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updated: 2/1/2011 1:59 PM

Dates an antioxidant-rich choice

Ask the Nutrionist

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Q. What are some healthy ways to eat dates? I saw them on a list of good sources of potassium.

A. Fresh dates are a good source of potassium and they also score high in measures of antioxidant power. They are in season year round while availability of other antioxidant-rich fruits such as berries and peaches vary seasonally.

In the United States dates are most often used in cookies and baked goods, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy them without all the additional calories, fat and sugar. Enjoy them Morocco-style in couscous or in rice.

Fresh dates are also delicious with salad greens combined with nuts (think walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios or toasted almonds) and perhaps some orange slices. Savor the sweetness of two pitted medjool dates (or five to six of the smaller deglet noor types) on their own for a sweet end to dinner or an evening snack, or bring some from home for a midafternoon pick-me-up.

They are a sweet treat with about 135 calories, less than half of one of those big cookies from the coffee bar. They also provide 3 grams of dietary fiber, a good amount of potassium (which helps reduce blood pressure), and practically no sodium. If you look at the Nutrition Facts panel, you see they're not a source of vitamin C or beta-carotene; their antioxidant content comes from plant compounds called polyphenols.

Dates are unfamiliar to many Americans, but a good choice. Enjoy experimenting.

Q. What's the best kind of exercise to help reduce high blood pressure?

A. Aerobic activity will have the biggest impact on your blood pressure. Depending on your starting level of fitness, you might begin with walking three days a week for 10 or 15 minutes. Every couple weeks add another five minutes a day until you are walking or doing other aerobic activity five to seven days a week for 30 minutes or more. It would be terrific to accumulate 60 minutes of aerobic activity each day, which could come from several blocks of 15 to 20 minutes.

Besides walking, other aerobic activities include biking (inside or out), dancing, swimming and active yard work.

Once your fitness begins to improve, add strength training to keep from losing muscle, important for overall well-being. You can use inexpensive hand-held weights, elastic resistance bands, or machines at a Y or fitness center.

For those with high blood pressure, most experts say that low and moderate activity is more effective (and safer) than vigorous exercise. Those who take beta-blocker medicines to control their blood pressure can't gauge their activity by their heart rate, so using a scale of how hard it feels like you are working, something that feels "light" to "somewhat hard" is the recommended range.

When strength training, lighter weights with more repetitions are better than straining to hoist very heavy weights. The combination of regular moderate activity with healthy eating habits and working to reach and maintain a healthy weight can lower your blood pressure and reduce your need for medicine to control it.

Experts says that most healthy people don't need to check with their doctor before increasing exercise, but for those with high blood pressure, that is the smart thing to do.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn more about the group and its New American Plate program at