Drinking a moderate amount of red wine or grape juice could help burn body fat and improve the health of overweight individuals, according to a new study.

The findings suggest dark colored grapes could be an effective weapon against obesity and related conditions such as fatty liver disease, Oregon State University.

To make their findings a research team exposed human liver and fat cells grown in the lab to extracts of four natural chemicals found in Muscadine grapes; they found the chemical ellagic acid was especially potent in terms of body fat-burning properties. The chemical proved to slow the growth of fat cells in the body and boosted the metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells.

The findings did not conclude that grapes could influence body weight, but had significant benefits for overweight individuals such as improving liver function. The research team fed a group of mice a regular diet consisting of about 10 percent fat and another group a diet consisting of 60 percent fat.

"Our mice like that high-fat diet," said Neil Shay, a biochemist and molecular biologist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, "and they overconsume it. So they're a good model for the sedentary person who eats too much snack food and doesn't get enough exercise."

Over a period of 10 weeks the high-fat diet mice developed fatty liver and diabetic symptoms, but a select group that received grape extracts (equivalent to about one-and-a-half cups of grapes a day for humans) accumulated less fat in their livers and had lower blood sugar than those who did not receive them. The researchers also observed higher levels of PPAR-alpha and PPAR-gamma (proteins metabolize fat and sugar within mice) in the mice that were given grape extracts.

"We are trying to validate the specific contributions of certain foods for health benefits," Shay said. "If you're out food shopping, and if you know a certain kind of fruit is good for a health condition you have, wouldn't you want to buy that fruit?"

The findings were published in a recent edition of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.