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Longer-Lasting Protection

Even better news, for Sanford and other teetotalers, is that the antioxidants in grape juice appear to linger in the body longer than do those in wine. At the University of California, Davis, researchers took a 1996 cabernet sauvignon, removed all the alcohol, and asked a group of nine volunteers to alternate between drinking the nonalcoholic wine one day and an alcoholic version the next. In their findings, reported in the January 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a key antioxidant called catechin remained in the blood for more than 4 hours after the volunteers drank the nonalcoholic wine, compared to only 3.2 hours for the full-strength cabernet. Apparently, alcohol hastens the breakdown of the antioxidant in the blood, speeding its elimination from the body.

But wine may provide at least one benefit grape juice doesn't: Alcohol has been shown to increase levels of HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, in the blood.

Even so, if you're a non-drinker, grape juice is a terrific way to get many of wine's potential health benefits, Folts says. If you do go for the juice, choose the purple kind, which is far richer in antioxidant flavonoids than red or white. Surprisingly, eating red table grapes won't provide as much protection. That's because the juice is made by crushing not just the skin and flesh but the seeds, too, which are especially rich in flavonoids. White grapes and grape juice won't do either, because they don't contain the flavonoids that purple or red grapes do.

Sanford can now rest assured. With a glass of purple grape juice with breakfast or for an afternoon snack, her heart can realize the same benefits as those of her wine-drinking friends. And if you don't want wine at dinner, uncork one of the fine nonalcoholic reds on the market. They're loaded with antioxidants as well as great flavor -- and you can drink all you like without worrying about driving home.

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