The World's Healthiest Foods

Resveratrol: the special compound found in grapes

Cancer researchers have shown that the phytonutrients, resveratrol, has the ability to selectively target and destroy cancer cells. In a recent study, researchers discovered that resveratrol is converted by a detoxification enzyme found not only in the liver, but also in many different tumors, the cytochrome P450 enzyme CYP1B1, into a metabolite called piceatannol, which is known to protect against leukemia. The results of this study indicate that when supplied with the resveratrol, the CYP1B1 enzyme in tumors functions as a growth suppressor enzyme. Simply put, resveratrol has the ability to slow the growth of tumors.

Other studies have shown that resveratrol helps prevent cancer during all three phases of the cancer process: initiation, promotion and progression. Resveratrol has been shown to have antioxidant and antimutagenic activity and also to increase levels of other detoxification enzymes, the Phase II enzymes in the liver that are capable of attaching carcinogens to other molecules that act as carriers and ferry them out of the body. In addition, resveratrol inhibits the activity of cyclooxygenase and hydroperoxidase, two enzymes central to the inflammatory process, which can contribute to the spread and development of cancer cells. Resveratrol has also been found to cause human promyelocytic leukemia cells to differentiate and revert to normal, thus helping to slow down the progression phase of cancer. Some researchers also believe that resveratrol may be responsible for what is known as the "French Paradox". The "French Paradox" is a term coined by researchers to describe the low rates of cardiovascular disease among French people, despite a national diet that contains lots of saturated fat and cholesterol. Researchers now believe that the relatively high intake of red wine, which contains resveratrol, may be the explanation.

As research continues to confirm the health benefits of resveratrol, increasing your intake of this nutrient is a smart choice. Unfortunately, this nutrient is not as widespread in our food supply as other well-known phytonutrients such as beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. Although resveratrol has been identified in over 70 species of plants, including eucalyptus, spruce, lily, mulberries and peanuts, resveratrol's most abundant natural food source is grapes, especially the varieties used to make wine. Fresh grape skin contains about 50 to 100 micrograms of resveratrol per gram, while red wine concentrations range from 1.5 to 3 milligrams per liter. Resveratrol belongs to a group of compounds called phytoalexins that plants produce in self-defense against environmental stressors like adverse weather or attack by insects or pathogenic microbes. Since grapes produce resveratrol as a defensive agent against fungal infection, this cancer-fighting phytonutrient is found at higher levels in organically grown grapes, which have not been artificially protected by treatment with man-made fungicides.

In summary, just about the only practical way to consume more resveratrol is to eat more red grapes and to enjoy an occasional glass of red wine. Remember that the resveratrol is concentrated in the skin of the grape, so don't waste your time peeling your grapes before you eat them. Also, non-alcoholic red wine appears to have as much resveratrol as its alcohol-containing counterpart. Here are a few quick ways to enjoy grapes:

  1. Frozen grapes are delicious as a snack treat.
  2. Serve stewed and spiced grapes with poached chicken breast for a light and healthy entrée.
  3. Grapes are a wonderful addition to any fruit salad. For an enhanced visual effect, consider using a few different varieties of grapes.
  4. Give your curries a fruity punch by including fresh grapes in the recipe.
  5. Add sliced grapes to mixed green salads.
  6. Serve an elegant, yet simple, snack of grapes and low-fat organic cheese.