Palm trees in Ein Gedi
Palm trees in Ein Gedi

By Chava LeVine

At Pesach time, this newspaper ran the exciting news that drinking four cups of wine at your Seder table can help ensure a clean bill of health. Now that Shavuot is upon us, we have even more good news–this time also relevant for teetotalers, pregnant women, and minors–that the same great effect that Israeli red wine offers is also abundant in dates.

Last time, we told you about Professor Michael Aviram, a distinguished scientist who has been revolutionizing cardiovascular medicine in his 35 years as the head of the Lipid Research Laboratory, the director of the Clinical Research Institute at Rambam Health Care Campus (CRIR), and the senior vice-dean of the Technion Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. As mentioned before, his revolutionary research on “bad cholesterol” (LDL) oxidation and its consequent atherosclerosis development (thickening and hardening of the arteries that bring blood to the heart or the brain) which leads to heart attacks and strokes, led him to demonstrate that, in addition to excessive levels of blood LDL cholesterol, LDL oxidation by exposure to harmful entities such as smoke, pollution, chemicals, radiation (and even viruses and bacteria!) can also accelerate atherosclerosis development. The solution: antioxidants, which can block the oxidation of cholesterol and other lipids, and thus protect against cardiovascular diseases.

Now, in his most recent study, conducted together with Dr. Hamutal Borochov-Neori of the Southern Arava R & D Center and his research group at Rambam Medical Center and the Technion Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Aviram and Borochov-Neori discovered that the same features in wine that protect blood vessels and against heart disease are also, excitingly, available in nine varieties of dates commonly grown in Israel.

As Aviram and Borochov-Neori showed in their newest research, dates have a clear ability to accelerate the removal of excess cholesterol from the arteries and to delay oxidation of cholesterol, which can, in turn, prevent heart attacks and strokes. For the date-experts, the most effective varieties of dates are Barhi, Dayri, Medjool, and Halawy.

Although Aviram and Borochov-Neori are the first to scientifically discover this information, the nutritional and medicinal benefits of dates have been known in religion and folk medicine for hundreds of years. Growing dates (not a simple process) is an important part of the Middle Eastern agriculture, and has been prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and North Africa for over 5,000 years.

Additionally, thanks to their high sugar content, dates are a great source of energy; they are rich in unique fibers and important minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium, and zinc); and they are an important part of the popular Mediterranean diet.

Meanwhile, for your Shavuot meals, this author highly recommends a wine, cheese, and fruit meal–thus allowing the benefits of both the wine and dates to do their cholesterol-fighting magic.

A few superb fruit-and-cheese pairings we suggest include watermelon with feta cheese, cantaloupe and cottage cheese, and, my personal favorite, dates with blue cheese wedged in the middle.

Chag Sameach and have a happy, heart-healthy, festival. v


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