Persons who have trouble keeping their cholesterol count down are often told to eat more soluble fiber, such as the type found in oat bran. But anyone who has tried to fortify their diet with the bran will soon find that the nutritious additive does little to improve the texture or taste of the foods with which its combined.
Muscadine Grapes (Photo: USDA-GARS)
Nutritionist Betty J. Ector of Mississippi State University now recommends a juicy alternative -- muscadine grapes. Not only are their thick skins a richer source of soluble fiber than oat bran is, but they also contain a plentiful supply of resveratrol. This compound appears capable of lowering both cholesterol and cancer risk (Versatile cancer weapon in grapes).
Indeed, some researchers have suggested that wines resveratrol may be a prime contributor to the French Paradox: the observation that although the wine-loving French tend to possess high cholesterol levels, they dont experience the same high rates of heart disease as people with similarly elevated cholesterol in the United States and many other countries.
Says Ector, "We know that high fiber consumption lowers blood pressure, serum triglycerides, and [serum] cholesterol levels." In addition, she points out that soluble fiber has been associated with reducing risks of heart disease, gastrointestinal disease, and colon cancer. It can even benefit diabetics, she says, "by delaying glucose absorption and increasing the sensitivity of skeletal muscles to insulin."
Moreover, even teetotalers can benefit from muscadines benefits, notes Ector. "Try some jam or a muffin made from muscadines. Theyre an even better source of resveratrol."
A 2-ounce serving of unfiltered muscadine juice, a serving of muscadine jam, one medium muscadine-laced muffin, or serving of a muscadine analog to applesauce sauce each contain about the same amount of resveratrol as 4 ounces of red wine.
Muscadines, a generally fat grape, are native to the southern United States. In fact, they were the first native variety cultivated in North America. Though they dont produce as much juice as many wine grapes, a mature muscadine vineyard can supply 18 tons of fruit per acre.
In her studies with rats, Ector found that supplementing their diet with muscadine pomace puree -- a mashed blend of grape skins and pulp that remain after the juice has been extracted -- offered notable cholesterol benefits. It significantly lowered blood concentrations of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol, and raised concentrations of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the so-called good type.
This spring, she conducted a pilot study feeding the puree to humans. "And were pleased with the outcome -- it was very encouraging," she says. While those data remain quite preliminary, "there was enough information to see that the muscadine puree will lower LDL in humans."
Her lab has been working to develop recipes to bring that puree to the dinner table. "It makes an excellent topping for ice cream. Weve made candies with it, and meat sauces. Theres just no end to what you can do with muscadine puree," she says. Shes even experimenting with adding it to ground beef to make heart-healthier sausage.
If you dont have a muscadine vineyard in the backyard, you can contact the Old South Winery in Natchez. Not only do they sell 12 different types of muscadine table wines -- from sweet to dry, white to red -- but also muscadine jam, jelly, wine jelly, and frozen puree.
In fact, says Diane Galbreath at the winery, "were the only ones who offer puree. I know. I make it: Its my baby." Does it come with recipes? "Not yet, youre on your own." But shell ship it, or any of the other products from her "muscadine emporium" throughout the continental United States.
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Betty J. Ector
School of Human Sciences
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, MS 39762
James B. Magee
USDA-ARS Small Fruit Research Station
P.O. Box 287
Poplarville, MS 39470
Old South Winery
65 S. Concord Avenue
Natchez, MS 39129
This week's Food for Thought is prepared by Janet Raloff, senior editor of Science News.