Dates, the staple food of the Middle East countries is a sweet fruit. Date palms or Phoenix dactylifera (scientific name) produce clusters of oval, dark, reddish-brown drupes called dates, below their fronds. The skin of the dried fruit is wrinkled and covered in a sticky, waxy film. Dates are eaten fresh or dried, whole or incorporated in various Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Served mainly as desserts, these date fruits are generally chopped into tiny slices and scattered across cakes and puddings to ameliorate their flavor. Some people mix date paste with yogurt, milk, bread, or butter to enhance their flavor. Dates are also deseeded and stuffed with several sweet fillings like apricot, etc. Besides the versatility of date preparation and consumption, these dry fruits also feature various nutritional values. Dates are opulent in vitamins, minerals, natural fiber, and are also cholesterol-free. This is why date fruit benefits are widely known across the globe.
Date Fruit Health Benefits
Dates are loaded with various nutrients, right from minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc. to vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, etc. Moreover, dates are low in fat and high in protein and fiber content, which makes them healthy snacks between meals.
Dates are a high source of energy, with 100 grams of dates yielding about 300 kcal of energy. They are packed with 29 grams of natural sugars (glucose, sucrose, and fructose), 3 grams of dietary fiber, and 31 grams of carbohydrates. Therefore, the tiny date fruit can be appropriately described as an energy-boosting dry fruit.
Date fruits have been considered very important in the Islamic culture. Muslims are seen to break their fast by consuming dates. This is because after fasting the body requires an energy-boosting food item, and dates suit the part perfectly. The natural sugars in dates are quickly converted to energy in the liver , which is used by the body. Moreover, breaking the fast with a date also helps prepare the digestive system for the meal ahead, thereby assisting in digestion.
Dates consist of 20 different kinds of amino acids which facilitate the digestive process. This is why dates are easily digestible, and furnish the body with required energy for physical activities in about half an hour, after consumption. Moreover, breaking your fast with dates will help you avoid overeating. The factor responsible for human hunger is shortage of sugar in the blood. Consumption of dates takes care of this shortage, and pacifies the feeling of hunger with its sugar content. Moreover, the dietary fiber and other nutrients in dates, gets absorbed by the body quickly, which prevents people from overeating after a day of fasting.
Dates have been found to promote growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines. Moreover, the nicotine content found in dates is also believed to help cure intestinal problems. Pregnancy is a time when a woman experiences extreme bloating, constipation and other intestinal problems. Dates are an excellent remedy for such intestinal disturbances. However, women with gestational diabetes must control the intake of dates, unless otherwise specified by the obstetrician.
Loaded with soluble and insoluble fibers, dates not only help improve bowel movements, but also clears toxins from the gastrointestinal tract. In order to benefit from the laxative properties of dates, one should soak dates overnight in water. The soaked dates should then be ingested in the morning along with the water to gain the actual advantages. The roughage provided by dates increases bowel movement, thereby solving constipation issues. Pregnant women are advised to eat dates to alleviate constipation, because it is not only a high-fiber snack, but also contains lots of nutrients that are good for the growing fetus.
While most of us are trying to cut down our weight, there are some people who are desperately trying to gain weight. Dates are high in calories, with one date corresponding to 20 to 60 calories (depending on the type). Including 5 to 6 dates in one's daily diet can help increase body weight. Dates, unlike junk food are a healthy way of gaining weight. If you don't like to eat dates as they are, you can also add dates to cakes, puddings, and other baked items to reduce the sugar content in them.
Soaked and pureed Medjool dates, when combined with applesauce and added to cake batter, not only add moisture and texture, but also do away with refined sugar, added in the cake. Dates also add fiber and increase the nutritional content of the baked food item. If the dates purchased are not soft, microwave them along with a little water for a minute. Blend the softened dates in a food processor.
Dates are also seen to strengthen the uterine muscles and facilitates childbirth. A study (2007-2008) was conducted at Jordan University of Science and Technology, on pregnant women to analyze the link date fruits have on labor. 69 women were asked to consume 6 dates every day, for the last 4 weeks before their due date. On the other hand, 45 other women were also included in the study, who were not given any dates. After analysis of all their births, it was found that the women who consumed dates showed more cervical dilation, along with higher percentage of spontaneous labor in of women, as compared to those who didn't consume dates. The study noted that dates helped labor and spontaneous labor. However, more research has to be conducted in this field.
Not only are dates sodium-free, but are also high in potassium. When dates are consumed, the ratio of sodium to potassium is balanced, due to the high potassium in it. When the ratio of sodium and potassium is maintained, the pressure applied on the walls of the arteries is not high. Dates are also cholesterol-free, which again is an added advantage. Thus, dates help in controlling the blood pressure. Since dates are low in saturated fat, they are considered as healthy food for the heart. Research reveals that higher potassium intake of about 400 mg can reduce the risk of strokes by 40%.
Diabetics have to keep in consideration the glycemic index (GI) of food items, because the lower the GI, the better it is for their bodies. As we know, there are over 300 varieties of dates, all having different GI. On an average dates have a glycemic index of 103, which is very high. However, research conducted at Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, United Arab Emirates University (2001) on three varieties of dates; khalas, barhi, and bo ma'an dates reveals GI of 35.5, 49.7 and 30.5 respectively.
The study shows that dates can also be considered as low GI foods, provided you eat these varieties. To be on the safer side, if you do not know the glycemic index of the dates you are eating, it's best to restrict its intake. Nevertheless, dates are the ideal choice when blood sugar drops. It raises the blood sugar levels quickly during hypoglycemia. To make it a fulfilling snack it's best to combine dates with walnuts or pecans.
Free radicals formed after metabolic activities, damage body cells, thereby causing cancer. However, antioxidants stabilize these free radicals and prevent them from causing damage to the cells, thereby helping in preventing cancer, heart diseases, etc. Dates are high in phenolic compounds and flavonoids, which possess antioxidant activity. Thus, dates indirectly help slow down or prevent cancer.
Every 100 grams of Medjool dates corresponds to 0.90 milligrams of iron. Consuming dates on a regular basis can provide the body with the iron content it needs. Pregnant women are often advised to consume dates, so as to prevent iron-deficiency anemia in mother and child. However, since vitamin C is required for iron absorption, it's important to consume vitamin C-rich foods as well. Anemia patients are advised to eat several dates on a daily basis to raise their level of iron in the blood.
Dates contain fluorine, which is an essential mineral to slow down the process of early tooth decay. Fluorine is also known to keep plaque at bay by strengthening the tooth enamel. However, many people are of the misconception that tooth enamel can magically reverse tooth decay. This is not true. Tooth enamel consists of hydroxyapatites, which when brought in contact with fluorine forms hydroxyfluoroapatites, which is resistant to decay. This clearly means that fluorine helps prevent further tooth decay, but cannot reverse the decay process.
The problem of sexual weakness can be countered by dates, as they are beneficial in increasing the body's sexual stamina. One needs to soak handful of dates in goat's milk overnight. Next morning, grind the dates in the same milk and add a mixture of honey and cardamom powder. This yields a tonic capable of increasing sexual endurance.
Dates are nutrient-rich brown nuggets, that not only satiate the palate, but also provide a variety of nutrients to the body. Consuming a couple of dates when one's hungry will be a good idea, because it will help prevent binge eating. Enjoy the sweetness of dates along with its numerous health benefits!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice.