You might think of Medjool dates as nature's candy — after all, they're sweet and irresistible and addictive. But they're also way healthier than any candy you're going to find on store shelves.
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Yes, Medjool dates are very healthy! They have a lot of sugar, but they have more vitamins and minerals than most other fruit.
Packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, Medjool dates are revered throughout the world for packing a punch of nutrition into such a tiny piece of fruit.
Although the high sugar content might raise eyebrows from those who are watching their carbohydrate count, these little sweetness bombs actually help fight many metabolic problems — and for people who don't have easy access to nutrition, they can be a real blessing.
What Are Dates?
You look at dates and see a dried fruit, but unlike raisins or prunes, dates naturally grow that way. According to Produce for Better Health Foundation, dates have the lowest water content of any fruit: only about 30 percent. Because they're naturally dehydrated, they are easy to store and keep for long periods of time without any sort of preservation. In an airtight container, they'll keep for several months; in the fridge, they can even last up to a year.
Dates originated in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and they were brought to California by the Spanish in the late 17th century. The desert climate might be one of the reasons dates are so rich in antioxidants — as Produce for Better Health Foundation points out, the date palm produces its polyphenol components to protect its fruit from oxidation.
Medjool dates, originally from Morocco, are the most popular variety, followed by Deglet Noor, which are not as sweet or as moist. The third and least popular of the major date varieties is the Barhee date, which is large, round and crisp. There are some variations among the Medjool dates grown in California, though it is unclear whether this is because of genetics or style of cultivation.
Examining the Nutrition of Dates
Dates are considered a high-energy (that is, calorically dense) food because of their sugar content. However, a March 2012 review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition praised dates for being a richer source of dietary nutrients than any other fruit. One Medjool date has 66 calories per piece, with most of those calories coming from its 16 grams of sugar.
But dates are also full of fiber, and they're free of fat, cholesterol and sodium. A quarter-cup portion, which satisfies one of your recommended daily servings of fruit, delivers 8 percent of your daily needed potassium, 6 percent of your daily magnesium and lots of calcium, zinc, copper, iron and selenium.
What About Carbs in Dates?
If you're counting carbs, you might be apprehensive. The carbs in dates total nearly 18 grams. So is the sugar in dates good or bad?
Well, in addition to their sugar content, dates also provide fiber, which the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends for people who are watching their weight. Fiber helps you feel full, thus preventing you from overeating. Fiber also helps with digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Whether the sugar in dates is good or bad depends on your nutritional needs. For some people, the energy density could be beneficial. The high number of carbs in dates mean they are a food that could be considered a fruit or a cereal alternative. For people who are malnourished and trying to get many calories and nutrients in the smallest volume, this could be helpful.
Furthermore, determining whether the sugar in dates is good or bad is different from determining whether the sugar in candy is good or bad because fruit appears to be metabolized differently than candy.
An October 2016 review study published in Nutrients, noted that although fruit contains simple sugars, fruit is typically successful in efforts to fight obesity, possibly because of the high fiber and phytochemical content. More studies need to be done, but the review emphasized that including more fruit in your diet is conducive to losing weight.
The March 2012 review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition also noted that the carbs in dates are different from the empty carbs in candy because dates have a low glycemic index, meaning they produce gradual rises in blood sugar for a steady stream of energy.
Furthermore, they don't bring about any of the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome that are typically seen with simple sugar. Many of the minerals they contain are essential to glucose metabolism, so dates might be good for the prevention of diabetes.
Other Benefits of Dates
Indian traditional medicine and Middle Eastern folklore hailed dates as a cure-all for countless diseases. While that might be a stretch, they do have some impressive components to them. Dates are full of phytochemicals, which protect the body from diseases. In particular, dates can fight oxidation, lower cholesterol, ward off cancer, prevent diabetes and protect against cardiovascular disease.
According to a March 2014 review published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, some studies have even shown that dates have medicinal properties that could fight tumors and inflammation, and they could serve as an alternative to expensive drug treatments for cancer and diabetes. More research is required to fully understand what it is about the fruit that helps ward off these conditions.
Ways to Enjoy Dates
If you want to start incorporating dates into you diet, there are plenty of ways. Of course, dates can be enjoyed on their own, but you can also get creative with a few tips from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
You can try filling pitted dates with nut butter, adding dates to smoothies, dicing them and adding them to cereals or salads, putting them in wraps or on sandwiches, tossing them into trail mixes, blending them with a little milk to make a syrup alternative for breakfast baked goods and even adding them to parfaits, ice cream sundaes and other desserts.
Read more: 10 Vegetable Recipes That Taste Like Treats
These are just a few of the ways you can join the growing number of people who are discovering dates are just as delicious as they are nutritious.
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Date Fruits (Phoenix dactylifera Linn): An Emerging Medicinal Food”
- USDA Food Data Central: “Dates, Medjool”
- International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine: “Therapeutic Effects of Date Fruits in the Prevention of Diseases”
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: “Dates”
- Produce for Better Health Foundation: “Top 10 Ways to Enjoy Dates”
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: “Why Is It Important to Eat Fruit?”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet”
- University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: “Not All Medjool Date Plants Grown in California Are the Same!”
- University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences: “Dates”
- Nutrients: "Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity"