By the Digits
- 96%: Percentage of pregnant women who had spontaneous natural labor after consuming dates (compared to 79% when no dates were consumed) (1).
- 100+: Number of different types of dates found in Iraq alone (2).
- 7: Number of grams of fiber in a 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving of dates (3).
Although dates have been renowned for their healing powers for thousands of years, these sweet fruits have only recently become wildly popular in the Western world. There are many different types of dates, but all dates come from date palm trees, which grow in tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Medjool dates are the most well known variety, with Deglet Noor dates also being highly popular. The sweet fruit is usually small in size, ranges in color from bright yellow to bright red, and is usually sold dried. In addition to being delicious and an important part of whole food supplements like GEM, there are many health benefits of eating dates.
High in Fiber
Most people know that getting enough fiber in your daily diet is important to help regulate your digestive system and promote normal bowel movements, but fiber is also important for your overall health and wellbeing. Fiber helps prevent constipation by aiding in the formation of stool, which is especially important given how common constipation is in the United States. Sixteen out of every 100 American adults reports symptoms of constipation, and approximately one-third of all adults ages 60 and over also suffer from the condition (4). Dates can be especially helpful in promoting regular bowel movements, as one study showed that people who ate seven dates per day for three weeks showed improvements in their stool frequency and the number of bowel movements compared to their bowel movements when they were not eating dates (5). The fiber that comes from dates also helps control blood sugar levels by slowing the digestive process and preventing a spike in blood sugar levels following a meal. Although dates are sweet and many sweet foods have a high glycemic index, dates have a low glycemic index due to their high fiber content and do not cause your blood sugar to rise quickly.
High in Antioxidants
Dates are packed full of antioxidants, which are substances in the body that work to stabilize potentially harmful free radicals. Free radicals do perform some important functions, like fighting infection, but an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants can cause the body to experience a condition called oxidative stress. Over a prolonged period of time, oxidative stress begins to damage the DNA and other molecules in the body and can cause cell death. Oxidative stress has been linked to a number of health conditions. Therefore, it is important that we consume enough antioxidants to help support those that are naturally produced in the body. Dates have been shown to have a higher concentration of antioxidants compared to similar fruits, including figs and dried plums (6). Dates contain three main types of antioxidants:
- Flavonoids, which help reduce inflammation
- Carotenoids, which promote heart health and eye health
- Phenolic acid, which acts as an anti-inflammatory and may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease
Promote Heart Health
When combined, the antioxidants and fiber found in dates help to promote heart health. Fiber contributes to heart health by “cleaning” the arteries and preventing the buildup of plaque and keeping levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol low, which reduces the risk of heart disease. Studies have been conducted to confirm that dates are effective in reducing the risk of heart disease through the prevention of plaque buildup, but the antioxidants found in dates are also beneficial for heart health (7). As noted above, carotenoids promote heart health, while flavonoids and phenolic acid help to reduce inflammation and can lower the risk of heart disease and may regulate blood pressure (8). That means that when you’re enjoying a sweet date, you’re actually helping keep your heart healthy and prolonging your life at the same time.
Not only do fresh dates taste delicious on their own or in a smoothie, but if you take a look at the nutritional label on a package of dried dates, you might be surprised at first by the calorie content. Because dates are dried, they are more dense in calories than fresh fruit, and are more like raisins and figs. Dates are high in carbs, but they are also high in fiber, and they do contain some protein. While they might be higher in calories than calorie-counters might prefer, they are packed with lots of healthy vitamins and minerals, including the following in a 100 gram serving (3):
- Potassium: 20 percent of the recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 14 percent of the recommended daily intake
- Copper: 18 percent of the recommended daily intake
- Manganese: 15 percent of the recommended daily intake
- Iron: 5 percent of the recommended daily intake
- Vitamin B6: 12 percent of the recommended daily intake
Promote Brain Health
The anti-inflammatory properties of dates also contribute to brain health, particularly as it pertains to the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. These neurodegenerative diseases are associated with high levels of inflammatory markers in the brain, including a substance called interleukin 6 (IL-6), which is linked to Alzheimer’s. Dates have been shown to help lower these markers due to the powerful antioxidants found in the fruit (9). Although the research has not yet been replicated in humans, animal studies indicate that dates may be able to reduce the formation of plaque in the brain; plaque in the brain disrupts cellular communication, which can lead to neurodegenerative disease and brain death (9). More human studies are needed in order to fully understand how eating dates might benefit humans’ brain health.
Healthy Sugar Substitute
With many people trying to cut added sugars out of their diets for health reasons, dates offer a healthy sugar substitute (3). Dates contain fructose, which is a type of sugar that is naturally found in fruit and is used by the body for energy. They can be used to replace white sugar in recipes when made into a date paste, which blends dates with water. Dates are still high in calories, so although they do make a healthier option than sugar thanks to all of the antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients they contain, you’ll still want to use them sparingly. Date paste can be exchanged for white sugar in recipes at a ratio of 1:1.
Aid Natural Labor
If you’re pregnant and are hoping to give birth naturally, eating dates during your final few weeks of pregnancy might just be the ticket. Dates have been used for centuries to promote and aid natural labor, but now, multiple studies can affirm that the fruit really does help. Dates help promote cervical dilation, reduce the likelihood that induced labor will be needed, and reduce the total amount of time spent in labor (10). Eating six dates per day for the final four weeks of pregnancy is linked to a 20 percent greater chance of natural labor and a reduced labor time (1). Some studies show that pregnant women who consumed between 70 and 76 grams of dates during their final four weeks of pregnancy spent an average of four hours less in labor than those who did not consume dates (10). Although it’s clear that dates can help ease natural labor and reduce the likelihood of an induction, scientists are not exactly sure how this happens. It appears that dates contain a compound that binds to oxytocin receptors in the body, leading the body to believe that it is producing oxytocin; oxytocin is the hormone responsible for causing contractions during labor. Tannins, another compound that encourages contractions, are also found in dates, which may further contribute to dates’ significant effects on labor and delivery.
- Dates come in three major varieties: soft, semi-soft, and dry
- Date palms, the tree that produces dates, are actually classified scientifically as a grass and are thus closely related to grains
- Dried dates can be stored for years without going bad thanks to their low water content and high amount of sugar
- Dates are an excellent source of natural energy thanks to their high number of carbohydrates and natural sugars
- Date palms have been cultivated in the Middle East and North Africa for more than 5000 years
- Dates can be used to make wine
- In the United States, dates are grown in southern California, Arizona, and southern Florida
- Dates were not grown in the western hemisphere until Spanish missionaries brought them over in the 1700s and 1800s