Dates refer to the fruits of the date palm tree. These are probably one of the oldest cultivated fruits and have been a part of the staple diet in the Middle Eastern countries. They are believed to have originated somewhere around the Persian Gulf. The typical date fruit is a drupe where the outer fleshy part surrounds a shell of hardened endocarp consisting of seed inside. These fruits are oval to cylindrical in shape and about 3 to 7 cm long. Unripe fruits are bright yellow or red in color. On ripening, they become brown and shriveled, resembling a prune. There are several varieties of dates that can be categorized into three groups on the basis of their sugar content- soft, semi-dry and dried dates. All varieties of dates are the same in all respects except slight differences in taste and size.
Dates can be consumed in both fresh and dried forms. They are sweet with a rich deep flavor and a slightly chewy texture. Though most of the varieties have seeds, pitted dates (dates with seeds removed) are also available. They can be chopped, candied, stuffed and added to various recipes. They are used in several recipes in the Middle East such as stuffed dates, date nut bread, ma’amoul etc. Besides their rich taste, they are a powerhouse of nutrition that can greatly boost your energy. Muslims break their fast with dates in the holy month of Ramadan. They make a great combination of taste and health.
Health Benefits of Date Fruit:
The rich nutritional content of dates makes them beneficial for your health in several ways. The various health benefits of date fruits are as follows:
1. Energizer – According to nutritionists Jamil Mpiima, dates give the body a quick energy boost and this explains why they are a favorite when Muslims are breaking the fast. One of the major components of dates is sugar which is easily transformed in the body to make energy. They contain such sugars as glucose, fructose, mannose, and maltose.
2. Weight management -Fibre slows down the rate at which food leaves the stomach hence leaving one feeling satisfied for a longer period. This, therefore, puts dates on the list of foods that can help one manage their weight as they are restrained from eating more frequently. More interesting about dates is that their sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream; this equally keeps hunger at bay.
3. Constipation and Colon health -The fiber content in the dates also helps in ensuring easy bowel movement. Soluble fiber found in dates helps retain more water in the stool hence making it softer and easier to pass out. Whereas the insoluble fiber on the other hand makes adds bulk to the fecal matter speeding up its passage through the gut. The insoluble and soluble fiber in dates has also been found to clean the gastrointestinal system, allowing the colon to work at greater levels of efficiency.
4. Prevents intestinal disorders – According to an article published in the US National Library of Medicine, one of the vitamins found in dates is nicotinic acid (niacin). This helps to check the growth of any pathological microorganisms in the intestines and boosting the survival of helpful bacteria. So making dates a significant part of your diet is important to reap such benefits.
5. Healthy heart – Some of the essential nutrients for heart health such as magnesium, potassium and vitamin B-6 are available in dates. Potassium regulates the electrical impulses that maintain a steady heartbeat. It also counterbalances the effect of sodium in your diet by lowering blood pressure. Magnesium makes the muscles in your heart and blood vessels relax, which lowers blood pressure. It may also help lower levels of triglycerides. Vitamin B-6, on the other hand, removes the amino acid homocysteine from your blood, which lowers its level in your blood. High levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
6. Prevents diarrhea – “Potassium available in ripe dates is helpful in managing to loosen of the bowels. They may be very easily digestible, which will help to deal up with the difficulties of diarrhea. Potassium can also be required to sustain a healthy and balanced central nervous system” Patrick Ssenjobe said.
7. Anti-oxidants – Studies have shown that dates have the highest concentration of polyphenols among dried fruits. Polyphenols are compounds with antioxidant properties. Polyphenols as antioxidant protect the body cells from free radicals and therefore reducing the rate of tissue degradation and the risk of such disease as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Reduced stroke risk – The research found in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, after evaluating seven studies published over a 14 year time period, researchers found stroke risk was reduced by 9% for every 100 milligrams of magnesium a person consumes per day. The research found in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
9. Dental health – Dates may also help avoid tooth decay due to its fluorine content, an important chemical element which slackens the growth of tooth decay simply by shutting out plaque as well as making the tooth enamel powerful. Fluorine is known to keep plaque away simply by conditioning the tooth enamel. Tooth enamel as explained by the experts is made up of hydroxyapatites (a naturally occurring mineral), that when they are introduced connect with fluorine from the dates, it forms hydroxyl fluorapatite, which can be resistant against decay.
10. Easing labor – This could be a must-see for all expectant mothers or those with plans to. Dates according to studies have been found to ease the most time excruciating pains of labor. According to a 2011 study ‘The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery’ by Al-Quran and others it was found that consumptions of date fruit in the last four weeks before labor significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labor, and produced a more favorable, but non-significant, delivery outcome.
11. Stops night blindness – The American Cancer Society declares that usage of one date on a daily basis assists in maintaining healthy eyes for one’s lifetime.
12. Boosting brain health – Some studies, such as one found in JAMA Internal Medicine, have shown that sufficient vitamin B6 levels which are also provided by dates are associated with improved brain performance and better test scores.
13. Anti-inflammatory properties – Dates are rich in magnesium, a mineral known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. One study found that “inflammatory indicators in the body such as CRP (C-reactive protein), TNF (tumor necrosis factor-alpha), and IL6 (interleukin 6) were all reduced when magnesium intake was increased.” Further, inflammation in the arterial walls was also reduced with magnesium intake. Based on magnesium’s anti-inflammatory properties and the findings of this study, magnesium can effectively reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other inflammation-related health ailments.
14. Reduced blood pressure – Magnesium, one of the minerals available in dates has been shown to help lower blood pressure. This combined with the other minerals such as potassium that help in cell development ensure the proper working of the heart. One is able to get at least 15% of their RDA from 100g of dates.