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NUTRITION: Think creatively when preparing grapes

Grapes are arguably the world's most popular fruit. Grapes can be purchased fresh year round but are in peak season toward the end of summer and into fall. Grapes are turned into raisins, jams and, of course, wine. These products are also available year-round. Grapes are grown on vines and come in many different colors, including red, green, purple and black. Green grapes tend to be more tart, while black grapes are often the most sweet, and red is somewhere in between. Some grapes contain seeds, but the most common variety of grapes that are sold in grocery stores do not.

When buying grapes, make sure the fruit has a bright, uniform color. The stems should be green and not brittle. Bloom is a white, waxy, naturally occurring substance that protects grapes from moisture loss and decay, and it is safe to eat. Be sure to remove any grapes that have mold or shriveling, as these could make neighboring grapes deteriorate further. Then store grapes unwashed in the refrigerator. Grapes can stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. They also can be easily frozen. Wash grapes thoroughly under cool water, dry and remove all stems. Then place the clean, dry grapes on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and place in the freezer. Frozen grapes can be used to make smoothies or sorbets, and are delicious to eat all on their own.

Grapes contain many phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural chemicals in plants (fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, nuts) that help protect the plant from germs, fungi and bugs. Resveratrol, a phytochemical found in grapes, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease and even cancer prevention. Grapes are also good sources of vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber.

I have personally rediscovered grapes and have started exploring their diversity. I love that grapes are a very easy grab-and-go snack. Whole grapes are a choking hazard for young children (and even adults), so be sure to slice them before giving grapes to kids or people with swallowing concerns.

I love that grapes can be made sweet or savory. They can be roasted by using a light drizzle of oil and then seasoned with whatever spices complement the dish. Adding some salt and pepper before roasting will leave you with grapes that you can use stirred in oatmeal, to top toast, or as a component of a cheese-and-cracker plate. I like roasted grapes with root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, which I often season with thyme. I also like roasting them with more bitter vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts. Fresh sliced grapes can add some texture to a salad or sandwich. I came across a recipe of topping sweet potatoes with grapes and goat cheese, which I plan to try for Thanksgiving.

I recommend purchasing fresh grapes over products like raisins, jams and juice. The latter can be part of a healthy diet, but they have more concentrated sugars than fresh grapes, so the serving size is smaller.

Roasted Brussels sprouts and Grapes

4 cups Brussels sprouts, halved

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups grapes (I use red)

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

Sprinkle of salt and pepper

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Toss all ingredients together. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Brenda Schwerdt, RDN, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke’s hospital. Contact her at dietitian@slhduluth.com.