The tradition of eating dried carob pods and various other fruits to mark Tu Bishvat – the Jewish New Year of Trees – is not and should not be observed by Israelis. The custom originated with the Jews who lived in the Diaspora and suffered from a lack of fresh fruit in the winter season, so they consumed dried fruit from Israel instead.
The Israel Plants Production and Marketing Board urges Israelis to mark the day, which falls on Monday night and Tuesday next week, by purchasing and eating any of dozens of Israeli-grown fruits instead.
“Unfortunately, every year on Tu Bishvat, supermarkets display mounds of dried fruits, which are usually more expensive than fresh produce. At this time of year, you can find dozens of types of fresh fruit produced in the country on the shelves, there is no reason to continue consuming imported and processed dried fruit, some of which are high in added sugar, preservatives and food coloring, while the fresh fruit is completely natural and rich in vitamins and many nutritional values, without any food coloring or industrial processing.”
Fresh fruit is healthier than dry fruit
According to Zvi Alon, the Board’s CEO, “Israeli growers market approximately two billion kilos of fresh fruits and vegetables to the local market every year, each of which has high health and nutritional values. For many years, local growers have been proving their great importance as a first-rate factor in maintaining Israel’s food security and providing the citizens of the country with fresh and healthy agricultural produce.”
Unfortunately, despite this, Alon continued, “there are those in Israel who are trying to expand the importation of agricultural produce unnecessarily and without supervision in a way that will not reduce prices or benefit consumers. It will bring with it diseases and pests that will seriously harm farmers and in Israeli crops. I call on the citizens of Israel to celebrate Tu Bishvat this year with a plate of fresh fruit and to forgo dried fruit so they will both maintain their health and support the local economy and Israeli farmers.”
The Board emphasized that there are currently many fresh Israeli fruits on the shelves, including bananas, apples, oranges, strawberries, pears, kiwis, clementines, melons, persimmons, grapefruit, pomegranates, pomelos, red grapefruits, dates and more. Regarding most fruits, it is very easy to identify which is fresh Israeli fruit and which is imported dried fruit.
However, when it comes to almonds for example, it is a little more difficult to differentiate, Alon explained. “The Israeli almond is significantly larger and flatter compared to the almond imported overseas. Its color is darker, and it is considered tastier. And it is definitely worth your effort to find it, almonds are particularly rich in health components, dietary fiber, vegetable proteins, healthy fats, phytosterols and antioxidants, and are a very tasty addition to the holiday table.”
Merav Mor-Opir, a clinical nutritionist and scientific advisor to the Board, added that “besides the date, which grows in Israel and dries on the tree naturally without the need for added sugar or preservatives, most dried fruit producers abroad have to ‘treat’ the fresh fruits artificially to dry them. This process involves the use of high temperatures and preservatives such as sulfur dioxide to improve their color, prevent oxidation and spoilage and extend their shelf life. To some of the dried fruits, oils and agents to create a shiny appearance, artificial food colors are also added, and these may cause various symptoms among sensitive people and children. Therefore, it is recommended to consume fresh fruits; they are completely natural, full of vitamins (some of which play an important role in the functioning of the immune system), minerals and antioxidants and do not contain any additives.”
The importance of Vitamin C
Mor-Opir continued that studies show that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits results in a high concentration of antioxidant nutrients in tissues especially vitamin C, carotenoids and polyphenols and a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. In clinical studies, it was found that vitamin C reduced the concentration of protein.
The inflammatory marker CRP, which indicates a reduction in inflammatory processes in the body. In an analysis of the results of approximately 70 observational follow-up studies, a relationship was found between the levels of vitamin C and carotenoids in the diet and in the blood and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality from all causes
For example, any increase in 100 mg per day of vitamin C in the diet was found to be associated with a 12% lower risk of coronary heart disease, eight percent of stroke, 11% of cardiovascular disease and 11% of all-cause mortality. Also, higher concentrations of vitamin C in the blood were found to be associated with a 26% lower risk of coronary heart disease, 30% of stroke, 24% of cardiovascular disease and 28% of all-cause mortality.
Colored peppers, citrus fruits, dark leafy vegetables, strawberries, cabbage and orange melon are vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C. The powerful antioxidant functions of vitamin C – both intracellular and extracellular – result in reducing the concentrations of active oxygen molecules in the tissues.
In the case of arteriosclerosis, reducing the concentration of oxidizing molecules in the blood vessels helps maintain the normal functioning of the endothelium – the cell tissue that lines the surface of the blood vessels – and reducing the production of oxidized LDL-cholesterol, which plays a central role in the development of arteriosclerosis.
Dietary consumption or blood concentration of total carotenoids, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene and vitamin E, found for example in green and orange vegetables, has been found to have a protective effect against disease, she concluded.