Are Dates Good for You? Here's What a Dietitian Has to Say
Dates are commonly referred to as "nature's candy" for a reason. One bite of this delectable fruit will send your taste buds through a dimension of incredibly sweet and deeply rich flavor reminiscent of caramel. Their delicate, soft and chewy texture makes them an exceptional addition to desserts and savory dishes alike, including these Chocolate-Peanut Butter Energy Bars and Date and Balsamic-Glazed Brussel Sprouts. Although sinking your teeth into these sweet treats might seem like you're eating a lot of sugar, dates are exceptionally nutrient-dense and may impart several health benefits. Let's take a closer look at the background, nutrient profile and research associated with date consumption.
Pictured Recipe: Date & Pine Nut Overnight Oatmeal
What Are Dates?
Native to the subtropical and tropical regions of the Middle East and North Africa, dates are the edible fruits that emerge from the blossoming yellow flowers that grow on the date palm tree.
Dating back to 5500 to 3000 B.C., dates are among the earliest crops cultivated by humans! Archaeological records show that dates may have originated in Mesopotamia and Egypt and spread from there to Iran, India, Libya and North Africa. This unique fruit was later introduced to Europe and the United States.
With over 3,000 different varieties, dates range from yellow, brown and red to black, depending on their level of ripeness. Although there are many different types, the most common varieties of dates include Medjool, Ajwa, Khalas and Deglet Noor. But the two that you may find in your local grocery store are Medjool and Deglet Noor. Dates are characterized by their wrinkled skin, fibrous inner seeds and oblong shape. It's common to believe that dates are dried fruit. However, they are actually whole, fresh fruits that lose up to 70% of their moisture as they ripen on the tree. As the succulent date loses its moisture, its sugar becomes more concentrated—but so do its nutrients!
Nutrition of Dates
The nutrient profile of dates varies depending on the variety, maturity, ripeness stage and growth conditions. In general, dates are a good source of fiber and provide some potassium, magnesium and folate.
According to the USDA, five dates (40 grams) provide:
- Calories: 113
- Carbohydrates: 30 g
- Sugars: 25 g
- Fiber: 3 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Potassium: 262 mg (6% Daily Value)
- Magnesium: 17 mg (4% DV)
- Folate: 8 mcg (2% DV)
Dates are predominantly made up of carbohydrates. However, their high sugar content should not steer you away from enjoying these nutrient-rich treats. When you consume a whole, unprocessed date, the sugar within the fruit is naturally occurring, and it's packaged with fiber and other plant compounds that are beneficial to your health. According to the American Heart Association, refined, added sugars are what should be limited in your diet.
Health Benefits of Dates
May Benefit Your Heart and Vascular Health
Vascular diseases are conditions that weaken your blood vessels and affect the flow of blood throughout your body. Dates are packed with powerful plant compounds called polyphenols that may aid in preventing vascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction and coronary artery disease, per a 2021 publication in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Additionally, research has suggested that dates may help to decrease LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, more human studies are needed to confirm the protective effects of polyphenol-rich dates.
Contain Antioxidant and Antibacterial Properties
Dates are rich in phenolic compounds, active ingredients in plants that can act as antioxidants and fight pathogens in your body. Antioxidants are substances that prevent cell damage from harmful free radicals. Highly reactive free radicals are unstable molecules that can increase the risk of developing diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer's, heart disease and cancer. Research published in 2019 in the Journal of Pharmacy and BioAllied Sciences showed that the antioxidant activity of dates is highest when they are in the ripening stage of growth. Studies have also revealed that certain date varieties can combat microbes such as Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus and Escherichia coli.
It is important to note that the proper storage of dates plays a significant role in maintaining the fruit's antioxidants. Be sure to store them in the refrigerator or a cool, dry location to protect the antioxidant content.
Provides Fiber to Aid Your Digestion
As mentioned above, dates are a great source of fiber. Fiber provides many health benefits, such as stabilizing your sugar levels, decreasing the risk of heart disease, reducing the risk of some types of cancer, increasing good gut bacteria and promoting bowel movements. According to a 2021 review published in Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology, a high-fiber diet along with plenty of water helps move things through your digestive tract.
Promote Positive Labor and Delivery Outcomes
In an effort to reduce labor and delivery complications, researchers have studied the effects of date consumption on the various stages of labor and childbirth. Dates contain several fatty acids that aid in producing prostaglandins that speed up the delivery process by increasing contractions and ripening the cervix, per a 2020 review published in BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth. In addition to prostaglandins, dates have compounds that latch onto oxytocin receptors to initiate contractions.
The Bottom Line
Cultivated for thousands of years, dates are nutrient-dense tropical treats that may improve your heart health, protect your cells from free-radical damage, as well as help shorten the duration of active labor during childbirth. The next time you shop at your local grocery store, don't miss the opportunity to grab a pack of these deliciously sweet stone fruits. They are the perfect whole-food sweetener to add to your flavor arsenal.