Excessive salt intake can cause hypertension, insomnia, pregnancy complications, kidney stones and bone loss. No wonder a recent worldwide analysis found that a mere 15% reduction in salt could save 9 million lives. Eating more whole foods could make a big difference, since processed, take-out-type fare accounts for 75% of the excess salt in our diets. But new research suggests eating more grapes could also help counter sodium’s damaging effects.

Michigan State study found that when red, green and black grapes were powdered and mixed in with the high-salt feed of hypertensive rats, the animals enjoyed better heart function, reduced inflammation and lower blood pressure. For the sake of comparison, researchers exchanged the grapes for hypertension medication — which lowered the rats’ blood pressure, as expected, but did not afford the same heart muscle protection provided by the grapes!

Grapes offer ample other benefits, according to ongoing research. For example, drinking grape juice regularly may improve short-term memory, coordination and balance. Many of the benefits attributed to red wine — such as higher HDL (good) cholesterol — are also afforded by grape juice, without the risks of alcohol. And check this out: the body absorbs the anthocyanins that might be responsible for such benefits more easily from grape juice than from wine.

Published October 1, 2009