A Brief History Of Dates- The Benefits Of Adding Dates In Your Diet – Nutritional Benefits of Dates- Dates Side Effects – Are There Any?
You might’ve mistaken it for raisins. Some may call it prunes because it’s bigger. Apparently, these are called dates and among the healthiest foods known to humans.
What exactly are dates? Why is it slowly gaining attention especially in Western countries? What’s so special about it, especially for Muslims?
Read on to find out.
Dates, in a Nutshell
Scientifically known as Phoenix dactylifera, dates come from the Greek word, daktulos, which means “fingers.” It is a product of date palm trees and often grows in clusters, which is similar to how grapes grow.
Unlike grapes, dates have dark and red skin with crunchy structure. It could also grow about 69 to 75 feet in height, with its fruits measuring 1.2 to 2.8 inches long. The color of dates varies according to type but it could range from bright yellow to bright red.
This food is also harvested during the fall up to early winter for fresher taste. It is also native to Middle East, which explains why it is significant among Muslims.
When it comes to taste and flavor, dates belong to the sweeter side. It is rich in natural sugar but not to worry because it is also packed with essential nutrients.
Dates also come in variety. Some of the popular types of dates are:
- Barhi – It is the softest and most fragile type of dates. Its size varies between small and medium with firm flesh. When cured, its skin will turn from amber to golden brown.
- Dayri – This type has heavy, sweet flavor. It has medium to large size that is oblong in shape. Its skin is initially red but will later on ripen to brown and then black.
- Deglet Noor – This is one of the most popular types of dates available in the market. It is known for its “true” date flavor, which is sweet and delicate. This is also recommended for cooking.
- Halawi – Also spelled as Halawy, this type of dates has sweet and honey-flavored taste. You can also eat this as is.
- Khadrawy – If you prefer eating fresh dates, then this variant is highly recommended. It has rich but not too sweet taste. The issue with this type of dates is that you need to eat it fresh because it won’t last long.
- Medjool – This is another popular variant of dates and among the largest in size. It has rich, sweet taste that is ideal for eating fresh.
- Thoory – If you plan to use dates on your baked goods, then this variant is recommended. It has sweet and nutty flavor with medium to large oblong in size.
- Zahidi – This is also a favorite inside the kitchen. This variant has sweet, sugary flavor, smooth skin, and golden yellow syrup. It also has a longer shelf life and ideal for baking.
Aside from nutritional content and health benefits, what makes dates special is versatility. Dates are easy to include in your diet and can be easily paired with other healthy snacks like nuts and soft cheese.
You can easily include it in baked goods such as bars and cookies. It is also a favorite when making energy bars.
Date palm trees have been around for 5,000 years or more. Archaeological evidence showed earlier cultivation of dates some 7,000 years ago in Mehrgarh, western side of modern day Pakistan. It is unclear where dates originally came from, but many believe it’s from Syria, Egypt, or Middle East countries including Saudi Arabia.
During the third millennium B.C., Gilgamesh Epic, mentioned dates and were spoken of with veneration. Dates are also considered important in Saudi Arabia’s economy. It was also part of many Arabs daily life as food and feeds for horses and camels. They also used the trees in building their houses. Consequently, it was frequently mentioned in the Qu’ran.
Ancient Hebrews used dates to make wine, bread, and vinegar among others. On the other hand, Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine as well. Ancient Romans used date palm trees to create palm fronds, which are used during triumphal processions.
Later on, dates are not just considered as food. Romans and Egyptians used date palm trees as decorative motifs, particularly in their mosaics. By 18th century, dates were incorporated in various architectural designs.
Europeans included date palm flowers as part of their fashion. It became a popular motif, with some even embroidering this design in silk.
At this time, traders contributed to the spread of dates in South West Asia, North Africa, and even in Spain. It also found its way to California and New Mexico.
By the 20th century, dates were brought to America by agricultural explorer, Walter Swingle. According to California historian Sarah Seekatz, Swingle convinced local Moroccan leader to send Medjool dates to the United States. As a result, most Medjool dates grown in America can trace its root back to Morocco.
Since then, America – and the rest of the world – included dates in their daily diet.
Dates For Muslims And Arabs
This food is essential among Muslims, especially during Ramadan or the month-long spiritual reflection every year. During this time, Muslims take neither food nor water from sunrise to sunset. As the sun sets and according to their tradition, dates are the first food they eat.
Why are dates significant among Arabs?
To begin with, experts believed that dates originated in the Middle East region. Qu’ran also mentioned dates 22 times, although in different languages. One of the most notable mentions was when Mary was advised to eat dates while in labor with Jesus. They believed that it could help ease childbirth and makes the mother’s body stronger.
Prophet Muhammad also mentioned dates in his teachings. He said:
- Dates grown in Saudi Arabia’s Madinah region are from paradise.
- Dates are important in the growth of fetus.
- “People in a house without dates are in a state of hunger,” signifying that dates contain vital nutrients as well. Muslims also beslieve that “seven dates a day keep the doctor away.”
More than the teaching of Muhammad as well as the mentions in the Holy Qu’ran, dates became a part of Muslims’ daily way of life. They consider dates as holy compared to other religions. In fact, street vendors sold dates abundantly. Also, dates are always present in religious ceremonies, weddings, holy days and other celebrations.
Dates Nutrition Facts
Nutritional information of dates depends on the type. Generally, 100 grams or 3.5 ounce of dates contain the following nutrients:
- 277 calories
- 7 grams fiber
- 2 grams protein
- 75 grams carbohydrates
Apart from these, it also has:
- Iron – 5% of the recommended daily intake (RDI)
- Potassium – 20% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6 – 12% of the RDI
- Magnesium – 14% of the RDI
- Manganese – 15% of the RDI
- Copper – 18% of the RDI
Simply put, dates can provide essential nutrients, which your body needs to be able to function properly.
If you’re not that familiar with dates, then here are some reasons why you should include this in your daily meals:
Excellent Nutrition Profile
Based on the enumeration above, it is safe to say that date is among the healthiest food around.
Despite the 277 calories per 100 grams, which is common for dried fruits, dates still contain essential nutrients with a good amount of fiber to promote healthier digestion. At the same time, it is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent various diseases.
Rich In Fiber
Fiber is essential for optimum health and better digestive system. If you’re looking for a natural way to boost your fiber intake, then adding dates in your diet is a good way to go.
100 grams of dates could give you seven grams of fiber. This helps prevent constipation and promote regular bowel movements as well. It is also essential for blood sugar control, especially after every meal.
Based on a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, subject participants who consumed seven dates everyday for 21 days experienced an increase in their bowel movements. Consequently, there was an improvement in the frequency of stools.
Apart from better digestion, fiber could also prevent your blood sugar levels from increasing after eating. This is because dates have low glycemic index or GI, thereby reducing the possibility of spike.
High Level Of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are also crucial in one’s health, including protecting cells from free radicals. The good news is dates have the highest antioxidant content compared to its cousins, figs and dried plums.
In particular, dates contain the following antioxidants:
Carotenoids: It promotes better heart health as well as reduces the risk of eye-related conditions like macular degeneration.
Flavonoids: This powerful antioxidant reduces inflammation. Further studies also suggest that it lowers the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Phenolic Acid: This antioxidant is popularly known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It also reduces the risk of cancer and heart conditions.
Foods that are rich in sugar particularly refined ones, increases your risk of developing various conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Apparently, people still need sugar for added sweetness in dishes.
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, then dates are recommended. Dates are a good source of fructose that is sweet and with a hint of caramel-like taste. They are better substitutes because not only they are naturally sweet but also rich in nutrients and antioxidants.
Read until the end to find out how to make dates.
Boosts Brain Health
Did you know that one of the simplest ways to boost brain health is by eating dates?
According to a study published in the Neural Regeneration Research, dates lower inflammatory markers like interleukin 6 (IL-6). High IL-6 levels increase the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Consequently, dates reduce amyloid beta proteins activity, which contributes to plaque formation in the brain.
The good news is aside from lowering your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, dates could also help boost your brain function.
An animal study published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine showed that mice fed with dates had better memory and learning ability. At the same time, they have less anxiety-related behaviors compared to the placebo.
Experts theorized that the presence of antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, contributed to dates’ brain-boosting properties. Still, human studies are recommended to determine how effective these properties are.
Promote Natural Labor
Childbirth is painful, especially if you’re aiming for labor delivery. If you want to go through labor easily, then adding dates on your last few weeks of pregnancy will help.
Based on a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, pregnant women who ate six dates during their last month of pregnancy were 20 percent more likely to go into labor naturally. At the same time, time spent during labor was lesser compared to their counterparts who did not eat dates.
Another recent study showed that pregnant women who ate dates were less likely to be induced compared to those who did not eat some.
Same result was also shown in a study published in Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. In the said study, pregnant women who ate dates starting their 37th week were in active labor for four hours or less.
What’s in dates that help promote natural labor?
Dates contain compounds that bind with oxytocin receptors, thereby mimicking the effects of oxytocin the body. This is crucial because oxytocin is the hormone responsible for causing labor contractions during childbirth.
Apart from this, dates have tannins, a type of compound that facilitates contractions.
Improves Bone Health
Based on the nutritional information, you can see that dates contain essential minerals such as magnesium and potassium. These minerals are essential for bone health.
In fact, these minerals are effective in preventing bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis.
Further studies are needed to determine how effective dates are in improving bone health but this is a good start.
Dates Side Effects
Given these health benefits, this doesn’t automatically mean that you don’t have to worry about side effects.
- For starters, dates are naturally sweet and have high sugar content. Although they are healthier than refined sugar, too many dates could have an adverse effect on your blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should take extra precautions when eating dates since this is still considered sugar.
- Also, consuming dates excessively could lead to weight gain. Despite the high fiber content, dates are high in calories, too, which is 2.8 calories per gram. If eaten too much, then you might notice an increase in your weight as well.
- Watch out for skin rashes as well. Many dried fruits, including dates, have sulfites that could lead to rashes. Molds could also be present in dried fruits, thereby causing skin rashes.
- Dates are also not recommended for babies. They are too thick, thereby making it harder for them to chew. It could also block their windpipe and trigger choking. Babies won’t be able to digest dates as well, which could lead to complications.
- Another side effect is hyperkalemia, a condition caused by too much potassium in the blood. Dates are rich in potassium, which means eating these in excess could cause potassium levels to go high.
Does this mean you should skip dates? Definitely not. The key is to take dates in moderation to avoid any of these side effects.
Dates are predominantly sugar and already dried, which means it has the capacity to last longer. Nonetheless, dates could lose its flavor and texture over time, especially if not stored properly.
How should you store dates? Ideally, dates can be kept at room temperature, especially if you will use it immediately. For longer shelf life, here are some things you need to remember:
- Put dates in an airtight container to retain its moisture. This helps extend not just the shelf life but also in ensuring that the dates retain their freshness.
- If you will use dates within 30 days from date of purchase, place in the refrigerator. It can also prolong the dates’ shelf life up to six months; however, there is a higher possibility of losing its moisture.
- For longer shelf life, store dates in the freezer.
In case you plan to use the dates, soak them in a bowl of hot water to get the sticky, soft texture.
Make sure that when you buy dates, go for those that are still shiny and unbroken. Avoid dates that are hard or have a sour smell. If you noticed crystallized sugar on the surface, then don’t get those as well
Dates Recipe / Usage
Similar to raisins, dates can be used in many sweet and savory dishes. The easiest one would be incorporating it in salads. You can chop or slice whole dates and mix it with your usual salad dish.
Another way to use this is by making dates paste. To do this, pit dates using chopsticks or knife. Place the pitted dates in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. You can use this paste to replace the sugar asked in the recipe.
Dates are also recommended for smoothies because of its natural sweetness and nutritional value. Here’s a simple Date smoothie recipe using dates:
- In a smoothie maker or blender, combine one large banana, 1 ½ cup of your preferred milk, four dried dates, one tablespoon flaxseed, and one teaspoon cinnamon.
- Blend well until all the ingredients are combined.
If you prefer something to eat, then this No-Bake Dates Energy Bars are perfect for you. Here’s how to do it:
- Remove the dates’ seeds.
- In a food processor, combine one cup walnut, ½ cup almond, and ½ cup grated coconut. Mix well until they are broken into pieces.
- Add ½ cup seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Put the dates and pulse for 20 seconds.
- Place the mixture in a baking pan. Flatten the mixture using a spatula.
- Put the pan in the refrigerator until firm.
Dates are sweet. Because of this, it is often used in desserts like cakes and cookies. What if you ran out of dates?
Don’t worry. You can substitute the following ingredients with the same amount, which the recipe called for:
- Dried figs
- Dried cranberries
- Dried raisins, which are also more affordable
- Dried cherries
- Dried apricots if you want to add more flavor
Take note that if you are going to use raisins, make sure to soak them in hot water for two to three minutes. This helps bring the moisture back and achieve the texture similar to dates.
You can also try this raisin paste recipe, which you can use as an alternative for smoothies that require dates.
To do this:
- Soak 1 ½ cup of dried raisins in hot water for 10 minutes or until the raisins are plump.
- Transfer the raising into a food processor. Don’t forget to save ¼ cup of the water where you soaked the raisins.
- Turn on the food processor until the raisins turn into thick paste. Add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is similar to peanut butter.
You can store this in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. You can also put the mixture in the ice cube tray and keep it in the freezer for months.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, dates are among the healthiest foods you should include in your diet. It is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that protect your health from various diseases. It also contains essential nutrients and minerals to help your body function properly. Apart from the religious connection, this is also the reason why dates play an important role in Muslim culture.
Still, take it easy on your consumption. Dates are rich in calories and have naturally high sugar content. It is recommended that you take this in moderation.
Overall, dates are worth adding in your diet as long as you consume it properly.