- Recently published studies suggest that grape consumption may have a positive impact on health and lifespan.
- Adding more grapes to a high fat Western diet could decrease the risk of fatty liver disease and increase longevity.
- Despite the positive results, experts say that grape consumption is not a cure-all for poor eating habits and does not offset the overall effects of consuming a high fat Western diet over the long term.
- A healthy, balanced diet consisting of nutrient-dense whole foods is recommended by most experts for optimal health and well-being.
Growing evidence supports the positive effects of eating a diet derived from whole food sources, including fruits, vegetables, and other non-processed foods.
A series of new studies, published in the journal Foods, suggest that grape consumption may have a significant impact on health and mortality, particularly when added to a high fat Western diet.
The research, which was partially funded by the California Grape Commission, suggests that adding about 2 cups of grapes per day to a high fat Western diet led to a decrease in fatty liver disease and a longer lifespan in mice.
Fatty liver disease can lead to liver cirrhosis and eventually liver cancer. According to the study findings, table grapes may have an important role to play in reducing the incidence of fatty liver disease and its lethal sequelae.
Lead author John Pezzuto, PhD, dean and professor of pharmaceutics of the Western New England University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said that his research demonstrates how eating grapes could help to offset some of the effects of a high fat Western diet.
“First, lifespan is increased, which indicates a global, full-body response,” Pezzuto told Healthline. “Next, the antioxidant defense system of the body is enhanced. Additionally, fatty liver, which is estimated to affect 25% of the population and lead to poor health outcomes, is prevented or at least delayed.”
According to Pezzuto, the study findings also indicate that anyone could potentially benefit from eating more grapes, regardless of which diet type or eating pattern a person might adhere to.
“The mechanisms we have shown to be mediated by grapes can be generalized to promote good health, irrespective of diet,” Pezzuto said.
A healthy gut microbiome is important for overall health and well-being and influences the functioning of vital organs, including the brain.
Study co-author Jeffrey Idle, PhD, director and endowed professor at the Arthur G. Zupko’s Systems Pharmacology and Pharmacogenomics at Long Island University, explained that it was apparent in the research that the addition of grapes had a profound effect on microbiota in the mouse model.
But further research is still needed to establish whether the health effects of grapes can be reproduced in humans, particularly if grape consumption could reduce or reverse fatty liver disease.
In general, experts do not recommend a high fat Western diet, even if adding more grapes into the mix could potentially offset some — but not all — of the negative effects.
“Grapes are known to contain resveratrol, a phytonutrient [and] antioxidant that is anti-inflammatory, and may be beneficial to health,” said Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian UCLA Medical Center, assistant professor UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and author of “Recipe For Survival.”
“With that said, a high fat [or] high-animal-protein Western diet cannot fully be negated with just the addition of 2 cups of grapes [per] day, just as we have seen that adding fish oil supplements to an unhealthy diet is not a panacea for what ails us either.”
Hunnes noted that it’s often difficult to observe any sufficient changes in health outcomes in nutrition studies conducted over short periods of time, particularly in non-human animal studies (Pezzuto’s mouse study spanned just over 18 weeks).
Research from 2020 attributes the high fat Western diet to the prevalence of fatty liver disease in developed countries like the United States, with as many as one-quarter of all Americans affected.
To reduce the effects of Western eating patterns, most health experts recommend following a healthy, balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods.
For example, a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fish and plant-forward foods, is high in nutrients, including healthy fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats), which are known for their health benefits and ability to help ward off chronic disease.
In addition, a whole-foods, plant-based diet, when balanced, is known to lower the risk for chronic conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease.
In other words, simply adding a couple of cups of grapes to an otherwise unhealthy diet is less effective for overall health than following a healthy, balanced eating pattern for life. According to the new research, grapes can be a valuable addition to the current dietary recommendations.
“Such that diet influences disease, a healthy, balanced diet provides the best overall disease prevention,” Idle said.
“Daily consumption of 5 servings per day of fruit and vegetables has been recommended, with no stipulation as to specific fruits, for example. Our research in conjunction with Dr. Pezzuto strongly suggests that table grapes should be a major constituent of these 5 servings per day.”
A next step worth investigating could be the palliative effect of grapes on the development of fatty liver disease.
“This might be profoundly important since so many people are affected by fatty liver. We need to examine this in greater detail,” Pezzuto said.
“We are particularly fascinated by the effect of grapes on gene expression. We have reported this effect in the brain and liver, both with good outcomes, but we know from unpublished work that gene expression is also changed in other tissues, like the kidney, for example,” Pezzuto said. “We will explore this in greater detail.”
In addition, Pezzuto’s grape study was conducted with females, and his team is currently conducting studies to investigate the effect of grapes on males.
“Some colleagues have suggested the effects may be even greater [in] males,” Pezzuto said. “This is a long-term study, but we are excited to have the opportunity to continue this work.”
The growing body of research on the health benefits of grapes speaks to the positive health effects of consuming a nutrient-rich whole food.
“Overall, I believe this work will be viewed as a tour de force in the field of nutrigenomics,” Pezzuto said. “Not only [are] ‘you are what you eat,’ but ‘you become what you eat’ through alteration of gene expression, even in the brain. You must wonder if dietary habits and behavior and personality are more closely related than ever imagined.”
Despite the positive findings, however, experts note that adding healthy foods like grapes to an otherwise unhealthy diet is unlikely to make a significant impact on human health and lifespan over the long term.
Further studies in humans are still needed to determine whether grape consumption can reduce the risk for chronic diseases like fatty liver and increase lifespan. For now, experts continue to recommend a healthy, balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods to promote overall health and well-being.