The date, or the sweet fruit, goes back to 6000 BC. Dates were cultivated in prehistoric Egypt and later, Arabs spread them around the world. They are rich in carbohydrates, low on fats and proteins. High on dietary fibre and minerals, dates are a useful source of energy — ten pitted dates provide about 230 kcals. They make for useful fuel especially for athletes and those engaging in heavy physical labour. Usually, sugar in dates can be up to 70 per cent.
Carbohydrates present in dates are invert sugars (fructose and glucose), the kind found in honey. This sugar helps in keeping the fruit moist and prevents crystal formation. The soft dates are high on invert sugars; however, dry dates have a high content of sucrose (sugar).
Dates have a high percentage of dietary fibre (approximately 10 per cent) depending on the variety and degree of ripeness. Insoluble dietary fibre is the major fraction of dietary fibre in dates and it helps relieve constipation and promotes good bowel function. Dates also contain small amounts of pectin (soluble fibre), which has cholesterol-lowering properties.
Dates are a rich source of iron and contain other minerals such as potassium, selenium, copper, calcium and magnesium. They help boost haemoglobin and thus are useful in treating anaemia. Dates also contain phosphorus, cobalt, boron, fluorine, manganese, sodium and zinc. They are anti-carcinogenic and useful in protecting against tooth decay, owing in part to their fluorine content. Unlike other fruits, dates are a modest source of vitamins B and C, most of which get destroyed on drying.
Rich in anti-oxidants and phyto-nutrients (anthocyanins, carotenoids and phenolics), dates have impressive free-radical-scavenging and anti-cancer activity. In addition, these help boost immune function and offer protection against cardiovascular disease, liver disease, cancers, cataracts and macular degeneration, cognitive impairment and Alzheimers disease.
Some studies have shown their anti-ulcer, anti-mutagenic, anti-diarrhoea, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties as well. However, more research is needed to validate these claims.
Dates, being high in sugars, are best taken as replacement of refined sugar or as a sweet option. While table sugar is chemically refined and has empty calories, dates are a rich source of valuable nutrients. Used in cereals, cakes, cookies and puddings, they add richness and can help enhance the nutrient density of food. They make an excellent dessert, raw or stewed. Include them as part of your sugar allowance but control how much you have especially if you are watching your weight or are diabetic.