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Spring Fruit Feature: The Nutritional Value of Dates

Valentine’s Day is over but I am still thinking about dates — not the kind with roses and chocolates and candlelight, but the soft, sweet, caramel-like fruits. It’s date season right now in California and Arizona where most U.S. dates are grown. If you live in one of these states, you might see fresh dates at farmers’ markets. In other parts of the country, you might find them at Middle Eastern markets or natural foods stores. And of course, dried dates are widely available at grocery stores year round.

What I like best about dates is that they satisfy my sweet craving without having to turn to candies or desserts full of refined white sugar. Of course, dates have naturally occurring sugar (you can even buy date sugar in the store as an alternative to white sugar), so they’re best consumed in moderation, but they do have some health benefits.  

Two Medjool Dates Provide:

· 10% of the Daily Value (DV) for potassium, an electrolyte mineral that maintains fluid balance in cells and is critical to a healthy heart

· Small amounts of other minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese

· 4 grams fiber — more than the amount in a tablespoon of Metamucil!

· Only 132 calories

Unexpected Health Benefits

Like prunes, dates promote regular bowel movements. Dates also contain antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols that may reduce oxidative stress, thus helping fight free radical damage to cells. And if you’re expecting, there’s more good news about dates for a healthy pregnancy. A 2008 study suggests that date consumption in the last four weeks of pregnancy is associated with easier labor. Compared to pregnant women who consumed no dates, those who ate six dates a day dilated more, were more likely to go into labor spontaneously, and needed fewer drugs during labor.[1] How about that?

How to Eat

Dates are delicious eaten plain, but because of their sugar content, I suggest pairing them with a fat or a protein, which will slow the release of the sugar into the bloodstream.

You can also try these date recipes:

· For an appetizer or mid-afternoon snack, I love to stuff dates with goat cheese, wrap them in prosciutto, and stick them under the broiler for a couple minutes. Scrumptious! Here’s a vegetarian version of that recipe that uses bread crumbs and olive oil.

· Add dates to oatmeal and top with a couple tablespoons of nut butter (I like almond butter) for a breakfast that will power your morning.

· Throw some sliced dates on a salad for instant pizzazz and class! I think they pair well with just about any protein: fish, poultry, pork, red meat, and tempeh.

· Chop dates up finely and use them anywhere you’d use raisins, such as baked goods. This whole-wheat applesauce-date muffin recipe includes bran cereal, for extra fiber.

· Kids will love these peanut butter, banana, and date pita sandwiches.

· And for something a little different, here’s a recipe for a date dressing used to top fruit or vegetable salad. I would try it with plain yogurt to decrease the sugar content, as dates are plenty sweet as it is. I’d also substitute coconut oil for vegetable oil, since it’s a healthier fat.

And now for the big surprise: Did you know dates are featured in Juice Plus+ Orchard Blend capsules and chewables, which also provide the goodness of apples, cranberries, oranges, pineapples, acerola cherries, papayas, peaches, prunes, and beets?

How do you like to eat dates? Any favorite recipes to share?                


References:

[1] Al-Kuran O, et al. The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2011;31(1):29-31.

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