Glorious, red pomegranates and their Middle Eastern sister, luscious toffee-like dates, are delicious, increasingly trendy, and healthy to boot. As it turns out, when consumed together they are a winning combination in the war against heart disease. Just half a glass of pomegranate juice a day with a handful of dates can do the trick!
A team of researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, led by Professor Michael Aviram of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Rambam Medical Center, has discovered that the combination of pomegranate juice and dates along with their pits provide maximum protection against atherosclerosis (plaque buildup or hardening of the arteries), which can cause a heart attack or stroke. The findings were published in the most recent issue (March 26, 2015) of Food & Function, a journal of The Royal Society of Chemistry.
A number of risk factors are involved in the development of atherosclerosis, including cholesterol oxidation, which leads to accumulation of lipids in the arterial wall. Natural antioxidants can slow down the oxidation process in the body, and serve to reduce the risk of heart attack. For the past 25 years, Prof. Aviram and his research team have been working on isolating and researching those antioxidants, in order to keep plaque buildup at bay.
Going into the most recent study, the team was aware of the individual benefits provided by pomegranates and dates. Pomegranate juice, rich in polyphenolic antioxidants (derived from plants), has been shown to most significantly reduce oxidative stress. Dates, which are rich sources of phenolic radical scavenger antioxidants, also inhibit the oxidation of LDL (the so-called “bad cholesterol”) and stimulate the removal of cholesterol from lipid-laden arterial cells. Prof. Aviram had a hunch that since dates and pomegranate juice are composed of different phenolic antioxidants, the combination could thus prove more beneficial than the sum of its parts.
In a trial performed on arterial cells in culture, as well as in atherosclerotic mice, the Technion team found that the triple combination of pomegranate juice, date fruits and date pits did indeed provide maximum protection against the development of atherosclerosis because the combination reduced oxidative stress in the arterial wall by 33% and decreased arterial cholesterol content by 28%.
The researchers conclude that people at high risk for cardiovascular diseases, as well as healthy individuals, could benefit from consuming the combination of half a glass of pomegranate juice (4 ounces), together with 3 dates. Ideally, the pits should be ground up into a paste and eaten as well, but even without the pits, the combination is better than either fruit alone.
*Image of “pomegranate juice” via Shutterstock