What are dates?
If you’ve ever watched any popular vegan ‘what I eat in a day’ videos you’ve probably seen them eating a daily bowl of medjool dates. Other uses for dates include a natural replacement for sugar in baking or to satisfy sweet cravings. However, there is much more to this exotic fruit than just being a sugar replacement…
The history behind dates
Traditionally grown in hot countries including parts of Africa and the Middle East, there are over 200 varieties of dates worldwide. Typically eaten dried (although they can be eaten fresh), the most commonly found dates include Medjool, Deglet Noor and Halawi dates. These different varieties all have slightly different tastes and textures however, they all have the same great health benefits. Furthermore, dates are often versatile in use – from salads to caramels, sauces to smoothies, there are many cuisines and meals that dates can be used for.
What are the health benefits of dates?
The health benefit most commonly associated with dried fruits is high fibre content. Fibre is important for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome (the bacteria in the stomach). A healthy microbiome is important for maintain good digestion and detoxification. A high-fibre diet can also help with weight loss is linked to a decrease in cholesterol levels
Pollution, stress, and premature signs of aging are all caused by free radicals. These damaging particles injure cells within the body, causing an inflammatory reaction. This can lead to symptoms such as high blood pressure, fatigue, brain fog, skin outbreaks, and poor digestion. Having a diet high in antioxidants can help to fight the damage caused by free radicals, and dates are incredibly high in a variety of antioxidants.
Dates are high in the natural sugar fructose. Whilst sugars have become demonised over the last few years, fructose is a naturally derived sugar that is quickly and easily absorbed. This provides a quick boost of energy whilst providing a more satiating effect then refined sugars such as glucose. This can potentially lead to a reduced caloric intake, as feelings of fullness are increased. Furthermore, when combined with the fibre, fructose can provide a energy release in an easy to digest form. Many long-distance athletes take dates on longer trips, as they are an ideal alternative to glucose gels.
Selenium is an essential nutrient that can sometimes be lacking in a vegan diet (as well as in some non-vegan diets). The typical recommendations have always been that 1-2 brazil nuts a day can provide the daily required selenium. However, this can be problematic if there are nut allergies, or just a general dislike of nut flavours or textures. Dates are high in selenium, an important nutrition that helps to maintain to healthy bones, teeth and skin.
Whilst the benefits of antioxidants have already been touched on in this article, it is important to highlight the particular group of antioxidants called polyphenols. This group of molecules is important as there is a well-established relationship between polyphenol intake and cholesterol levels; high polyphenol intake is associated with lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol). Typically found in olive oils, nuts and seeds, dates can be a good low-fat way to incorporate dietary polyphenols.
How to enjoy dates
The most used way to use dates is as a baking ingredient. Dates provide a caramel like flavour, whilst also acting as a binder due to their sticky consistency. When using dates in baking, it can often be helpful to pre-soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes before using; this helps them to make a smooth paste which will easily blend.
Need some inspiration? Why not try one of the following easy recipes:
As mentioned previously, there are a variety of ways to enjoy dates, even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. Search for any middle eastern recipe and the majority of them will contain dates. There are so many varieties of dates to choose from and this tiny food packs a real nutritional punch. It’s worth giving it a try.