Dates have long been used as sweeteners and a quick snack, or meal even, for centuries. They are cholesterol-free and very low in fat. Plus they’re energy boosters, making them a suitable snack for the health-conscious. Also, they’re rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, A1 and C, proteins, dietary fiber, iron (11 percent), potassium (16 percent), calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. The soluble and insoluble fibers and amino acids present in dates can also help to improve the digestive system.

Despite these benefits, one cup of dates has around 29 mg of fructose and a high glycemic index, which can increase blood sugar levels significantly. So, why do many people who choose to eliminate excess sugars from their lifestyle still consume dates? Well, it seems that dates are naturally rich in nutrition despite being rich in fructose, so there’s a trade-off. Some even consider dates the most ideal food.

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Dates are whole foods, but, by weight, they are 80 percent pure sugar. Sugared cereal loops are only 40 percent sugar — half the sugar content of dates. To understand date sugar from the whole food, Israeli scientists took a bunch of people, stuffed them full of dates for a month and measured what happened: they determined that their subjects have no adverse effects on blood sugar or weight, and they had beneficial improvements in triglycerides and antioxidant stress levels.

Here is a nutritional breakdown of ten dates:

Serving Size: 10 dates

  • Calories: 234
  • Fat: <1 g
  • Saturated Fat: NA
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 61 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 6 g
  • Sodium: 2 mg
  • Niacin: 1 mg
  • Pantothenic Acid: <1 mg
  • Vitamin B6: <1 mg
  • Calcium: 32 mg
  • Copper: <1 mg
  • Iron: <1 mg
  • Magnesium: 36 mg
  • Potassium: 541 mg
  • Vitamin K: 2.2 mcg

As you can see, there are 61 grams of carbohydrates in a serving size and only 6 grams of fiber to counteract those carbs. Even though there is not that much fiber, still, all of the other ingredients, vitamins, and minerals make dates benefit the body immensely. How? Well, as aforementioned, the magnesium found in dates can reduce blood pressure, and they have anti-inflammatory benefits, reducing inflammation in the arterial walls and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other inflammation-related health ailments.

Also, the B6 vitamin in dates has been shown by JAMA Internal Medicine to improve brain performance and better test scores. A summary of the health benefits of dates range from:

  • Weight loss
  • Relieving constipation, supporting regular bowel movements
  • Promoting heart health, reducing heart disease risk
  • Diarrhea
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Impotence
  • Promoting respiratory and digestive health
  • Pregnancy deliveries
  • Hemorrhoid prevention
  • Chronic conditions such as arthritis
  • Reducing colitis risk
  • Preventing colon cancer

Ultimately, dates are good for overall health despite their fructose concentration. Even if your diet is a sugar-free one, devoid of high-fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, coconut sugar, and cane sugar, you probably still eat fruit, and dates are a fruit too, with loads of benefits. When picking out your dates, look for plump ones with unbroken, smoothly wrinkled skins, and avoid those that smell rancid or are hardened. Dried dates keep for up to a year in the refrigerator while fresh dates should be refrigerated in tight, sealed containers and can keep for up to eight months. 

Next time you need to sweeten a plant-based recipe, make your own energy bars, or mask the green flavor in your smoothies, look no further than the humble date. Their lovely flavor and beneficial qualities bring sweetness to any food. Sure, they aren’t sugar-free, but they won’t hurt your efforts to reduce your sugar. What you really want to do is reduce artificial and refined sugars from your diet, not the beautiful, natural sugars in whole dates.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!

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Image source: Christopher/ Flickr