Who can resist a bunch of grapes? As with potato chips, it’s hard to stop at just one! Grapes are a favorite fruit of many people and are consumed in a number of forms: grape jelly, raisins, and let’s not forget — wine. Grapes, however, are often maligned, especially when it comes to diabetes. Can you eat grapes if you have diabetes?
Grapes have been around since the beginning of civilization. Humans began growing grapes as early as 6500 B.C. during the Neolithic era. From there, grape culture and wine making took off. Thanks to the Romans, grape production spread throughout Europe. Grape culture and wine making were mostly associated with monasteries, but wine eventually became part of religious rites and social culture; grape culture grew considerably from the 16th to the 20th century.
Some grapes are native to North America. These species are tolerant of the cold and have a high disease resistance. Concord grapes are the most popular American-derived grape, but there are other varieties, as well, such as Norton, St. George, and Muscadine grapes (in fact, the oldest grapevine in America is a 400-year-old Muscadine vine in North Carolina).
Of note, Americans eat an average of 8.4 pounds of fresh grapes per year, according to the website Statista (that doesn’t include wine consumption).
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What are grapes?
Botanically, grapes are berries. They grow in bunches on woody vines. Their color might be pale green, red, yellow, purple, or black. Some grapes have seeds; others don’t. According to the website FoodRepublic.com, there are approximately 10,000 varieties of grapes! A lot of varieties have been developed by grafting to produce new hybrids. Some varieties are good for eating, while others are better suited for making wine. The best grapes for eating include:
- Thompson seedless
- Flame seedless
- Ruby seedless
- Moon Drop
- Cotton Candy
Grapes for winemaking include Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, Chardonnay grapes, and Zinfandel grapes. If your tastes run to champagne, a fun fact to know is that the three grape varieties used to make this bubbly beverage are Pinot Noir, Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes!
Health benefits of grapes
Grapes are a wealth of nutrition, thanks to their high antioxidant content. Other nutrients found in grapes include vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, and fiber. In terms of health benefits, here’s what grapes have to offer:
- Protection against heart disease
- Protection against cancer
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved cognitive function
- Improved blood sugar control
Much of the health benefits of grapes are due to their antioxidant content, specifically the antioxidants resveratrol, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These natural substances are what give grapes their ability to protect again diseases, inflammation, and even certain diabetes complications, such as neuropathy and retinopathy.
Grape seeds are also rich in antioxidants; grape seeds are pressed to remove the oil and make grape seed extract. The antioxidant content in grape seed extract can be 10 to 20 times higher than grapes and other fruits. Grape seeds are also made into oil, which is also rich in antioxidants and vitamin E. This oil can be used in stir frying and sautéing, on roasted vegetables, and in salad dressings.
Here is the nutrient profile of 1 cup of red or green grapes:
- 100 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 27 grams of carbohydrate
- 1 gram of fiber
- 1 gram of protein
- 3 milligrams of sodium
- 288 milligrams of potassium
The recommended serving size for grapes is 17. Here’s how that breaks down:
- 57 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 15 grams of carbohydrate
- 1 gram of fiber
- 0.6 grams of protein
- 1.7 milligrams of sodium
- 159 milligrams of potassium
Raisins are grapes that are dried, often naturally in the sun. It takes about three weeks to “make” raisins, and a variety of grapes are used. Sultanas are often called “golden raisins” and are made from Thompson Seedless grapes. Because raisins are dried, the sugar is concentrated, which boosts the calorie content.
Here is the nutrient profile of 1 cup of raisins:
- 463 calories
- 1 gram of fat
- 123 grams of carbohydrate
- 6 grams of fiber
- 5 grams of protein
- 17 milligrams of sodium
- 1,161 milligrams of potassium
Because raisins are so high in calories and carbs, the recommended serving size is 2 tablespoons.
Grapes and diabetes
While some fruits may be better choices for people with diabetes, grapes are not off limits. Remember that grapes have a lot to offer in terms of health benefits. However, as with most foods, portion size is key. If you count carbs, you’ll note that a serving of grapes is 17. That’s because one serving provides 15 grams of carbohydrate (i.e., one carb choice).
If you have a hard time stopping at 17 grapes, consider portioning them out into a small dish or a snack-size baggie. Also, eating frozen grapes may take you a little longer to chew, thus helping you feel more satisfied with those 17!
How to enjoy grapes
Grapes are delicious right off the bunch, but there are other ways to enjoy them:
- Chill grapes and add them to a chicken, seafood, or pasta salad.
- Fix a snack of a few grapes with your favorite cheese for a healthy mix of carbs and protein.
- Freeze grapes for a quick snack, or to slice up and add to a glass of sparkling water.
- Throw a few into the blender when you’re making your morning smoothie.