Satisfy your sweet tooth by snacking on nutrient-rich dates, which have a positive influence on your health. Rich in minerals; vitamins B, C and K; phenolic compounds; and fiber, dates can boost your energy, ward off infection, improve your digestion and keep your bones strong.
Despite their high calorie content, dates offer some important health benefits as a result of their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-tumor properties.
What Are Dates?
Dates are among the longest cultivated fruits and have been a staple food in the Middle East for thousands of years. These fruits are prized for their medicinal properties and have an important place in Islam religion.
Dates are a member of the palm family Arecaceae, or Palmae, with more than two hundred varieties of dates available worldwide, according to a review published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in March 2014. These fruits can be processed by completely drying them, or they can be made into products, such as baked goods, concentrate, paste, date pieces, pitted dates and syrup.
The dates you regularly find at your grocery store are likely Deglet Noor dates, the most popular kind in the United States. They are medium-sized with a narrow elongated oval shape and range in color from translucent light red to amber. A semi-dry type of date, Deglet Noors are slightly crunchy and chewy with a sweet flavor. Other types of dates include Medjool, Barhi and Saghai.
Dates Are Nutritious
Three pitted Deglet Noor dates provide 59 calories, so watch your intake — their sweet taste can make it easy to overindulge. Most of the calories in these fruits come from simple carbs that provide you with a quick boost of energy. One serving (21 grams) boasts 15.8 grams of carbohydrates (per three Deglet Noor dates), according to the USDA.
There is no fat or cholesterol in these sweet treats, but beware of their high sugar content. Three dates (one serving) contain 13.3 grams of sugar or 27 percent of your daily value (DV). They are not a significant source of protein, with only 0.5 grams per serving.
These fruits are rich in essential minerals necessary for a healthy heart, proper muscle and nerve function, and strong bones. Dates help contribute to your recommended daily intake of minerals including:
Calcium — 1 percent of the DV
Iron — 1 percent of the DV
Potassium — 3 percent of the DV
Magnesium — 2 percent of the DV
Phosphorus — 1 percent of the DV
Zinc — 1 percent of the DV
Copper — 5 percent of the DV
Manganese — 2 percent of the DV
Selenium — 1 percent of the DV
A good source of vitamins important for many metabolic functions in your body, dates are fairly high in vitamin B content and contain:
Thiamin — 1 percent of the DV
Riboflavin — 1 percent of the DV
Niacin — 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin B5 — 2 percent of the DV
Vitamin B6 — 2 percent of the DV
Folate — 1 percent of the DV
In addition, dates are a source of vitamins C and K_._
Good Source of Fiber
Dates also boast dietary fiber — one serving provides 7 percent of the daily recommended intake. You need fiber to maintain good digestive health and prevent constipation.
Since this nutrient cannot be broken down by your body, it remains intact, helping to add bulk and soften your stool. This promotes regular bowel movements that may help prevent hemorrhoids and reduce the risk of diverticulitis. Fiber may also relieve constipation, alleviating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Dietary fiber may also help protect against colon cancer, according to an October 2015 large-scale study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Furthermore, if you have high cholesterol, the fiber in dates may help reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. According to the Mayo Clinic, 5 to 10 grams or more of fiber a day may decrease LDL (the "bad") cholesterol. High cholesterol can put you at risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Benefit From Antioxidants
Dates also provide the health benefits of antioxidants. These nutrients may help prevent or reduce damage to your cells from free radical molecules. Free radicals are toxic byproducts from metabolism, such as digestion, or environmental factors like pollution. They can lead to harmful reactions in your body — a process known as oxidative stress — which can cause disease.
The antioxidant activity in dates comes from their polyphenol content, including phenolic acid, flavonoids and procyanidin compounds. Polyphenols are known for their neuroprotective effects in several age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, as reported in a review in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy in September 2017.
Due to their powerful anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants have the potential to lower the risk of chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease, as reported in a research paper featured in the Journal of Food Science and Technology in March 2015.
Boost Your Brain Power
Another benefit of eating dates comes from choline, which is needed to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter for memory, mood and other brain functions, says the National Institutes of Health. This nutrient also helps in cell membrane signaling and early brain development. One cup of dates contains 9.3 milligrams of choline.
Dates may also help lower inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, which is important for reducing the risk of age-related neurological diseases. An article in Neural Regeneration Research, published in July 2016, reported promising beneficial brain-boosting effects of phenolic, flavonoid and antioxidant contents of dates on Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases.
A link has been established between improved cognitive performance in adults and higher choline intake, with better verbal and visual memory. Future studies are needed to determine whether or not choline benefits patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Eat Dates for Healthy Bones
As you age, your bones may become brittle, which can lead to bone loss and fractures. Eating a handful of dates may be a step in the right direction toward keeping your bones healthy and fighting off the likelihood of osteoporosis.
Dates provide calcium — 4 percent of the daily recommended intake per cup. This mineral is known for its role in bone health. Other nutrients in dates work with calcium to help strengthen your bones.
The potassium in dates — 21 percent of the daily recommended allowance per cup — has a beneficial effect on bone health by reducing calcium loss. In a nationwide Korean study conducted on 3,135 men and 4,052 postmenopausal women, dietary potassium intake was found to improve bone density. The results were published in Osteoporosis International in May 2017.
Researchers found that adequate intakes of phosphorus and calcium improved mineral content in bone and led to a 45 percent decrease in the risk of osteoporosis, according to a study published in the Nutrition Journal in March 2015.
The Vitamin K in dates helps regulate calcium, supporting the structure and hardness of your teeth and skeletal system. This nutrient is also used by your body to produce proteins that regulate bone mineralization, which helps maintain the integrity of your bones. One serving (three chopped dates) contain 0.6 milligrams of vitamin K. That's little, but it still contributes to your daily intake.
Because 50 to 60 percent of the magnesium in your body resides in your bones, eating dates can help maintain bone density. These delicious fruits contain 9 milligrams of magnesium per serving — that's 2 percent of the daily recommended intake. This mineral may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine: "Therapeutic Effects of Date Fruits (Phoenix dactylifera) in the Prevention of Diseases via Modulation of Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Oxidant and Anti-Tumour Activity"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Dates (Deglet Noor)"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Basic Report: 09421, Dates, Medjool"
- Mayo Clinic: " Q and A: Diet, Lifestyle Choices can Lower Risk of Diverticulosis Developing Into Diverticulitis"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Dietary Fiber"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary Fiber Intake and Risk of Colorectal Cancer and Incident and Recurrent Adenoma in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cholesterol: Top Foods to Improve Your Numbers"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cholesterol: High Cholesterol Diseases"
- Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy: "Protective Effects of Flavonoids Against Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Neural Dysfunctions"
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: "Study of Phenolic Compound and Antioxidant Activity of Date Fruit as a Function of Ripening Stages and Drying Process"
- National Institutes of Health: "Choline"
- Neural Regeneration Research: "Beneficial Effects of Date Palm Fruits on Neurodegenerative Diseases"
- Osteoporosis International: "Dietary Potassium Intake is Beneficial to Bone Health in a Low Calcium Intake Population: The Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin K"
- Nutrition Journal: "Association Between Phosphorus Intake and Bone Health in the NHANES Population"
- National Institutes of Health: "Magnesium"
- American Bone Health: "Minerals for Bone Health"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Dates (Deglet Noor)"