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DateNut-Health
Whole fresh Medjool dates. Both Medjools and Deglet Noors in the whole and whole pitted form are now authorized to use the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Mark. (Photo courtesy of Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association)

Research on the health benefits of dates has demonstrated the benefits to heart health with sufficiently conclusive evidence that heart-healthy messages have been approved for dates by both the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the American Heart Association, according to Charlene Rainey, director of research for the Date Research Institute and nutrition spokesperson for California Dates, a trademark of the California Date Commission.

Heart health is just one of numerous health and nutrition benefits of dates. Based on “our last three years of research,” however, the heart-healthy benefits seem to stand out, so “we have started a rebranding campaign” for California Dates, and “in that rebranding, our most important point is that California dates protect your heart,” Ms. Rainey said.

There are “many reasons” for selecting heart health as the most appropriate focus for a health message for dates, she said. First is the fact that the FDA allows dates to claim that they are heart-healthy, “so we can put ‘Heart Healthy’ on any package. The other is that growers now have authorization to use the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Mark on packaging and in advertising. The American Heart Association “really has a lot of credibility,” she added.

For the coming holiday period, Ms. Rainey said, the campaign theme for California Dates is “Dates protect your heart for the holidays, and a gift of dates protects those closest to your heart.”

During the winter holiday period is “usually when we are having the most sugary sweets,” she said. Added sugar has been shown to increase triglyceride levels, cause inflammation and cause oxidation of free radicals. For those reasons, the American Heart Association “came out against added sugars,” she said.

By replacing added sugars in recipes with dates, which have natural sugars as well as antioxidant polyphenols, “you are protecting from inflammation and you are protecting from raising your triglycerides and protecting from all of the oxidation. So dates really play a protective role in a meal and in the diet,” Ms. Rainey said.

That is good news for people who want to eat more heart-healthy holiday meals. “Our research has shown that fruits have their lowest consumption of the year during the winter.” But the holiday period is the peak sales time for dates, which are harvested during the fall and early winter. So availability of dates is at its apex during the holiday season.

“We have lots of recipes that have been approved by the American Heart Association.” Also, “we have had a lot of help from dieticians showing how to use dates to replace added sugars,” she said. “We are working with Facebook and Twitter” in a social media campaign and have also developed “lots of educational materials that the dieticians are now using in their wellness programs. We go out to the dieticians and provide them with the tools,” such as background research on dates. “Then they have these downloadable tools to go out and be our ambassadors” in spreading the message that “dates protect your heart.”