Having high levels of artery-damaging LDL cholesterol is a symptomless problem. Since it’s also a serious risk factor for heart disease – which is the No. 1 cause of death for American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – it’s important to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels. Dates are among the handful of foods that contain beta-glucan, a special kind of soluble fiber that’s particularly effective at reducing high cholesterol.
Dates and Fiber
Dates – or “nature’s candy,” as they’ve been cleverly nicknamed – are dense, chewy and richly sweet. Their low water content makes fresh dates a compact source of calories, nutrients and fiber, much like dried fruit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 1/2-cup serving of chopped Deglet Noor dates, or about 10 pitted fruits, provides approximately 210 calories and 6 grams of fiber, or 24 percent of the recommended daily value. You’ll get about 200 calories and 5 grams of fiber from three Medjool dates, which are one of the largest varieties available.
Dates are high in soluble fiber, and a substantial amount of it is in the form of beta-glucan. Soluble fiber is generally known for promoting healthy cholesterol levels, but certain types – such as pectin and beta-glucan – are more efficient at reducing high cholesterol. Beta-glucan fiber dissolves in fluid to form a sticky substance that affects cholesterol in various ways. It adheres to the cholesterol in food and prevents it from being absorbed. The bile acids your body produces to facilitate digestion also contain cholesterol. Beta-glucan binds to these acids and promotes their excretion through waste. Your body must pull cholesterol from your bloodstream to generate more digestive bile, which effectively lowers your cholesterol levels.
Food is responsible for contributing just 25 percent of the cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association. Your body manufactures the rest. Diet, activity level, cigarette smoking and genetic predisposition all help determine cholesterol levels. Your total blood cholesterol levels are considered borderline high starting at 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood. You have high cholesterol – which more than doubles your risk of heart disease – once your total blood levels reach 240 milligrams per deciliter. LDL cholesterol – the “bad” type that can clog and damage your arteries when blood levels are high – reflects your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. LDL cholesterol is borderline high starting at 130 milligrams per deciliter of blood, high at 160 milligrams per deciliter and very high starting 190 milligrams per deciliter.
Dates can be a bit of a godsend when you’re trying to achieve healthy cholesterol levels, especially if you have a sweet tooth. Whereas baked goods and commercially produced treats tend to be high in saturated and trans fats – both of which contribute to high cholesterol levels – dates are virtually fat-free. You’ll also get about 14 percent of the daily value for potassium from three Medjool dates or 1/2 cup of chopped Deglet Noors. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, and maintaining healthy blood pressure levels is another way to protect against heart disease. Since 60 to 70 percent of the fruit’s weight comes from sugar, however, it’s important to keep servings limited. A 1/2-cup serving of Deglet Noors supplies close to 50 grams of sugar, as does a serving of three Medjool dates.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Women and Heart Disease Fact Sheet
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Fiber
- American Heart Association: About Cholesterol
- American Heart Association: What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Dates, Medjool
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Dates, Deglet Noor
- Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; Michael Murray, N.D., et al.
- Wellness Foods A to Z; Sheldon Margen, M.D., et al.
- American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide; Roberta Larson Duyff, M.S., R.D.
Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.