Dates are sweet fruits of date palm tree scientifically known as "Phoenix dactylifera," which is grown in many tropical regions of the world. The term date comes from the Greek word "daktulos," which means fingers.
The date fruit is a "drupe," in which its outer fleshy part (exocarp and mesocarp) surrounds a shell (the pit or stone) of hardened endocarp with a seed inside. The fruit is oval to cylindrical in shape, 3cm to 7cm long, and 2cm to 3cm diameter, and ripe dates range from golden yellow, amber, bright-red, dark-red to deep-brown depending on the cultivar type (varieties). Some of the important varieties popular for their rich taste, flavour, and superior quality include Medjool, Deglet Noor, Amir Hajj, Saidy, Khadrawy, Zaghloul, Sukkary, among many others.
Dates can significantly boost energy levels in people within half an hour of consumption and have become quite popular in recent years.
According to history, date palm is known to have come from what is now Iraq, however, Egyptians were known to have made wine with dates a lot earlier as well.
Thanks to trade, dates travelled to southwest Asia, Spain, northern Africa, and were later also taken to Mexico and California. Today, it continues to be one of the most important ingredients in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Farmers harvest dates in the fall and early winter, so dates usually taste freshest at this time of year. However, many people eat dried dates, which can last for a long time in a sealed container.
You can tell whether or not dates are dried based on their appearance. A wrinkled skin indicates they are dried, whereas a smooth skin indicates freshness.
Dates are chewy with a sweet flavour. They are also high in some important nutrients and have a variety of advantages and uses.
Dates are extremely nutritious, possessing an excellent nutritional value such as protein, minimal fat, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, folic acid, tannic acid, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese, iron, sodium, zinc, sulphur, nicotine and selenium.
Dates are also high in antioxidants, which may contribute to the many health benefits.
Health Benefits of Dates
From the time it was discovered, which was thousands of years ago, dates were known to have healing powers. And while science has proven that, it is loved mostly because of how delicious the fruits taste.
Let us look at some of the key health benefits in detail below.
Good Source of Energy
Dates are high in natural sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Therefore, they are the perfect snack for an immediate burst of energy. Some if not many people around the world eat dates for a quick afternoon snack when they are feeling lethargic or sluggish.
Often when you exercise in a gym, outside or even on a stretching machine at home, you feel exhausted. In one study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, it was found that chewing a few at such times helps you regain energy immediately.
People of Islamic faith who fast break their fast by eating dates along with water. This also helps avoid overeating of food once the fast is over. When the body begins to absorb the high nutritional value of the dates, feelings of hunger are pacified.
Dates Aid Digestive Health
Getting enough fibre is important for one’s overall health and with good amount of fibre in dates, including them in diet is a great way to increase one’s fibre intake.
Fibre can benefit one’s digestive health by preventing constipation. It promotes regular bowel movements by contributing to the formation of stool.
Dates are often categorized as a laxative food. This is why they are often eaten by people suffering from constipation. In order to achieve the desired laxative effect of dates, soak some of them in water overnight, then consume in the morning when they turn into pure date syrup to get the most optimal results.
In one study, 21 people who consumed 7 dates per day for 21 days experienced improvements in stool frequency and had a significant increase in bowel movements compared to when they did not eat dates.
Excellent Natural Sweetener and Good for Blood Sugar Control
Dates are a source of fructose, which is a natural type of sugar found in the fruit, thus, making dates very sweet and also have a subtle caramel-like taste. Dates make a great healthy substitute for white sugar in recipes due to the nutrients, fibre and antioxidants that they provide.
The fibre in dates may be beneficial for blood sugar control. For this reason, dates have a low glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating a certain food. Fibre slows digestion and may help prevent blood sugar levels from spiking too high after eating. Thus, eating them may benefit diabetes management.
Although these potential health benefits need more human studies before conclusions can be made. The best way to substitute dates for white sugar is to make date paste (it is made by mixing dates with water in a blender). A rule of thumb is to replace sugar with date paste at a 1:1 ratio. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you’ll replace it with 1 cup of date paste.
It is important to note that although dates are high in fibre and nutrients, they are still fairly high in calories and best consumed in moderation.
Boost Brain Health
The vitamins present in dates make it an ideal boost to nervous system health and functionality. Potassium is one of the prime ingredients in promoting a healthy and responsive nervous system, and it also improves the speed and alertness of the brain activity.
Degeneration of brain tissue is an accepted reality of aging, although it does not need to be the case. Many of these adverse changes are related to excessive inflammation, which can be slowed down if the effects of cortisol and other oxidants are controlled. Dates are known to be excellent buffers of cortisol, reducing the inflammatory influence of it. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have an inflammatory component which can be reduced if you control excessive inflammation in the body. Flavonoids, one of the most potent antioxidants in dates, may help reduce inflammation and have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Improve Bone Health
There are plenty of foods that supply calcium, which dates have, but there are far fewer that supply Vitamin K, an important co-factor in blood clotting and necessary for proper bone mineralization. Dates also contain magnesium, another mineral that helps to reinforce the structural integrity of bone tissue.
Again, dates contain phosphorus, selenium, manganese, copper and potassium; all of these minerals are required when it comes to keeping our bones healthy and preventing conditions such as osteoporosis.
Promote Heart Health
Dates are quite helpful in keeping your heart healthy. When they are soaked overnight, crushed in the morning and then consumed, they have been shown to have a positive effect on weak hearts. They are also a rich source of potassium, which studies have shown to reduce the risk of stroke and other heart-related diseases.
Furthermore, they are suggested as a healthy and delicious way to reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body, which is a major contributing factor to heart attacks and stroke.
Treat Intestinal Disorders
The nicotine content in dates is thought to be beneficial for curing many kinds of intestinal disorders. Continuous intake helps inhibit the growth of the pathological organisms and thus, help stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines.
Phenolic acid, one of the important antioxidants in dates, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and may help lower the risk of cancer and heart related diseases mentioned earlier.
Dates have impressive levels of iron which make them a perfect dietary supplement for people suffering from anaemia.
The high levels of iron in dates balance out the inherent lack of iron in anaemic patients, increasing energy and strength while decreasing feelings of fatigue and sluggishness.
Help Prevent Night Blindness
Many people struggle with vision under poor lighting conditions even though their eyes may physically be in great shape. This has many causes, but among them are those caused by a deficiency of vitamin A or its related carotenoids antioxidants. Dates provide us with vitamin A and carotenoids antioxidants which can also play an important role in delaying macular degeneration of the eye as a result of aging, helping preserve vision for a longer time.
Help Control Blood Pressure
One striking feature of dates is that their sodium content is so low it can be considered negligible, while they contain more than enough potassium. We know that excessive sodium (salt) is a major contributing factor to high blood pressure, but potassium exerts a controlling effect, helping promote sodium excretion. As a result, since dates are rich in potassium but not in sodium, it creates a scenario that promotes the excretion of sodium and excess water, regulating blood volume and blood pressure.
The vitamins C and D works on your skin's elasticity, and also keeps your skin smooth. Plus, if you suffer from skin problems, incorporating dates into your diet might help you in the long run. Dates also come with anti-ageing benefits, and prevent the accumulation of melanin in your body.
Relieve Alcoholic Intoxication
Dates are often used as a remedy for alcoholic intoxication. They provide quick relief and have a sobering effect in case you feel as though you have consumed an uncomfortable amount of alcohol.
You can use organic California Medjool dates the following morning to prevent severe hangovers. Again, they should be soaked overnight for best results.
Support Healthy Pregnancy and Promote Natural Labour
Pregnancy is a time when caloric needs increase, along with nutritional requirements. Dates are relatively high in calories from carbohydrates, and are excellent sources of folic acid.
Eating dates throughout the last few weeks of pregnancy may promote cervical dilation and lower the need for induced labour. They may also be helpful for reducing labour time.
In one study, 69 women who consumed 6 dates per day for 4 weeks prior to their due date were 20% more likely to go into labour naturally and were in labour for significantly less time than those who did not eat them.
Another study of 154 pregnant women found that those who ate dates were much less likely to be induced compared to those who did not.
A third study found similar results in 91 pregnant women who consumed 70 to 76 grams of dates daily starting the 37th week of pregnancy. They were in active labour for an average of 4 fewer hours than those who did not eat dates.
Although eating dates appears to help promote labour and reduce labour duration, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
Additionally, dates contain tannins, which are compounds that have been shown to help facilitate contractions. They are also a good source of natural sugar and calories, which are necessary to maintain energy levels during labour.
May Cure Allergies
One of the most interesting facets of dates is the presence of organic sulphur in them. This is not a very common element to find in foods, but it does have a worthwhile amount of health benefits, including the reduction of allergic reactions and seasonal allergies.
According to a study done in 2002, organic sulphur compounds can have a positive impact on the amount of suffering people experience from SAR (Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis). Dates are a great way to stem the effects of those seasonal allergies through their contributions of sulphur to the diet.
Risks and Considerations
Dates have very high sugar content relative to the rest of their nutritional value. People who are trying to manage their blood sugar, such as those with diabetes, should be mindful of their total sugar intake when consuming dates.
Eating dates in moderation is unlikely to raise a person's blood sugar excessively, even if they have diabetes.
Easy to Eat and Add to Dishes
People consume them in several ways, such as mixing the paste of the dates with milk and yogurt or as bread spread for a delicious and healthy breakfast. Natural date paste is beneficial for both adults and children, especially during a time of recovery from injury or illness.
Also, dates can be eaten fresh or dried, much like raisins. People can also add them to a variety of sweet or savoury dishes.
Some examples of dishes that incorporate dates include:
Stuffed dates: People can stuff dates with almonds, pecans, walnuts, candied orange, nut butter, cream cheese, or pistachios for a snack or finger food.
Salads: Chopped, sliced, or pitted whole dates are an excellent addition to salads.
Smoothies: Blending dates into a banana smoothie adds natural sweetness and extra nutritional value.
Stews: Dates taste great in Moroccan stews or tagine dishes.
Energy balls: People can blend dates with nuts, cranberries, oats, coconut flakes, or a variety of other ingredients to make no-bake "energy balls."
Juice: Dates are also being used to prepare juice and Jallab (a type of syrup popular in the Middle East and made from dates, grape molasses, and rose water).
How to Select and Store
Dates can be readily available in the groceries year round. One may come across soft (wet), semi-dry or dried types displayed for sale. When shopping for dates, choose those that are shiny, uniformly coloured and not broken.
A person can store fresh dates in an airtight container in the refrigerator for many months and even longer in the freezer. If refrigerated, dried dates will last for about 1 year in an airtight container and many years if frozen.
A person should not eat dates that have a sour smell, are very hard, or have crystallized sugar on their surface. These signs can indicate the dates have gone bad.
In a Nutshell
Dates are a very healthy fruit to include in your diet. They are definitely worth adding to your diet, as they are both nutritious and delicious.
They are high in several nutrients and antioxidants, all of which may provide health benefits ranging from improved energy level to a reduced risk of illnesses or health degeneration.
There are several ways to add dates to your diet. One popular way to eat them is as a natural sweetener in various dishes. They also make a great snack.
It’s easiest to find dates in their dried form, though these are higher in calories than fresh fruit so it is important to eat them in moderation.