June 18, 2024

Dates are a fruit cultivated from date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), a plant native to the Middle East and North Africa. Dates have a natural sweetness and rich flavor that people often associate with dessert.

Dates are nutritious fruits with potential benefits. Research has found that dates help support brain, digestive, and heart health. Dates are a source of antioxidants that may protect against disease and help ease natural labor.

Here are six ways dates can protect your health and simple ways to incorporate the fruit into drinks, meals, snacks, and treats.

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Some evidence suggests that the high polyphenolic content of dates may benefit your heart health. Polyphenols are micronutrients that naturally occur in plants. The polyphenols in dates help increase your HDL (“good”) cholesterol and reduce your total cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease.

A study published in 2020 tested the effects of consuming dates on blood fats and glycemic index. The researchers randomly assigned 100 males and females with type 2 diabetes to eat three dates daily for 16 weeks or no dates at all.

People who ate dates had a statistically significant decline in LDL (“bad”) and total cholesterol. A measure of blood sugar control over the previous two- to three-month period, or HbA1c, did not change.

Consuming dates does not impact blood sugar levels greatly because of their low glycemic index (GI). GI measures how fast foods raise your blood sugar. Low GI foods, like dates, raise your blood sugar slowly.

Regulating your blood sugar connects closely to heart health. People with type 2 diabetes have a twofold increased risk of heart disease.

A review published in 2020 looked at the effects of dates on labor and delivery. For example, the researchers found that eating dates may reduce the period of the active phase of labor. That’s when the cervix, or the lowermost part of the uterus, dilates from six to 10 millimeters. During labor, the cervix dilates or expands, allowing the fetus to pass through the vagina.

Dates may improve the Bishop score, which measures how ready the cervix is for labor. In contrast, the researchers noted that dates do not affect the length of the rest of the labor or the frequency of C-sections.

Three pitted Medjool dates provide about 13% to 19% of your daily fiber goal. Fiber supports digestive health by regulating your bowel movements. Experts advise that females eat 25 grams of fiber daily, while males consume 38 grams.

In a study published in 2015, researchers randomly assigned males to eat seven dates daily or a carb and sugar mixture for 21 days. After a 14-day washout period, the groups switched. The researchers found that the people who ate dates had improved bowel movement frequencies.

Constipation can adversely affect your energy level and overall comfort. Dates can be a simple way to get things moving.

Certain protective compounds in dates help protect the brain. A study published in 2016 found that dates may have therapeutic potential against cognitive decline.

For example, dates might reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a health condition that adversely affects the ability to do daily tasks, memory, and thinking skills. Research has found that inflammation in the brain is a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

Over time, oxidative stress might lead to chronic inflammation. In the 2016 study, the researchers noted that dates help reduce oxidative stress that leads to inflammation in the brain.

Dates are rich in health-protective antioxidants. A study published in 2019 found that the natural antioxidants in dates help reduce oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of cell-damaging free radicals and the body’s ability to counter their harmful effects. Oxidative stress is a precursor to aging and cell damage that can lead to disease.

A study published in 2017 showed that dates contain many antioxidants, including:

  • Carotenoids
  • Polyphenols (e.g., phenolic acids, isoflavones, lignans, and flavonoids)
  • Sterols 
  • Tannins

In addition to reducing oxidating stress, those antioxidants have anti-fungal properties.s

The sugar content in dates naturally occurs because they are whole, unprocessed fruits. For example, the nutritional facts on an energy bar can list zero grams of added sugar if it’s sweetened only with dates.

Experts advise limiting your added sugar intake. Some evidence suggests that added sugar increases the risk of heart disease and obesity.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that females consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar daily, which equals 25 grams or 100 calories. The AHA advises that males consume no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar, which is 36 grams or 150 calories.

Unlike sweeteners such as cane sugar, you have yet to use up any of your daily added-sugar budget if you use dates to sweeten a meal or recipe.

One pitted Medjool date has the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 66.5
  • Fat: 0.04g
  • Sodium: 0.24mg
  • Carbohydrates: 18g
  • Fiber: 1.61g
  • Added sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0.43g

One pitted Medjool date supplies small amounts of a wide range of nutrients, including:

  • Calcium: Assists your blood vessels and muscles in contracting and expanding, helps build strong bones and teeth, and secretes hormones
  • Magnesium: Aids in muscle and nerve function, maintains a steady heartbeat, promotes strong bones, and supports your immune system
  • Potassium: Filters waste out of and moves nutrients into your cells
  • Zinc: Helps break down carbs that your body uses for energy, promotes wound healing, strengthens your immune system, and supports cell growth

There are several types of dates, including:

  • Fresh: Generally, these dates (e.g., Barhee dates) are only commonly found in places where date palm grows, such as the Middle East. 
  • Wet: These dates (e.g., Hayany dates) mature when refrigerating or storing at low temperatures.
  • Semi-dry: These dates (e.g., Deglet Noor and Medjool dates) are commonly found in grocery stores. They are chewy with a sweet taste. 
  • Dry: These include Ameri, Halawi, Khadrawy, Thoory, and Zahidi dates. They are fibrous and tough.

Dates range in color and size, depending on the type. For example, unripe dates may have a yellow color, while fully ripe dates have a deep brown color.

Store dates at low temperatures to help protect their flavor, texture, and quality. Keeping your dates in an airtight container helps reduce moisture loss. You can keep dates at low temperatures for about six to 12 months. To preserve your dates for longer periods, you can freeze them.

Research has found that people with pollen allergies may have sensitivities to dates. That is known as oral allergy syndrome, which happens when allergens found in raw fruits like dates produce similar reactions to pollen allergens. People with oral allergy syndrome rarely develop severe symptoms like anaphylaxis, unlike other food allergies.

Oral allergy symptoms include:

  • Itchy mouth
  • Scratchy throat
  • Swollen lips, mouth, tongue, and throat

Consult a healthcare provider if you develop an allergic reaction after consuming dates. They can perform tests to check whether dates are causing your symptoms.

You can enjoy dates as is or use them in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Use dates to sweeten baked goods, chia or avocado pudding, energy balls, oatmeal, overnight oats, and smoothies.
  • Use puréed dates to make homemade plant-based “ice cream” mixed with add-ins (e.g., chopped dark chocolate and pitted cherries), cinnamon, and plant milk.
  • Incorporate dates into savory dishes. Dates add natural sweetness and balance to cooked veggies like sautéed kale or roasted cauliflower, garden salads, and veggie stir fries.
  • Stuff dates with herbed nut-based, nut and seed butter, plant-based “cheeses,” or savory fillings, like olive tapenade and dairy-free pesto. 

Dates are sweet fruits in many varieties, such as fresh, wet, semi-dry, and dry. The antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins in dates help support brain, digestive, and heart health and protect against disease. Some evidence suggests that dates may help ease natural labor.

You can use dates as a sweetener in recipes for smoothies or oatmeal or eat them as is. Some people with oral allergy syndrome may have a sensitivity to dates. Consult a healthcare provider if you develop allergic reaction symptoms after consuming dates.

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