Grapes Boast Health Benefits

Although grapes have only a few calories per serving, Harvard students are burning a lot trying to keep grapes off dining hall tables.

While some find it easy to get wrapped up in the issues of the "Great Grape Referendum," students should also keep in mind the object of the debate, the fruit itself.

The cultivation of the grape is an art which began over 5,000 years ago in Europe. Grapes grown in the United States today are descendants of these ancient stocks, although they have been grafted to hardier American varieties, according to the California Grape Commission.

Grapes have many nutritional and health benefits. "Grapes are part of a healthy five-a-day health plan," said Cara Peracchi-Douglas, director of communications at the Grape Commission.

A serving of grapes (one and a half cups) has only 90 calories and provides "25 percent of the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin C," said Peracchi-Douglas.

Chemicals found in grapes have been found to prevent cancer.

Grapes are "packed with flavonoids which are phytochemicals and, in particular, resveratrol, which has been shown in laboratory tests on animals to inhibit tumor growth at three different stages," said Peracchi-Douglas.

Some people worry, however, that pesticides used on grapes pose a health hazard. The Pesticide Data Program of the USDA, which tested 694 grape samples (both domestic and imported), found that 80 percent had one or more pesticides on them, said Kurt Davies, a pesticide policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group.

It is encouraging to note, however, that U.S. grapes are much cleaner than imported grapes, Davies said.

The Environmental Working Group ranked 42 vegetables for pesticide contamination. Chilean grapes ranked as the 11th most contaminated, while U.S. grapes ranked as the seventh least contaminated.

To get safe grapes, the Group recommends buying American grapes while they are in season (May to December). Approximately half of the grapes consumed by Americans are grown in the U.S., mostly in California.

Harvard-philes who buy grapes in the fall might even find some "Crimson seedless," "a blush-red variety" with "firm, crisp berries with a sweetly tart, almost spicy, flavor," according to the California Grape Commission.