Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. They’ve thrived for thousands of years across the Middle East. Known for their sweet flavor, dates are now grown all over the globe.
Dates are the fruit of a palm tree known as the date palm, a flowering plant species in the palm family Arecacea. There are over 2,000 varieties of dates. The medjool date is one of the most common types of dates grown in the United States. It’s known for its sweet flavor and deep, amber-brown color.
Dates can be used in dessert recipes, protein shakes, and even in savory meat dishes. Their large pit can be taken out and replaced with cream cheese or nuts for a snack. The sweet fruit is also brimming with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fiber.
Unfortunately, dates are also high in sugar and calories. If you’re on a diet, it may be wise to skip the dates. Nevertheless, when it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, dates are a great substitute for refined sugar.
The nutritious benefits of dates
Vitamins and minerals
Dates are a good source of potassium. This essential mineral is important for:
- building muscle
- controlling fluid balance
- regulating your heartbeat and blood pressure
- protection against stroke and heart disease
Four dates contain about 668 mg of potassium, or 14 percent of your daily potassium requirement.
A serving of dates also satisfies around 12 percent of your daily need for niacin, an important vitamin that your body uses to help break down food into energy and to assist with nerve function.
Dates also contain a healthy amount of vitamin B-6, which the body uses to build muscle and grow hair and nails. They contain vitamin A, which is needed for protecting the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes.
Dates are an excellent source of iron as well, containing about 11 percent of the recommended daily amount. Iron is important for making red blood cells and helping them carry oxygen to the cells of your body.
Eating just four dates will give you 6.4 grams of fiber. For men, this translates to up to 21 percent of the recommended amount. For women, it means up to 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber, depending on your age. More fiber helps aid digestion by softening and increasing the weight and size of your stool.
Bulkier stools are easier to pass and can prevent constipation. Fiber also keeps you full for longer because it slows down the emptying of your stomach. Dietary fiber is known to decrease cholesterol levels, especially the “bad” type of cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Sugar and calories
While most fiber-rich foods aid in weight loss, dates aren’t a low-calorie food. This is because of their high carbohydrate and sugar content. There are 266 calories in a serving of four dates, and nearly 64 grams of sugar. Dates and dried fruits are denser than fresh fruits. If you’re trying to lose weight, stick to fresh fruits like apples and berries. The silver lining is that dates are the perfect snack for an immediate burst of energy without refined, added sugar.
Despite the large amount of sugar, dates are considered low on the glycemic index. This means that they don’t cause a huge spike in blood glucose after you eat them. This is especially important for people with type 2 diabetes. A recent study in people with diabetes found that consuming five different types of dates didn’t result in a significant jump in blood glucose compared to healthy people. This means that in moderation and as part of a balanced diet, dates may be an excellent choice for people with diabetes.
Dates contain tannins, a type of naturally occurring antioxidant known as a polyphenol. Tannins are known to help prevent cell damage and to possess anti-inflammatory properties. They may even help protect against cancer.
Research has discovered that in Saudi Arabia, where dates are widely consumed as a staple food source, cancer is far less common than in the United States.
How to eat dates
Dry or soft dates can be eaten right off the tree. You can also take out the pit and stuff the dates with fillings like:
- cream cheese
Dates can also be chopped or thrown into a food processor for use in a range of:
- sweet appetizers
- savory meat dishes
Dates also taste amazing wrapped in bacon or prosciutto and served as a salty sweet appetizer.
Here are some other recipe ideas for dates.
- Want chocolate brownies? These guilt-free vegan chocolate date balls are sure to satisfy your craving. View the recipe.
- If you’re looking for a go-to side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner, try sweetening up some roasted butternut squash with dates and toasted almonds for an exotic twist on a traditional dish. View the recipe.
- A medjool date and coffee protein shake is an excellent way to shake up your post-workout snack. View the recipe.
- If you are looking for a creative dinner, look no further than this recipe for date-stuffed chicken with nuts. View the recipe.
- One of the best and most versatile uses for dates is in a date bar, a healthy alternative to your everyday snack. Combine all of your favorite ingredients into a no-bake snack with these toasted coconut, date, and nut bars. View the recipe.
- For a decadent and creamy breakfast, try this simple recipe for creamy date porridge. With little change to the taste, you can leave out the brown sugar to avoid the added sugar. View the recipe.
Dates can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Dates are an excellent substitute for sugar in recipes. They are a good source of:
- vitamin B-6
Dates can help:
- relieve constipation
- lower your cholesterol
- protect against cancer
- help grow your muscles
- keep your hair and nails strong
- provide quick yet lasting energy
Dates are healthy, but only in moderation. They’re high in sugar and calories, so eating too many can result in weight gain if you’re not careful. If you’re trying to lose weight, you should avoid dates and stick to fresh fruits and vegetables. Enjoy dates in moderation for a healthy treat.