Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, which is grown in many tropical regions of the world. Dates have become quite popular in recent years.
Almost all dates sold in Western countries are dried.
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.
Depending on the variety, dates are fairly small in size and range in color from bright red to bright yellow. Medjool and Deglet Noor dates are the most commonly consumed varieties.
Dates are chewy with a sweet flavor. They are also high in some important nutrients and have a variety of advantages and uses.
This article will discuss 8 health benefits of eating dates and how to incorporate them into your diet.
1. Very Nutritious
Dates have an excellent nutrition profile.
Most of the calories in dates come from carbs. The rest are from a very small amount of protein. Despite their calories, dates contain some important vitamins and minerals in addition to a significant amount of fiber.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving provides the following nutrients (1):
- Calories: 277
- Carbs: 75 grams
- Fiber: 7 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Potassium: 20% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 14% of the RDI
- Copper: 18% of the RDI
- Manganese: 15% of the RDI
- Iron: 5% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 12% of the RDI
Dates are also high in antioxidants, which may contribute to many of their health benefits (2).
Summary Dates contain several vitamins and minerals, in addition to fiber and antioxidants. However, they are high in calories since they are a dried fruit.
2. High in Fiber
Getting enough fiber is important for your overall health.
Fiber can benefit your digestive health by preventing constipation. It promotes regular bowel movements by contributing to the formation of stool (3).
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 (4).
Furthermore, the fiber in dates may be beneficial for blood sugar control. Fiber slows digestion and may help prevent blood sugar levels from spiking too high after eating (5).
For this reason, dates have a low glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating a certain food (6).
Summary Dates are high in fiber, which may be beneficial for preventing constipation and controlling blood sugar control.
3. High in Disease-Fighting Antioxidants
Dates provide various antioxidants that have a number of health benefits to offer, including a reduced risk of several diseases.
Compared to similar types of fruit, such as figs and dried plums, dates appear to have the highest antioxidant content (8).
Here’s an overview of the three most potent antioxidants in dates:
- Flavonoids: Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation and have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and certain types of cancer (2, 9).
- Carotenoids: Carotenoids are proven to promote heart health and may also reduce the risk of eye-related disorders, such as macular degeneration (2, 10).
- Phenolic acid: Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, phenolic acid may help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease (11, 12).
Summary Dates contain several types of antioxidants that may help prevent the development of certain chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
4. May Promote Brain Health
Eating dates may help improve brain function.
Laboratory studies have found dates to be helpful for lowering inflammatory markers, such as interleukin 6 (IL-6), in the brain. High levels of IL-6 are associated with a higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (13, 14).
Additionally, animal studies have shown dates to be helpful for reducing the activity of amyloid beta proteins, which can form plaques in the brain (13).
When plaques accumulate in the brain, they may disturb communication between brain cells, which can ultimately lead to brain cell death and Alzheimer’s disease (15).
One animal study found that mice fed food mixed with dates had significantly better memory and learning ability, as well as less anxiety-related behaviors, compared to those that did not eat them (16).
The potential brain-boosting properties of dates have been attributed to their content of antioxidants known to reduce inflammation, including flavonoids (13).
However, human studies are needed to confirm the role of dates in brain health.
Summary Dates may be helpful for lowering inflammation and preventing plaques from forming in the brain, which is important for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
5. May Promote Natural Labor
Dates have been studied for their potential to promote and ease late-term labor in pregnant women.
Eating these fruits throughout the last few weeks of pregnancy may promote cervical dilation and lower the need for induced labor. They may also be helpful for reducing labor time (17).
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 labor naturally and were in labor for significantly less time than those who did not eat them (18).
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 (19).
A third study found similar results in 91 pregnant women who consumed 70–76 grams of dates daily starting the 37th week of pregnancy. They were in active labor for an average of 4 fewer hours than those who did not eat dates (17).
Although eating dates appears to help promote labor and reduce labor duration, more research is needed to confirm these effects.
The role dates may have in pregnancy is likely due to compounds that bind to oxytocin receptors and appear to mimic the effects of oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin is a hormone that causes labor contractions during childbirth (18, 20).
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 labor (20).
Summary Dates may promote and ease natural labor for pregnant women when consumed during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
6. Excellent Natural Sweetener
Dates are a source of fructose, which is a natural type of sugar found in fruit.
For this reason, dates are very sweet and also have a subtle caramel-like taste. They make a great healthy substitute for white sugar in recipes due to the nutrients, fiber and antioxidants that they provide.
The best way to substitute dates for white sugar is to make date paste, as in this recipe. 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 the 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 fiber and nutrients, they are still fairly high in calories and best consumed in moderation.
Summary Dates are a healthy substitute for white sugar in recipes due to their sweet taste, nutrients, fiber and antioxidants.
7. Other Potential Health Benefits
Dates have been claimed to have a few other health benefits that have not yet been extensively studied.
- Bone health: Dates contain several minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. All of these have been studied for their potential to prevent bone-related conditions like osteoporosis (1, 21).
- Blood sugar control: Dates have the potential to help with blood sugar regulation due to their low glycemic index, fiber and antioxidants. Thus, eating them may benefit diabetes management (2).
Although these potential health benefits are promising, more human studies are needed before conclusions can be made.
Summary Dates have been claimed to promote bone health and aid in blood sugar control, but these effects have not been studied sufficiently.
8. Easy to Add to Your Diet
Dates are incredibly versatile and make a delicious snack. They are often paired with other foods, such as almonds, nut butter or soft cheese.
Dates are also very sticky, which makes them useful as a binder in baked goods, such as cookies and bars. You can also combine dates with nuts and seeds to make healthy snack bars or energy balls, as in this recipe.
What’s more, you can use dates to sweeten up sauces, such as salad dressings and marinades, or blend them into smoothies and oatmeal.
It is important to note that dates are high in calories and their sweet taste makes them easy to overeat. For this reason, they are best consumed in moderation.
Summary There are many different ways to eat dates. They are commonly eaten plain but can also be incorporated into other popular dishes.
The Bottom Line
Dates are a very healthy fruit to include in your diet.
They are high in several nutrients, fiber and antioxidants, all of which may provide health benefits ranging from improved digestion to a reduced risk of disease.
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.
Dates are definitely worth adding to your diet, as they are both nutritious and delicious.