One of the oldest cultivated plants on earth, the date fruit comes from the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). The date palm tree can be traced back to southern Mesopotamia as early as the fifth century B.C. 1
The date fruit can be consumed either fresh or dried, but you’re probably most familiar with it as a dried fruit. The dried date has a much sweeter, concentrated flavor. It is famed for its use in many Middle Eastern desserts and treats, and it is a traditional way for Muslims to break their fast during Ramadan.
Dried dates can be likened to candy, with their chewy texture and rich, caramel-like flavor. In fact, they’re often used as a natural sweetener. And because they are high in calories, I suggest treating them like candy and remembering – a little goes a long way.
They contain a good source of essential minerals, such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, as well as vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K. They also contain antioxidants. Not bad for a shriveled little brown thing!
But dates are more than just a sweet treat. They also have some wonderful health benefits. It’s always good news when something sweet is actually good for you!
Health Benefits of Dates
1. Relieves constipation
The high fiber content of dates makes them an excellent choice to help avert and ease constipation. For this reason, dates are often considered to be a “laxative food” – as they combat constipation.
The average adult needs around 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, and most don’t even come close to getting enough. But we need adequate amounts of dietary fiber to successfully move food through our digestive tract, and to ensure that the nutrients from food are correctly absorbed. Just 100 grams of dates provide 6.7 grams of dietary fiber, or 27 percent of the daily recommended intake. Though they do contain some soluble fiber, they are a rich source of insoluble fiber – which helps waste move easily through the digestive tract.
2. Boosts energy
When you need an afternoon pick-me-up, rather than reaching for an energy drink, a chocolate bar, or another cup of coffee, try dates instead. Even though dates have a high natural sugar content, they’re an easily digestible carb that provides a good energy hit. They’re also great as a pre-workout snack. Just remember – a little goes a long way. 1-2 dried dates (3 if they’re tiny) is the perfect sized snack.
3. Good for the heart
An Israeli study found that several varieties of dates (including Medjool – the most widely available) could help inhibit LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol oxidation – where excess levels of bad cholesterol oxidize and produce inflammation in the arteries. This can lead to atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries) and increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. 2
Another study tested subjects over a 4-week period with 100 grams of both Medjool or Hallawi dates on a daily basis. Reduced blood triglyceride levels were reported in both sets of participants, with those taking the Hallawi dates experiencing a higher rate of reduction of around 8 percent. Triglycerides (fat in the blood) give us energy, but if your levels are too high, they store as excess body fat, as well as increase your risk of heart disease. 3
4. Supports strong bones and teeth
A combination of calcium and potassium is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. We already know that calcium is important for strong bones, but what you might not realize is that potassium promotes calcium retention. Think of it as calcium’s minder. A 100 gram serving of Medjool dates provides 20 percent of our daily potassium needs, while also giving us a dose of calcium. 4
Dates are a good source of phosphorous, which is another important mineral in the formation of bones and teeth. It’s also needed for the human body to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues.
5. Dates May Protect Us From Bad Bacteria
Studies have shown that date extract can exhibit strong antibacterial activity against the bacteria E. coli, Salmonella enterica, and Bacillus subtilis, with a moderate inhibition against staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus faecalis. 5
On the flipside, the consumption of date fruits may increase the growth of beneficial bacterial in our guts, thanks to the high prebiotic fiber content. 6
Using Dates As A Sweetener
In the U.S., you will often come across the Medjool date, as it is commonly produced here. Medjool dates are larger, softer, and sweeter than many other varieties. Here are some ways to use Medjool dates as a natural sweetener, as part of a healthy diet:
- Sugar sub in baking: Puree 1 cup pitted dates with 1/2 cup hot water until it forms a thick paste.
- Use dates to add a sweet kick to your smoothie.
- Munch on a few dates in place of dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Process dates with nuts to make a simple, gluten-free crumble pie crust.
- Use dates to sweeten your salad or salad dressing.
Dates are definitely part of a healthy diet with their ample supply of nutrients and antioxidants.
Though they are high in calories and natural sugars (like many fruits), they’re also considered a low glycemic food. This means they help to keep you feeling fuller for longer and don’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. However, like any food, moderation is key – as even natural sugars can lead to weight gain if over-consumed.
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