Grape Leaves: Delicious AND Super Healthy
By: Noah Robertson/Arab America Contributing Writer
By now, much of the U.S. knows of grape leaves because of the distinctive stuffed grape leaves (dolmas) sold throughout the country. Less well known outside of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean communities are the leaves themselves and their uses outside of stuffing. Even less well known, even within the communities commonly eating grape leaves, are their amazing health benefits. They are extraordinarily healthy, and with a delicious and unique flavor, they definitely should be added to your grocery list. Let’s learn why they are so healthy!
How to Pick the Right Grape Leaves
Grape leaves are cordate, heart-shaped, and have multiple lobes with serrated edges and pointed tips on each lobe. They are typically green, but some varieties are red. It is recommended to harvest from the vine in late spring to early summer with the morning the best time for picking. The best leaves are medium-sized, shiny, smooth, and not too tough. Stiff or hairy leaves are not good and avoid leaves with holes if you want to use them as wraps. Leaves should be washed, de-stemmed, and then can be frozen for up to six months. When cooking immediately, either blanch or brine them. They can also be preserved in a brine, which is how they are sold in stores or online. These leaves should still be washed before use.
Grape Leaves’ Culinary Uses
It is quite easy to use grape leaves in a meal. One of the simplest ways to use grape leaves is by chopping them up to add into a salad for some added nutrition and flavor. They can also be used as a great healthy way to eat hummus if you use them to scoop it up. Another option is simply eating them straight for a quick snack. Of course, they can be stuffed with the classic meat, rice, spices, and herbs and boiled in broth for a delicious treat. They can also be paired and combined with meat, rice, yogurt, fish, and herb dishes/combinations. Not only are they versatile, but they are tender, tangy, and delicious.
The Health Benefits
Major Vitamins and Minerals:
These are the top vitamins, and minerals grape leaves contain, though there are many others. These percentages are based on one cup (~5 leaves) serving size, with percentages being one’s recommended daily vitamin intake.
- Vitamin A: 77%
- Manganese: 19%
- Vitamin K: 17%
- Copper: 6%
- Calcium: 5%
- Iron: 4%
Other Beneficial Aspects:
Not only are grape leaves rich in important vitamins (we will go into how these help you later), but they also are low in calories with only 14 for every 5 leaves. They are also high in fiber, which is key for good digestion, have a high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, and have a low glycemic load (good for diabetics).
Why Do All of These Vitamins, Minerals, Fats, and Others Matter?
- Let’s start with the most prevalent vitamin, vitamin A. At 77% of our daily vitamin intake, this a major health benefit. It is important for maintaining the function and integrity of all surface tissues – think your skin, respiratory tract, the gut, the bladder, etc. Not only that, but it also helps maintain good low-light vision, the immune system, and reproduction, to name a few. Vitamin A literally keeps us healthy, and our body working properly.
- Next up is manganese, which is super important in forming cartilage to lubricate our joints, so they function better. This helps avoid arthritis. It also helps form antioxidants, which shield our body from free radicals which damage or destroy cells. Manganese also acts in a supporting role for other vitamins and minerals.
- Vitamin K is our next major benefit from grape leaves. Not only is it beneficial to bone health, but it heals wounds for us. It helps improve bone mineral density and decrease fracture risk. Vitamin K also works with vitamin D to ensure calcium reaches our bones, strengthening them. It is also integral to healing wounds because of its effect on ensuring blood clotting occurs. Manganese also aids in this process.
- Copper, our body needs it to form collagen, which creates young and healthy skin. So, grape leaves are not only tasty, but you’ll look great while eating them. Enough copper also ensures red blood cell formation – along with iron – and low copper levels have been linked to high cholesterol and blood pressure. It also maintains bone and immune health.
- Calcium, we all know this one. It helps form and strengthen healthy bones and teeth. Less known, is that your heart muscles and nerves also need calcium to function properly. Not enough calcium also leads to stunted growth and brittle bones (osteoporosis).
- Iron is very important in the formation of red blood cells, which generally ensure the body runs properly. General energy, focus, the immune system, body temperature, and other important bodily functions all rely on iron. Also, it helps make sure oxygen is transported, which is obviously important.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent heart disease, protect against inflammation, improve bone and joint health, and are generally good for you. However, even if it’s not the same as the amount found in fish, grape leaves contain a solid amount of these.
- Not only do grape leaves have a low glycemic load that diabetics must monitor, but their high levels of fiber help lower blood glucose levels. High fiber also maintains good digestion, which means absorbing nutrients better and avoiding constipation.
- You also can get smarter by eating grape leaves because of the vitamin B6 in them, which protects and promotes cognitive function. This includes preventing the chances of dementia.
- Strong levels of vitamin C also enhance the immune system, helps with iron absorption, and assists in processes to prevent cancer growth.
In the past, grape leaves were also used commonly as a medical treatment. They were used to cope with stomach aches, canker sores, diarrhea, arthritis, liver inflammation, and more.
Not only do grape leaves have few to no downsides, but they have many benefits and are very delicious. One can easily purchase them and use them in most meals, so head out to your store now or a nearby grapevine and purchase or pick them!
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