Dates have been the staple food in the Middle East since centuries but the West is now slowly becoming aware of their medicinal and nutritive benefits. Believed to be the oldest fruit to be ever cultivated, dates have even received a mention in many ancient books.
A product of date palm trees, dates are proven to be loaded with numerous nutrients having medicinal importance in prevention and treatment of illnesses.
In this guide, I will be talking about the numerous nutritional benefits of dates, different delicious ways to enjoy them, their best varieties and where to source them from.
What Are Dates? What Are Their Nutritional Benefits?
Dates are produced by the date palm trees; a fleshy, sweet reddish-brown fruit that provides us with a wide range of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins and dietary fibre. Here are some of the nutritional benefits of date fruits:
Rich in antioxidants
Dates are a rich source of antioxidants. They contain polyphenolic antioxidants called tannins which provide protection against free radical damage. The flavonoid antioxidants are also anti-hemorrhagic and anti-inflammatory.
This can prevent easy bleeding tendencies. Dates are rich in Vitamin A, an antioxidant that is important for healthy vision, mucous membrane and skin. Research has shown that consuming fruits rich in vitamin A could protect against lung and oral cavity cancers.
Other antioxidants like beta carotene and zeaxanthin prevent age-related macular degeneration as well as colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers.
Instant source of energy
The soft, fleshy and sweet fruit is easy to eat and swallow. Its simple sugar content (fructose and sucrose) is easily digestible and provides instant energy and vitality. This makes date fruit an excellent meal while recovering from illness, for elderly patients and those healing from surgery.
Rich source of dietary fibre
Dates are a rich source of dietary fibre which can prevent constipation. The fibre also absorbs bad cholesterol and acts as a bulk laxative to provide roughage while protecting the colon’s mucous membrane.
Rich source of minerals and vitamins
Dates are rich in iron which is needed for haemoglobin formation. Their potassium content helps maintain heart health providing protection against strokes, and coronary heart diseases. The calcium in dates helps with healthy bones, weight management, and blood clotting and muscle contraction.
Vitamin K helps with blood coagulation as well as bone metabolism. B complex vitamins in dates help metabolise all other nutrients like calcium, fats and proteins in the blood.
Offer gastro-intestinal protection
Diabetic Rats that were fed date extracts were observed to have fewer gastric ulcers. The extracts also acted as natural laxatives which protected the colon mucous membrane and decreased binding and exposure time of cancer causing chemicals in the colon.
Have an anti-inflammatory action
Studies have shown that date extracts from the fruit and pits reduced swelling in feet as well as incidence of arthritis in rats.
Date Calories - How Many Calories are There in Date Fruit?
Date fruits are relatively calorie-rich foods. They also have high sugar content, so diabetics need to be careful when consuming dates. One half cup of dates contains about 275 calories (66 calories per date) but you also get 650 mg of potassium, niacin, vitamin B6 and about 6 grams of fibre. Make sure you brush your teeth or at least rinse your mouth with water after consuming dates because of the high sugar content.
Nutritional Content of Dates
% Daily Value
ORAC value 2,387
Sugar 15.6 g
ORAC value is the measure of antioxidants in food. Ideal daily ORAC intake should be around 5000. As can be seen, a cup of dates can easily help you achieve your daily ORAC value.
How To Buy Dates: Different Varieties of Dates Available
While choosing dates, look for shiny, plump varieties either whole or pitted. There are 100s of varieties of dates available today. In the USA, California dates are widely popular and you can get them whole or pitted in almost every grocery aisle of your local supermarkets.
Choose fresh dates as they are moist and great for baking or eating as is. Good quality fresh or semi-dry ripe dates are reddish brown or deep brown in colour. Deglet Noor is a good variety of dates as it has a good shelf life.
Medjool, Khadrawy and Halawy varieties contain more moisture and are soft with a caramel-like flesh. The Barhi, Thoory and Dayri are driest varieties while the Zahidi dates are semi-dry, small and firm.
What Makes Medjool Dates So Popular?
Medjool are the most popular, readily available variety of dates. Here are some of their salient features:
- Medjool dates are rich in easily digestible sugar.
- A 100 gram serving (3 ½ ounces) consists of 4 Medjool dates with about 400 calories and 8 grams fibre.
- Medjool dates contain B vitamins, niacin, thiamine and pantothenic acid along with copper, potassium, manganese, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. Compared to oranges, Medjool dates provide nearly 260% more potassium.
- They are a great source of folic acid and trace minerals zinc and selenium.
- These dates are alkaline and help fight inflammation.
- Their beta-d-glucan fibre adds bulk and decreases cholesterol. It also delays absorption of sugar in the small intestine and keeps blood sugar levels low. Beta-d-glucan also absorbs water and eases stool movement.
- They are high quality dates that are moist and soft.
The table below shows the nutritional content for this variety of dates:
Amount per 1 pitted Medjool date (24 grams)
How to Eat Medjool Dates
It is said that in the Middle East, people eat dates since they are newborns right until they take their last breath.
You can eat Medjool dates any way you like-raw, fried, sweetened, baked, pitted or whole. They are sweet, delicious snacks for when you need quick energy. You can eat them when you are hungry, when you are thirsty and also when you have nothing else to do! Share them with friends or eat them alone!
Here are some interesting, fun and healthy ways to enjoy Medjool dates:
- Add pitted dates to your smoothies, shakes or health drinks in place of sugar or honey for natural sweetness.
- Use dates in your baking recipes; muffins, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, pies, tarts, crumbles etc taste great with dates. Dates make a great combo with bananas, chocolate, walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, coconut, apples and pretty much all other fruits, dried fruits and nuts. They are an ideal replacement for raisins.
- Sprinkle chopped dates on your breakfast: pudding, oatmeal, pancakes, crepes etc.
- Date syrup is a readily available these days. Add a spoonful to a glass of warm milk and drink before bedtime. Its high iron and vitamin-mineral content is great for overcoming debility, fatigue, anaemia etc. Date syrup can be used in place of honey. Drizzle some over fruits, pancakes, crepes, eggs, and pretty much anything else for an added treat!
- Make protein packed date rolls or date balls by chopping and mixing dates with other nuts and seeds.
- Dates are safe for your dog. Not too many though; Fido could get diarrhoea!
- Wrap them in bacon for delicious ‘dates in a blanket'.
- Stuff dates with coconut, almonds or other crushed nuts for a sweet, healthy treat.
- Use date paste as a natural sweetener for your tea, coffee, nut milks or other vegan/paleo recipes.
- Garnish ice cream and sorbet with chopped dates or date syrup.
Best Brand of Medjool Dates
One of the best selling brands of Medjool dates is Terrasoul. Terrasoul are the largest suppliers of organic superfoods in the US. Their dates are kosher, 100% USDA certified organic, non-GMO and vegan.
The best part is that they are grown in California-so they are 100% USA made. The company guarantees a 30 day money back policy in case you are dissatisfied with the product for some reason.
- Although dried, they are plump and moist with soft, juicy sweet taste.
- They are sulphites free and larger than many store brought date varieties
- More than 300 people have given this brand a 5 star rating!
- They need refrigeration.
- This brand is not for people with allergies since the dates are manufactured in the same facility as other tree nuts.
Dates are a healthful snack item. They have a unique combination of flavour, taste and essential nutrients. Their fibre, phytochemicals and bioactive compounds can bridge the gap between recommended daily intake of nutrients and actual consumption.
In date producing countries, these fruits have been used since centuries to treat a variety of ailments. In recent years, a number of studies have reported on the positive contribution of dates to human health. I hope this guide helps you make dates a regular item in your daily diet.