapes

“Both wine’s and juice’s antioxidant content depends on the amount of exposure to the skin and seeds and how much extraction of the polyphenols occurs,” says Andrew Waterhouse, wine chemist at UC Davis. “With red wine, you get maximum extraction, with the darker reds usually containing more antioxidants.”  Also, the more astringent the wine, the more tannins. Waterhouse says the presence of tannins is a good marker for all antioxidants:  the more tannins, the more polyphenols, in general. Polyphenols are responsible for the flavor, the color and the preservation of wine.

The concept of wine as a health food has been intensively researched since the “French Paradox” was first described by French researcher Serge Renaud in the early 1990s. Renaud found that while the French ate the same fatty diet as Americans, they suffered only half the heart disease rates. He attributed that “paradox” to daily low dose wine drinking. His observation made sense since the Framingham study, a long term study established in 1948 which follows peoples’ diet and health, found a link between moderate alcoholic beverage intake and reduced death from coronary heart disease.

Since then, other large epidemiological studies have confirmed a link between moderate alcoholic beverage intake and reduction in heart disease, as compared to no alcohol or high alcohol intakes. But uncovering the most health-giving types of alcoholic beverages – wine or spirits – and even if alcohol itself plays a beneficial role, have been the subject of heated debate ever since.

On the pro-alcohol side, researchers have found in clinical studies that pure ethanol, in any form, raises HDL, or good cholesterol, by five to ten percent. But that doesn’t explain the whole beneficial effect of alcoholic beverages seen in studies. Researchers have found that wine, for instance, reduces blood clotting, hypertension-related and cardiovascular disease-related deaths and increases polyphenols in the blood, which researchers have found prevents various cardiovascular disease risk factors. But studies comparing pure alcohol with wine show that alcohol alone does not have all of these benefits. Some researchers doubt that ethanol is the most important beneficial ingredient in alcoholic beverages, and especially in red wine. In fact, in clinical studies, consuming high amounts of alcohol has been found to promote oxidation and inflammation, both of which are risk factors in the development of heart disease and cancer. But alcohol is often consumed together with antioxidants contained in the alcoholic beverage that may outweigh its negative effects. In addition, researchers believe alcohol may help the body absorb the antioxidant polyphenols.

“Alcohol may enhance the bioavailability of the antioxidants so that when you drink wine or other beverages or food high in antioxidants, you get more antioxidants in your blood,”

says John Folts, professor of medicine and nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. “Very few people drink straight alcohol; they mix it with juices like cranberry, orange or tomato juice, which contain antioxidants.”

Food digestion produces increased oxidative stress and oxygen radicals for several hours after the meal. Eating plenty of antioxidants with meals, including wine, fruits and vegetables, helps reduce oxidation caused by the less healthy components of the meal, for instance, saturated fat or carcinogens. This may be another reason why the French get more benefits from drinking wine: they drink it with meals.

So, does Concord grape juice contain all the benefical compounds as red wine? Some compounds overlap. It helps that Concord grape juice is made by pressing and pulverizing the whole grape, including the seeds and the skin, before it is strained and made into juice, according to Welch’s spokesperson Geoffrey Raymond.

In preliminary animal and human clinical studies performed by Folts and colleagues, Concord grape juice and red wine produce similar cardiovascular benefits. They both raise levels of antioxidant polyphenols in the blood, reduce oxidative stress and blood clotting. But because Concord grape juice has half the polyphenol content by volume, you have to consume twice as much grape juice to produce the same effect you get from red wine.

Red wine is more than grape juice with alcohol. Each ounce of wine contains about 1-1/2 ounces of grapes, so it is more concentrated than juice. And the alcohol helps extract polyphenols as the wine ages. This changes the character of some of the polyphenols and different compounds are created, in ways that aren’t completely understood. These differences may help explain the potent health benefits of red wine found in studies.

“Think of red wine as whole grape extract,” says Waterhouse. “You’re getting the antioxidants out of the juice, the skin and the seeds plus the magnifying effect of the alcohol.”

Red wine contains different levels of antioxidants depending on how it’s processed. Antioxidant content will also vary depending on the variety of the grape, and exposure to sunshine and stress, which increases polyphenol content.

Trying to understand all the compounds and benefits is a complex issue. Experts agree grapes, grape juice and small doses of wine are good for you, but scientists are still unraveling the reasons why. For now, the recommendations are, if you’re an alcoholic beverage drinker, women should not exceed one 5-ounce serving and men should not exceed two 5-ounce servings of wine a day. Experts stress that while moderate wine intake may be beneficial for some, going above the recommendation can be dangerous for your health.

“Given the major problem that alcohol abuse is in many countries, it would not be good nutritional advice to tell people to start drinking wine for their health” says Dr Folts

If you don’t drink alcoholic beverages, eight ounces of Concord grape juice may provide similar benefits. In fact, eating a diet high in antioxidants has been proven to reduce cancer and heart disease, regardless of alcoholic beverage intake.

“People who eat several servings of fruits and vegetables a day have a high polyphenol intake,” says Beverly Clevidence. ”So if you don’t drink wine, just eat more fruits and vegetables!”

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Deep Purple

photo by ADA

Original Content, The Washington Post, Wednesday, October 6, 2004; Page F01

Reader Question:

Lately Larry King [a paid spokesman for Welch’s] has been touting Welch’s Concord grape juice on TV, implying it has the same antioxidant value as red wine. Is this true? Can you address the issue of the value of alcohol as a health food, especially wine and most particularly red wine?

This is a question which has intrigued me for years. I’m a huge fan of Concord grapes, the dark purple- almost black- intensely flavored grape in season now. I’ve always wondered, as I enjoy these delicate treats, if they, or juice made from them, would give me or my non-wine-drinking clients the same health benefits as red wine.

Recent research is bolstering Welch’s claims that Concord grape juice is similar to red wine in many respects, but the issue is very complex and the answer far from definitive.

To get the bottom of this mystery, let’s start at the beginning: with the grape. Concord grapes have one of the highest antioxidant scores among fruit, surpassed only by blueberries, blackberries and cranberries, according to Ronald Prior, research chemist and nutritionist at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock. “Concord grapes contain at least fifty to sixty compounds which may play a variety of roles in the body,” says Prior.

Concord grapes are high in a class of phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals) called polyphenols, antioxidants which are concentrated in many fruits, some vegetables and in wine, tea and cocoa. They protect against heart disease by reducing blood clot formation. They also prevent cellular and organ damage caused by oxygen radicals, molecules which are believed to be a primary cause of many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Certain polyphenols, such as anthocyanins, which give grapes and blueberries their purple pigment, have been found to reverse both physical and mental deficits in aging rats. Preliminary studies in humans are showing similar promising results.

Other polyphenols, called tannins, responsible for the astringent flavor in cocoa, tea, grapes, and other fruits, are powerful antioxidants.

Concord grapes also contain a tiny amount of a newly discovered polyphenol called resveratrol, primarily in the skin, which may help prevent cell proliferation and cancer. Other polyphenols found in the seed, proanthocyanidins, may also prevent cell proliferation and cardiovascular disease.

Another class of antioxidant polyphenols in grapes are called flavonols. Grapes contain the flavonols quercetin, also in apples, and kaempferol, also in broccoli, which are thought to reduce cellular proliferation and cancer.

“All of these compounds work in synergy to create health benefits,” says Beverly Clevidence, research leader of the Diet and Human Performance Laboratory at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, MD. “They’re showing promise in our fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.”

But if you’re eating a standard American table grape, you may not be receiving many of these benefits. That’s because half of the antioxidants are in the seed and, to please the American consumer, table grapes (and raisins) have been bred to be seedless. Much of the rest of the antioxidants are in the skin. The darker the skin, the more beneficial compounds are present, which is why green and white grapes contain a small fraction of the antioxidants that red or purple grapes contain.

And that brings us to the juice of the grape. Since most of the antioxidants are found in the seed and skin of the grape – 80% unless the flesh is darker and has more antioxidants, a juice’s or wine’s antioxidant content will be higher if it includes the seeds and skin.

This is why red wine contains eight to ten times the polyphenol content as white wine. Red wine is made by mashing red or purple grapes with their skin and seeds and letting it sit to ferment, whereas white wine is made skin and seedless.

“Both wine’s and juice’s antioxidant content depends on the amount of exposure to the skin and seeds and how much extraction of the polyphenols occurs,” says Andrew Waterhouse, wine chemist at UC Davis. “With red wine, you get maximum extraction, with the darker reds usually containing more antioxidants.” Also, the more astringent the wine, the more tannins. Waterhouse says the presence of tannins is a good marker for all antioxidants: the more tannins, the more polyphenols, in general. Polyphenols are responsible for the flavor, the color and the preservation of wine.

The concept of wine as a health food has been intensively researched since the “French Paradox” was first described by French researcher Serge Renaud in the early 1990s. Renaud found that while the French ate the same fatty diet as Americans, they suffered only half the heart disease rates. He attributed that “paradox” to daily low dose wine drinking. His observation made sense since the Framingham study, a long term study established in 1948 which follows peoples’ diet and health, found a link between moderate alcoholic beverage intake and reduced death from coronary heart disease.

Since then, other large epidemiological studies have confirmed a link between moderate alcoholic beverage intake and reduction in heart disease, as compared to no alcohol or high alcohol intakes. But uncovering the most health-giving types of alcoholic beverages – wine or spirits – and even if alcohol itself plays a beneficial role, have been the subject of heated debate ever since.

On the pro-alcohol side, researchers have found in clinical studies that pure ethanol, in any form, raises HDL, or good cholesterol, by five to ten percent. But that doesn’t explain the whole beneficial effect of alcoholic beverages seen in studies. Researchers have found that wine, for instance, reduces blood clotting, hypertension-related and cardiovascular disease-related deaths and increases polyphenols in the blood, which researchers have found prevents various cardiovascular disease risk factors. But studies comparing pure alcohol with wine show that alcohol alone does not have all of these benefits. Some researchers doubt that ethanol is the most important beneficial ingredient in alcoholic beverages, and especially in red wine. In fact, in clinical studies, consuming high amounts of alcohol has been found to promote oxidation and inflammation, both of which are risk factors in the development of heart disease and cancer. But alcohol is often consumed together with antioxidants contained in the alcoholic beverage that may outweigh its negative effects. In addition, researchers believe alcohol may help the body absorb the antioxidant polyphenols.

“Alcohol may enhance the bioavailability of the antioxidants so that when you drink wine or other beverages or food high in antioxidants, you get more antioxidants in your blood,”

says John Folts, professor of medicine and nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. “Very few people drink straight alcohol; they mix it with juices like cranberry, orange or tomato juice, which contain antioxidants.”

Food digestion produces increased oxidative stress and oxygen radicals for several hours after the meal. Eating plenty of antioxidants with meals, including wine, fruits and vegetables, helps reduce oxidation caused by the less healthy components of the meal, for instance, saturated fat or carcinogens. This may be another reason why the French get more benefits from drinking wine: they drink it with meals.

So, does Concord grape juice contain all the benefical compounds as red wine? Some compounds overlap. It helps that Concord grape juice is made by pressing and pulverizing the whole grape, including the seeds and the skin, before it is strained and made into juice, according to Welch’s spokesperson Geoffrey Raymond.

In preliminary animal and human clinical studies performed by Folts and colleagues, Concord grape juice and red wine produce similar cardiovascular benefits. They both raise levels of antioxidant polyphenols in the blood, reduce oxidative stress and blood clotting. But because Concord grape juice has half the polyphenol content by volume, you have to consume twice as much grape juice to produce the same effect you get from red wine.

Red wine is more than grape juice with alcohol. Each ounce of wine contains about 1-1/2 ounces of grapes, so it is more concentrated than juice. And the alcohol helps extract polyphenols as the wine ages. This changes the character of some of the polyphenols and different compounds are created, in ways that aren’t completely understood. These differences may help explain the potent health benefits of red wine found in studies.

“Think of red wine as whole grape extract,” says Waterhouse. “You’re getting the antioxidants out of the juice, the skin and the seeds plus the magnifying effect of the alcohol.”

Red wine contains different levels of antioxidants depending on how it’s processed. Antioxidant content will also vary depending on the variety of the grape, and exposure to sunshine and stress, which increases polyphenol content.

Trying to understand all the compounds and benefits is a complex issue. Experts agree grapes, grape juice and small doses of wine are good for you, but scientists are still unraveling the reasons why. For now, the recommendations are, if you’re an alcoholic beverage drinker, women should not exceed one 5-ounce serving and men should not exceed two 5-ounce servings of wine a day. Experts stress that while moderate wine intake may be beneficial for some, going above the recommendation can be dangerous for your health.

“Given the major problem that alcohol abuse is in many countries, it would not be good nutritional advice to tell people to start drinking wine for their health” says Dr Folts

If you don’t drink alcoholic beverages, eight ounces of Concord grape juice may provide similar benefits. In fact, eating a diet high in antioxidants has been proven to reduce cancer and heart disease, regardless of alcoholic beverage intake.

“People who eat several servings of fruits and vegetables a day have a high polyphenol intake,” says Beverly Clevidence. ”So if you don’t drink wine, just eat more fruits and vegetables!”

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