Palm trees conjure up images of tropical paradises, and the date palm tree provides the fruit many people know and love: dates.
Native to the arid regions of the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, and the Middle East, the fruit has been cultivated as far back as 7000 BC. Although it may seem incredible, date palm fossils from 50 million years ago have been discovered!
Elegant date palm trees can tower up to 75 feet tall. They grow alone or in clumps with several stems from the same root system.
For the most part, dates found in groceries have been dried which gives their skins that distinctive wrinkling. Thumb-sized fresh dates are smooth-skinned and come in colors from bright yellow to bright red.
The most common varieties of dates are Medjool and Deglet Noor. The sweet fruit is chewy and often combined with raisins in breakfast cereals, trail mixes, or power bars. This is because dates are highly nutritious as well as delicious.
Dried dates are high in calories, fiber, and antioxidants with a modest amount of protein and several health-giving vitamins and minerals. 100 grams – 3.5 ounces – of dried dates break down into the following nutrients:
- 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
The high fiber content in dates promotes healthy digestion. Regular consumption keeps you “regular” and prevents constipation. A 2015 study tracked 21 people who consumed 7 dates a day for 21 days. Stool frequency and bowel movements increased.
All high-fiber foods slow digestion which helps stabilize blood sugar (glucose) levels. Dates have a low glycemic index (GI), the measure of how fast glucose levels rise after eating a specific food so they are diabetes-friendly.
Paradoxically, eating dates also relieves diarrhea, the opposite condition from constipation because they promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive system.
The antioxidants in dates fight free radicals in the body’s cells. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells, proteins, and DNA. Cancer, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other medical conditions have all been linked to the presence of free radicals in the human body.
Fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides, and air pollutants have been shown to produce free radicals, according to the Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education at Stanford University. Eating dates and other fibrous foods can counteract the unhealthy effects of free radicals in the human body.
The three most powerful antioxidants present in dates are:
- Flavonoids – anti-inflammatory
- Carotenoids – heart-healthy, lower the risk of macular degeneration
- and other eye diseases
- Phenolic acid – anti-inflammatory, reduces the risk of cancer and cardiac diseases
As an added benefit for pregnant women, eating dates is thought to stimulate and ease late-term labor:
“Consuming dates in late pregnancy was effective in decreasing the length of labor processes and reduced the need for oxytocin for labor acceleration. Thus, it is recommended to consume dates in women without contraindications.”
Fructose – fruit sugar – is what makes dates taste so sweet. A paste made from blending dates with water is a great alternative to cooking with refined white sugar. Substitute equal amounts of date paste for sugar in recipes.
Phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium from dates are being examined to see if they help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.
Potassium is associated with reducing the risk of stroke and certain heart diseases.
Including dates in your diet reduces LDL – “bad” cholesterol.
The iron provided by dates prevents anemia, “the most common blood disorder.” Anemic blood is low in red blood cells which are essential for good health.
Dates are perfectly yummy all by themselves as a snack. They taste great with almonds, nut butter or soft cheese. Because they are sticky, they bind baked goods such as cookies or energy bars, making them a favorite ingredient of health-conscious cooks.
Consuming dates in moderation on a regular basis will improve your health and well-being, so go ahead and add them to your shopping list. Make a date with dates today!