With a chewy, satisfying consistency and a rich, sweet flavor that has been likened to that of caramel and dark honey, dates are truly a delight for the senses. But these delectable fruits deliver unexpected health benefits as well.
Dates are rich in disease-fighting micronutrients and dietary fiber, allowing them to protect against some of the most dangerous chronic illnesses of our time, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. And, dates “sweeten the deal” further by functioning as a natural replacement for white sugar. In fact, it turns out there is a world of difference between the natural fructose in dates and the refined cane sugar that pervades the diet of far too many Americans.
Let’s look a closer look at some of the many health dividends of enjoying “nature’s dessert.”
Improve your digestion, relieve constipation and discourage cancer cell growth
In a 2015 study published in British Journal of Nutrition, researchers set out to evaluate the effects of date consumption on digestive health and elimination. For three weeks, one group of participants ate 7 dates a day - which provided about 12 grams of fiber daily - while the control group was given a carbohydrate and sugar mixture. After a two-week period without consuming either substance, the groups switched and consumed the alternate substance for three more weeks.
The researchers found that the dates improved regularity, with volunteers reporting more frequent bowel movements during the date-eating period. They also had lower levels of stool ammonia - a chemical that causes cell damage and triggers potentially cancer-causing mutations in DNA.
The team concluded that high levels of fiber and polyphenols in the dates helped to support healthy digestion while lowering the risk of colon cancer.
Exciting potential: Studies support the ability of dates to combat Alzheimer’s disease
Dates are high in anthocyanins, a group of antioxidant plant pigments also found in blueberries. Clinical studies have shown that anthocyanins are associated with improvements in mild cognitive decline.
Dates may also be able to help prevent serious neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Early studies have shown that date consumption can help lower brain levels of the inflammatory molecule interleukin 6, which is associated with heightened Alzheimer’s risk at high levels.
And, dates seem to help inhibit the activity of a protein known as amyloid beta. This is significant because amyloid beta can form plaques in the brain - eventually disrupting brain cell communication and triggering Alzheimer’s disease.
In one intriguing animal study, adding dates to the diet of laboratory mice helped to reduce cognitive and behavioral problems. The mice, bred to be susceptible to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, showed improvements in their ability to navigate a water maze - with significantly better memory and cognitive abilities than mice not given dates. They also had meaningful reductions in anxiety-related behaviors.
Dates contain a bonanza of valuable micronutrients
A serving of six dates provides a hefty 10 grams of fiber - about a third of the recommended daily amount for adults. Dates also contain minerals vital to bone, cardiovascular and immune health – such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and manganese – along with B vitamins and vitamin K.
Plus, dates are rich in carotenoids - natural antioxidant plant pigments that can sharpen vision and help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Using dates to sweeten recipes is a shrewd move – especially if you’re trying to cut down on white sugar. (And who isn’t?) As you probably know, researchers report that the consumption of white sugar is linked to heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression and certain types of cancer.
Creating a “sugar surrogate” couldn’t be easier. Simply blend dates with enough water to make a paste, and use it in the same amounts that you would sugar.
For a satisfying snack, partner dates with cashews or almonds. Or, use them to enhance salad dressings, stuffing, marinades and even salsas. You can also add dates to fresh (organic) yogurt, oatmeal, salads and cereals, or include them in some homemade energy bars.
While dates are fat-free and have a low glycemic index – meaning they won’t cause undesirable “spikes” in blood sugar levels – they are somewhat high in calories. In fact, since half a dozen dates pack a combined total of 400 calories, they should be eaten in moderation.
No doubt, although dates taste decadently rich and sweet, it turns out that they are one of the most wholesome and nutritious foods on the planet.
Sources for this article include: