Dates are one of nature's sweetest treats. Their high sugar content may have you wondering whether dates are considered a healthy choice. Dates are definitely sweet, but as a fruit, they also provide beneficial micronutrients and some fiber. You may want to consume dates in moderation, but they are by no means an empty-calorie food. Here's what we love about them.
Date Nutrition Facts
The USDA provides the following nutrition information for one date (7 grams):
- Calories: 20
- Fat: 0g
- Sodium: 0.14mg
- Carbohydrates: 5.3g
- Fiber: 0.6g
- Sugars: 4g
- Protein: 0.2g
One date has a little over 5 grams of carbohydrates, the majority of which come from sugar. Furthermore, dates taste so sweet because they have a high fructose content, which is twice as sweet as glucose. There is about half a gram of fiber in an average date. The sugar content increases and fiber decreases as the fruit ripens.
The glycemic index of dates can range between 43 and 55 depending on the variety and level of ripeness. Despite their sweetness, dates are, surprisingly, a low glycemic food.
Dates are not a significant source of fat.
Dates supply a minimal amount of protein. Include other protein sources, like lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, and legumes, to meet your daily requirements.
Vitamins and Minerals
Dates are a good source of potassium, magnesium, and iron. Also, dates supply six essential B vitamins, including folate and pantothenic acid. Dates also have a high concentration of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that protects against cellular damage, along with beneficial phytoestrogens.
The micronutrients and plant compounds in dates are associated with several promising health benefits.
Protect Against Cancer
Dates contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are associated with cancer prevention. Upon testing date extract, researchers have found impressive free-radical scavenging ability and antitumoral activity.
Support Heart Health
Dates provide potassium, an essential electrolyte for the cardiovascular system. Potassium has well-established effects on reducing high blood pressure. Dates are also very low in sodium and provide some fiber. All three of these factors support the consumption of dates for heart health.
Promote Strong Bones
The magnesium in dates is involved with bone formation. Magnesium deficiency is associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis. Obtaining magnesium from food sources, rather than from supplements, is preferred as it reduces the risk of toxicity. Furthermore, the iron from dates helps supply healthy bone marrow stores.
May Reduce Menopausal Symptoms
Isoflavones, commonly associated with soy products, are a type of phytoestrogen that helps reduce the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. When it comes to fruit, dates have the highest concentration of isoflavones.
For this reason, dates are being studied for their ability to provide natural relief from menopausal symptoms.
Help Stabilize Blood Sugars
With dates, a small amount can go a long way. When used in place of concentrated sweeteners, like syrups and refined sugars, dates impart sweetness without producing significant spikes in blood sugar levels. Dates are also a convenient, portable snack that can be useful for low blood sugar episodes.
Allergic reactions to dates aren't typical and are usually limited to itching and inflammation in and around the mouth. Mold or sulfites (added to dried fruits like dates as a preservative) are generally responsible for the symptoms of date allergies. Symptoms often resemble those for asthma and can range from mild wheezing to a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction, which requires immediate medical attention.
Many people with fruit allergies are also sensitive to latex or pollen. If you suspect you're allergic to dates, avoid eating them and talk to your doctor to determine the source of the problem.
Dates—fruits of the date palm tree—have existed since prehistoric times and are believed to have been cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago. Native to the Middle East, there are over 100 different varieties of date palm trees.
Dates hang in large clusters atop the towering palm trees and range in texture from hard, dry varieties to semi-dry types like Deglet Noor dates, and large, soft dates, such as Medjool dates (aka "the queen of dates"). Medjool dates are a common variety in U.S. grocery stores and, on average, are much larger than other varieties (with one pitted Medjool date averaging 24g).
Although dates can appear to be dried, they're actually fresh fruits. Fresh, whole dates contain just 30% moisture, making them one of nature's only naturally "dried fruit." To prolong shelf life, many dates are left on the palm tree until entirely ripe. Though they're slightly dry before being harvested, these dates—which are available at many specialty grocery stores—are still considered fresh.
Pitted dates can be purchased whole, chopped, or extruded. Extruded dates are coated with oat flour, rice flour, or dextrose for use in baking. Date juice is also available and can be used in making baked goods or smoothies.
When It's Best
Although packaged dates, both pitted and unpitted, are available all year, the season for fresh dates in the United States is from mid-August to mid-March.
Storage and Food Safety
Dates should appear plump, glossy, and moist. They may be slightly wrinkled, but shouldn't be broken, cracked, dry, hard, or shriveled. They have a sticky-sweet, almost candied texture, and rich flavor.
For the longest shelf life, store soft and semi-soft varieties like Deglet Noor, in the refrigerator, where they'll keep for up to 18 months. Store at room temperature for up to a year. Dried packaged dates are pasteurized to inhibit mold growth. You can store at room temperature in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for about 6 months. They will also keep in the refrigerator for up to a year.
How to Prepare
If your dates have pits, simply slice them lengthwise to remove the stone. Be aware that even dates labeled as unpitted may occasionally still have pits or pit parts.
Dates provide moisture and all-natural sweetness to baked goods, such as breads, muffins, cookies, and tarts. They can also be served stuffed with meat or cheese, as an appetizer or snack, or served with dried fruits and nuts. Add chopped dates to yogurt, hot cereals, smoothies, slaws, and salads. Try substituting them for raisins or apricots when conjuring up savory dishes, such as roasts or stews, or add them to marinades and glazes to add sweetness and balance other flavors.