What are dates?
Dates are a fruit that come from the date palm tree, which is typically native to the Middle East, although they are also now grown in the Mediterranean, Asia, the USA and Mexico.
Dates grow in large clusters which hang from the top of these palm trees. As they ripen, their skin turns brown and wrinkles as more and more moisture leaves the fruit. This is when they are usually harvested by hand, either by someone climbing up the palm or using a mechanical lift.
When picked, they resemble a large shrivelled raisin. Despite their appearance they still contain some moisture. Whole dates have a stone in the middle that should be removed before eating, or you can buy pitted dates.
Dried and fresh dates are available year round, but the fresh type are best between November and January.
There are lots of different varieties of the fruit, but the medjool date is one of the more well-known, as it has a sweeter and stickier taste and texture than others.
Nutritional profile of dates
Standard dried dates, such as deglet noor, contain about 235 calories per 100g (about 5 dates) they have negligible fat, 2.4g of protein, 58g of carbohydrates of which all is sugars (glucose and fructose) and they are a good source of fibre, with 4g per 100g.
Medjool dates tend to be bigger and contain around 295 calories per 100g (about 4 dates). Again, they have negligible fat content, but are naturally higher in sugar and fibre with 68g of carbohydrates per 100g and 4g or fibre. They’re also higher in protein at around 3g per 100g.
A very small 2015 study found that date consumption may reduce colon cancer risk thanks to their high fibre and polyphenol content, as well as improving bowel movements.
Dates also have a good nutritional profile containing several vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin K and magnesium which are all needed for healthy bones, selenium which is an antioxidant that helps to prevent tissue and cell damage from toxins, and folate which is a B vitamin involved in healthy red blood cell formation and important in pregnancy.
Are dates high in sugar?
Yes – one date contains at least 6g of sugar. However, dates are also high in fibre, which helps to slow down digestion and may prevent blood sugar level spikes. Eating dates with some protein, such as whole nuts or nut butter, will slow down this increase in blood sugar levels further.
Research into fibre is increasingly revealing its important role in health, from helping to maintain a healthy gut microbiome to reducing the risk of certain long-term health conditions.
How many dates counts as one of your five a day?
80g of dates count towards one of your five-a-day which is about three dates.
Discover more in our five-a-day infographic.
Can you be allergic to dates?
Yes, some people are allergic to dates. A mild reaction may include symptoms such as itching mouth or tongue, sneezing or a runny nose. If you experience these symptoms after eating dates, speak to your GP. If a more serious allergic reaction occurs, call for an ambulance immediately.
Visit the NHS website to read more about allergies.
How to buy the best dates
Dried dates are usually found in packets in the baking aisles. For fresh dates, check they are tender and not hard when squeezed – they should look quite plump despite their wrinkles. If you see dates with crystallised sugar on them, they probably aren’t as fresh as they should be.
This article was published on February 2020.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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