Dates (Phoenix dactylifera L.) are the most important food crop in many countries of the Middle East. They are reckoned to be the oldest cultivated fruit in the world given that the Babylonians regularly ate them as a staple of their diet.
Saudi Arabia alone produces more dates than many other countries in that region combined and the amount was almost 500,000 tons in 2014. It is an impartnat food source of the Middle East. North Africa, especially Tunisia and Israel are also major producers. For Tunisia, dates are a regular revenue stream.
Dates have a delicate, sweet and rich, almost caramel flavour . The texture is slightly chewy. They store extremely well. They are used fresh and dried. Countries to which they are exported, often have them syruped in sugar, dried and packed into wrapped plastic trays as delicacy, a Christmas treat. That storage property extends them for years if needs be. The preservation is so effective they were claimed to be found in reasonably palatable form by foragers and grave robbers of Egyptian tombs. Date blocks are commercially available.
Dates are mixed in many cultures with dairy proteins, yogurt, bread and butter to produce palatable protein/carbohydrate meals with a more balanced profile. The colour of dates depends on the cultivar. They range from a tarry honey yellow gold through to reddish-brown. The Medjool variety is perhaps one of the most sought after because of its teak like shrivelled appearance.
Dates (dried and fresh) are available throughout the year but the fresh ones are best between November to January.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of fresh dates provides the following nutrients (1):
- Calories: 277 – 314
- Carbs: 75 grams
- Fiber: 7 – 8 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Potassium: 20% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 14% of the RDI
- Copper: 18% of the RDI
- Manganese: 15% of the RDI
- Iron: 5% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 12% of the RDI
Good source of sugars, fibres, vitamins and minerals including, calcium, sulphur, potassium, manganese, magnesium,selenium, copper and iron (Al-Farsi & Lee, 2008; Ali et al., 2009). As well as various carbohydrates, all fresh and dried dates contain substantial amounts of fibre. The flesh of the date is low in fat and protein but contains plenty of sugars such as fructose and glucose. Because of this, date syrup makes an excellent natural sweetener.
The vitamins are the B ones such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A and K, and folate.
In product development, they are often mashed to form a sticky paste which binds other granular materials together such as nuts and pieces of fruit. This property makes them highly versatile in nutrient rich bars. Their potential has been widely examined by many especially when making energy dense foods because they are 80% w/w carbohydrate of which a substantial portion is dietary fibre (32%) but relatively low in protein (3%w/w). An alternative paste using prune is a possibility.
In Islamic cultures, consuming the date and drinking water signifies the breaking of their fast especially during Ramadan. It was and is still a way to avoid excessive eating following a fast because there is a slight satiation benefit.
Dates Are Rich In Antioxidants Which Help Fight Disease
The antioxidant levels in dates are very many and varied. Check any medical knowledge web-site and we see now that foods high in antioxidants are associated with numerous levels of reduced risk of many diseases. Antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage. These molecules which produce harmful reactions in the body’s cells that lead to disease (Pham-Huy et al., 2008).
Dates have been consumed to relieve a number of conditions stipulated in various cultures although not all have clear clinical evidence to back up these uses:-
- constipation and diarrhoea (contrary cultural information is often noted).
- stomach complaints and intestinal disorders
- heart issues,
- sexual dysfunctions
- weight gain
Dates Are Rich In Fiber And ideal For Relieving Constipation
One of the key traditional uses for eating dates is to relieve constipation. This debilitating condition occurs when we are unable to pass stools. Part of the reason is the hardness of the stool.
It has been a practice in North Africa for many centuries (Rhouma, 1995). We know from plenty of clinical research that any food rich in fiber is ideal for stimulating (in a healthy way) bowel movements and promoting the easy passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract (Souli et al., 2014).
Back in 2005, one study showed dried fruits with high dietary fiber levels including insoluble fibre were especially good from a health perspective. Insoluble dietary fibre is the main type in a date.
Date pulp extracts have been examined in a mouse study associated with gastrointestinal mobility and motility (Souli et al., 2014). The pulp, sourced from Deglet-Noir dates was shown to increase gut movement in a dose-dependent manner. When the stool is passing through the intestine, it tends to have water contained within it, reabsorbed by the body which means it becomes harder. The fiber in date pulp appears to make a stool move quicker through the intestine with the effect that less water is reabsorbed because of the shorter time. Such stools are softer and easier to pass.
Consuming dates might also off a gastroprotective benefit based on a study of gastric ulcers produced by ethanol, in rats (Al-Qarawi et al., 2005).
Dates Are Good For Heart Health
Consumming dates helps control and reduce the risk factors associated with heart disease. This inlcudes reducing cholesterol and triglyceride (general fat) levels in the blood and even reducing blood pressure. One study found that if 100 grams of dates were eaten every day for four weeks, the triglyceride levels dropped by * per cent and 15 per cent. (Al-Farsi & Lee, 2008).
Date seeds are an underused source of all sorts of nutrients but they are high in protein (about 5 g/100g) and fat (9 g/100g) The dietary fibre content is exceptionally high (73g/100g) with various phenolics (4g/100g) and some antioxidants (80mg/100g) (Al-Farsi & Lee, 2008).
Al-Farsi, M.A., & Lee, C.Y. (2008) Nutritional and functional properties of dates: a review. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 48(10) pp. 877-887 (Article)
Al-Qarawi AA, Abdel-Rahman H, Ali BH, Mousa HM, El-Mougy SA (2005) The ameliorative effect of dates (Phoenix dactylifera L.) on ethanol-induced gastric ulcer in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 98 pp. 313–317
Ali A, Al-Kindi YS, Al-Said F. (2009) Chemical composition and glycemic index of three varieties of Omani dates. Int. J Food Sci Nutr. 60 Suppl 4 pp. 51-62 (Article).
Pham-Huy, L.A., He, H., Pham-Huy, C. (2008) Free radicals, antioxidants in disease and health. Int. J. Biomed. Sci. 4(2) pp. 89–96 (Article).
Rhouma, A. (1995) Le palmier dattier en Tunisie. Le patrimoine génétique. INRA de Tunisie, Tunis 1:14
Souli A, Sebai H, Rtibi K, et al. (2014) Effects of dates pulp extract and palm sap (Phoenix dactylifera L.) on gastrointestinal transit activity in healthy rats. J Med Food. 17(7) pp. 782–786. (Article)
Vinson, J.A., Zubik, L., Bose, P., Samman, N., Proch, J. (2005) Dried fruits: excellent in vitro and in vivo antioxidants. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 24(1) pp. 44-50 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15670984
Yang, J., Wang, H.P., Zhou, L., Xu, C.F. (2012) Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: a meta analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 18(48) pp. 7378–7383. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544045/