A towering date palm looks something like a coconut tree, but its massive clusters of fruit offer something far sweeter. With their rich, caramel-like flavor and soft, chewy flesh, it’s no surprise that dates -- which are roughly 70 percent sugar by weight -- are commonly referred to as “nature’s candy.” Dates may be as sweet as candy, but they deliver far more nutrients -- and potential health benefits.
Eating dates can help prevent constipation. They’re an excellent source of dietary fiber, as you get close to 6 grams from a one-half-cup serving of chopped Deglet Noor dates or about four of the larger Medjool variety. A considerable amount of the fruit's fiber is insoluble, the kind that promotes normal digestion. Not only does insoluble fiber move waste material through your intestinal tract more efficiently, but it also helps your body produce stools that are larger, softer and easier to pass.
Dates are a good source of several cardio-protective nutrients, including potassium, copper and magnesium. Getting enough potassium in your diet can help reduce high blood pressure, which may in turn lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Copper and magnesium are important for healthy blood vessels. Copper also helps maintain the connective tissues in the heart and blood vessels, while magnesium helps sustain normal heart rhythms. In addition, dates are a good source of beta-D-glucan, a soluble fiber that can be particularly effective at helping reduce high cholesterol levels.
No Added Sugars
Eating dates to satisfy your sweet tooth -- while strictly limiting or foregoing the added sugars found in many refined foods -- also helps protect cardiovascular health. Although dates are relatively high in sugar -- a one-half-cup serving of the Deglet Noor variety contains about 47 grams of sugar -- it’s the naturally occurring type, meaning it comes in an otherwise nutritious package. Added sugars, or with any kind of sugar used to sweeten a meal or food product, have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels, according to the American Heart Association website, which also notes that consuming too many added sugars is associated with a much greater risk of dying from heart disease.
Dates contain no vitamin C, an important antioxidant found in many fruits. They’re still a good source of phytochemicals, however, which are mostly present in the form of phenols and carotenoids. Some of these compounds exhibit significant antioxidant activity; they effectively defend cells from free-radical damage. A diet rich in antioxidants -- or one centered on fruits, vegetables and other whole foods -- is widely thought to help protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions, according to the Harvard School of Public Health website.
Healthy Portion Size
With their low water content, dates are a more concentrated source of calories than most other kinds of fresh fruit. Deglet Noor dates provide just over 200 calories per one-half-cup serving of chopped fruit, while a single jumbo-sized Medjool date has about 65 calories. Dates are most beneficial when eaten in small portions -- a one-half-cup serving or less, depending on your daily calorie allowance.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Dates, Deglet Noor
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Dates, Medjool
- American Heart Association: Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease
- Harvard School of Public Health: Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype
- Wellness Foods A to Z: An Indispensable Guide for Health-Conscious Food Lovers; Sheldon Margen, M.D.
- Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; Michael Murray, N.D., et al.
- Institute of Medicine of the National Academies: Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride and Sulfate
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Copper
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Magnesium