'Local dates are best variety to fight disease'

Dates are a rich source of fiber, they attach themselves to harmful, oxygen-free radicals and remove them from the body.

May 5, 2013 21:41
2 minute read.

Dates 311. (photo credit: Yehoshua Halevi)

All nine varieties of dates grown in Israel and found on any supermarket shelf have characteristics that make them better than other varieties at helping protect those who consume them against cardiovascular diseases.

This has just been demonstrated by Prof. Michael Aviram and colleagues from Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center and Technion- Israel Institute of Technology.

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The research was published in the prestigious Journal of Agriculture Food Chemistry.

Aviram and his team, including Dr. Hamutal Borochov-Neori of Southern Arava Research and Development, have been studying the health benefits of dates for some time.

The most effective varieties are the yellow Barhi, Deri, Medjool and Halawi. The other date varieties are Amari, Deglet, Noor, Hadrawi and Hayani.

There are about 20 date varieties growing in various parts of the world, including North Africa and Arizona in the US, but the Israeli varieties growing in the Jordan Valley and the Arava (and in Jericho in the Palestinian Authority) are the best, said Aviram.

Aviram told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that it doesn’t matter if dates are eaten fresh or dried, but consuming silan – date syrup – can offer little improvement to healthy cardiovascular systems.

As silan is a sweet concentrate that does not contain fibers, it is far from the real thing.

A study the researchers published in the same journal four years ago showed that eating three dates a day does not raise blood sugar levels in healthy people, but it does reduce blood triglycerides and even “improves the quality” of blood cholesterol by reducing its oxidation. These effects reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and other vascular diseases, they said.

Aviram said, however, that since dates contain a lot of sugar, they are not recommended for diabetics, and that they will not reduce blood sugar levels in this group.

He said that eating a small amount of pomegranate may slightly reduce blood sugar in diabetics but is not recommended as a regular regimen.

In 2009 Aviram was the first to show that antioxidants from the group of polyphenols found in pomegranates, red wine and olive oil help remove plaque from inside the arteries. In the new research, the team found that dates can bring about the slowing and even regression of atherosclerosis (accumulation of fatty plaque) in the coronary arteries, and that eating one of the the three specific date varieties is most effective.

The material in dates has the clear ability to speed up the removal of excess cholesterol from endothelial cells inside blood vessels, the team said.

Dates have been cultivated in the Middle East, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsular for more than 5,000 years, the new article states. Writings of ancient religious and traditional medicine praised dates for their health benefits but did not prove these claims.

Nothing was known about cholesterol in ancient times, but the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects were noted, even though nothing was known about how this worked.

Dates have a high sugar content, but as they are also a rich source of fiber, they attach themselves to harmful, oxygen-free radicals and remove them from the body. They also have an abundance of minerals such as potassium, zinc, magnesium and calcium.

The Haifa researchers recommend following a Mediterranean diet – with its variety of vegetables and fruit (including dates), fish, whole grains and olive oil – rather than eating just one or two ingredients, so that a whole range of oxidative factors that cause atherosclerosis can be neutralized.

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