Definition of dates
The scientific name for dates is Phoenix dactylifera.1 These sweet and chewy fruits grow on palm trees and are sold fresh, semi-dry, and dried.2,3 Dates are full of sugar and essential micro and macro nutrients which makes them an excellent energy-rich snack.2 They are mainly produced in southwest Asia and North Africa and are mainly consumed dried after being traditionally dried in the sun.1 Medjool dates are a popular variation sold around the world due to their softer, squidgy nature, as they have undergone less drying process.
Brief history of dates
Dates have a rich l history that has provided economic, health, and nutritional value for societies for thousands of years.4 As a staple in many people's diets in Middle Eastern countries, they have religious importance within the Muslim community, as they are traditionally used to break Ramadan fast.2,5 In recent years, dates have become increasingly more popular in Western countries as a healthy snack.
Importance of dates in human nutrition
The rich macro and micronutrient content of dates makes them a key food to include in one's diet. This nutrient-rich superfood provides a large component of your daily nutritional requirements. Date consumption has been shown to have immunomodulatory activity.6 Dates have been found to have antifungal, antimutagenic, anticancer, nephroprotective, antihyperlipidemic, and antibacterial properties.6
Nutritional composition of dates
Macronutrient content of dates
Dates can be an easy, high-energy snack due to their high calorie and sugar content. With approximately 70% of date calories coming from carbohydrates, dates are an excellent source of carbohydrates and energy.1 For example, 100g of dates contains 75g of carbohydrates.7 The majority of these carbohydrates come from glucose (90%), fructose, and sucrose.5
While being a good carbohydrate source, dates are low in protein and fat content. For example, 100g of dates contains only 1.81g of protein.7 However, date seeds contain more protein and fat than the date's flesh.1 Dates also contain 24 amino acids that aren't commonly present in other fruits.5 Date seeds have also been found to be high in dietary fiber, phenolics, and antioxidants.4
Dates contain very little fat, with only 0.15g of fat per 100g.7 This makes dates an excellent snack for those who are trying to keep their fat consumption low. Although multiple types of fatty acids are present in the flesh and seed of the date, they are only present at very low concentrations.8
Micronutrient content of dates
Dates are rich in vitamins B, A, and C, which are crucial for general human health and required for basic human metabolic functions.1,6 In addition to vitamins C, A, B1 thiamine, B2 riboflavin, and niacin, dates are also rich in vitamin B6, which is essential for a healthy immune system and brain.3,8
The human body requires minerals to maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissues, haemoglobin, muscles, and nerve cells.1 Dates are a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals such as selenium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.1 For example, iron is needed for haemoglobin production.3 Dates also contain potassium, which regulates fluid balance in the body and promotes the healthy functioning of the nervous system.3 Additionally, minerals such as copper, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium are crucial for maintaining bone health.2
Selenium found in dates acts as a coenzyme for the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which protects body tissues against oxidative stress and modulates growth and development.1 Dates also contain minerals such as boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, and zinc.8 Copper, for instance, is essential for nerve cells and the immune system, while calcium is required for muscle contraction, nerve function, and regulating heart rhythm.3 Moreover, the phosphorus and calcium found in dates can enhance the absorption of other minerals in the body.3
Phytochemical content of dates
Dates are rich in antioxidants that protect against harmful free radicals.9 They also help to protect against oxidative stress by improving the activity of oxidative defense enzymes such as catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione reductase, and glutathione S-transferase.5,9
Flavonoids have been associated with reducing inflammation and may potentially reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and certain types of cancer.2,9
Studies have found that carotenoids can promote heart health and reduce the risk of macular degeneration and other eye disorders.2,9
Phenolic antioxidants have many health benefits, including the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.4 Phenolic acids, through their anti-inflammatory properties, can reduce the risks of cancer and heart diseases.2,9 The phenolic acid content of fresh and dried dates varies.6
Health benefits of dates
Dates can promote healthy digestion due to their high fiber and sorbitol contents. Healthy digestion is crucial to aviod bloating, discomfort, and inadequate nutrient absorption. It can even lead to improved kidney and liver health.3
High fibre content
Dates are high in dietary fiber, which is necessary for a healthy digestive system and preventing constipation.1,9 100 g of dates contain 6.7 grams of fiber, including lignin, pectin, hemicelluloses, soluble fibers, and resistant starch.5,7 One study found that consuming seven dates per day for 21 days resulted in a significant increase in stool and bowel movement frequency in 21 participants.9 Fiber from dates also impacts blood sugar control by slowing down digestion, which can prevent blood sugar levels from spiking.9
Dates, along with other dried fruits such as prunes, apricots, and raisins, are high in dietary fiber, which can provide fast constipation relief.10 However, due to their natural laxative properties from sorbitol, it is recommended not to consume too many dates as they may cause bloating and stomach discomfort.10
Improving cardiovascular health
Lowering cholesterol levels
Dates have been shown to have a positive impact on blood lipid levels.11 In one study, participants who ate Hallawi dates daily for 4 weeks experienced a 15% reduction in triglyceride levels and a 33% reduction in fat oxidation in their blood, without raising their blood sugar levels.11 Additionally, an animal study found that hamsters on a high-cholesterol diet who were supplemented with 50% date pulp for 13 weeks experienced significant reductions in plasma cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL-C compared to those who only had diets.5 Dates are also a good source of folic acid and vitamin C. Folic acid plays an important role in metabolising homocysteine to methionine, which is crucial as elevated serum homocysteine levels are associated with cardiovascular disease.5
Reducing the risk of heart disease
Dates have several health benefits that make them an excellent snack for people with hypertension.1 Their low potassium content and sodium levels make them a perfect snack option.1 Dates have been found to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and apoptosis of cardiac tissue in isoproterenol-treated rats.5 Vitamin C in dates can help to prevent oxidative damage to lipoproteins through free radicals.5 Additionally, vitamin C encourages endothelial function and arterial stiffness.5 The high dietary fiber content of dates has been found to lower lipid levels by binding to cholesterol and triglycerides in the intestine and facilitating their excretion, thus lowering cholesterol levels.5 Dates also have anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce chronic inflammation and protect against heart disease.8
Regulating blood sugar levels
Low glycemic index
Dates can assist with diabetes management by reducing blood sugar and fat levels in the blood.3 They do this by reducing glucose absorption in the digestive tract and increasing insulin production.2,3
Controlling insulin response
Dates may be able to assist with diabetes management due to their low glycaemic index, fibre and antioxidant-rich content.9
Boosting immune system
Dates are a vitamin-rich superfood that provides nutrients essential for boosting the immune system. They contain vitamins A, B12, B6, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, copper, folate, and zinc. All of these nutrients are crucial in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Dates are full of antioxidants such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids. Antioxidants can also help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, inflammation, and continuous aging.4 There is substantial evidence supporting the antimutagenic and antioxidative properties of dates.3
Due to their high antioxidant contents, dates have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants help prevent substrate oxidation in the body, and they are present in dates, protecting against aging, damage, and illness caused by free radicals.1
Supporting bone health
The high mineral content of dates can support bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. For instance, dates are rich in magnesium, which is essential for bone health.3 Additionally, minerals such as selenium, copper, and manganese are also required for healthy bones.3
High mineral content
The mineral content of dates supports bone health, and a lack of minerals can lead to osteoporosis.2 Dates are full of essential nutrients that have a massive impact on bone health.
Reducing the risk of osteoporosis
Dates are nutrient-rich, with several key minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium which have all been associated with preventing osteoporosis.9
Enhancing brain function
Date consumption can reduce IL-6 levels in the brain which can decrease the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.2
High potassium content
Dates have a very high potassium content, with potassium concentrations being as high as 0.9% in the fruit's flesh.8 Four dates contain about 700mg of potassium, roughly 25% of the daily recommended intake.7 However, those with existing kidney issues should be cautious of the high potassium content of dates, as excessive potassium can be harmful to them.8
Improving cognitive performance
Dates have been found to improve brain health and cognitive function in older adults.10 One study found that date consumption fights against oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, which could be key to preventing brain disorders such as Alzheimer's.3 The content of vitamin B also assists in memory, learning, and anxiety reduction.2 Another study found that supplementing one's diet with dates may reduce the risk of and delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. In addition, Ajwa dates have been suggested to reduce stress and cognitive function changes without impacting renal functions.12
Potential health risks associated with excessive date consumption
Dates have a very high sugar and calorie content which can pose health risks if one eats too many dates. It is also possible to experience an allergic reaction to dates.
High calorie content
Due to the high-calorie content of dates, one potential health risk of excessive dates consumption is weight gain. Therefore, it is important to consume dates in moderation.
High sugar content
The high sugar content of dates can spike blood sugar levels. This can be a concern for those with diabetes and people trying to limit their sugar consumption.
Possible allergic reactions
If someone experiences an allergic reaction to dates, they may exhibit symptoms such as a runny nose, breathlessness, rashes, swelling, and diarrhoea. It's crucial to identify which food is causing the allergic episode. In the case of dates, an allergic reaction could be due to the sulphites added as a preservative for dried dates.
Recap of health benefits of dates
Dates offer a wide range of health benefits, with improved digestion being the main advantage due to their high fiber content. They can also improve cardiovascular health through their high mineral and vitamin content. In addition, regulating blood sugar levels, boosting the immune system, and promoting bone health are other benefits of consuming dates. Improved cognitive function and anti-inflammatory properties are also associated with dates consumption.
Recommendations for incorporating dates into a healthy diet
Due to the health benefits and sweet taste of dates, it is recommended to incorporate dates into one's diet. Dates can be enjoyed as a small snack by themselves or filled with nut butter for added fat and protein. They can also be used as a natural sweetener and fiber source in recipes such as baked goods and smoothies. However, it is important to watch one's dates consumption as they are high in calories and sugar.
Future research directions
A lot of research has gone into understanding the health benefits of dates; however, further research is required into their health risks. However, on a non-scientific level, it would also be beneficial to research and develop more recipes that incorporate dates in someone’s diet.
- Al-Farsi MA, Lee CY. Nutritional and functional properties of dates: a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition [Internet]. 2008 Oct 21 [cited 2023 Mar 19];48(10):877–87. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390701724264
- 12 health benefits of dates: from improving bone health to promoting beautiful skin - drug research [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Mar 19]. Available from: https://drugresearch.in/12-health-benefits-of-dates-from-improving-bone-health-to-promoting-beautiful-skin/
- 6 health benefits of dates | saber healthcare [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 19]. Available from: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/health-benefits-of-dates#:~:text=Dates%20may%20improve%20bone%20health&text=Dates%20contain%20copper%2C%20magnesium%2C%20selenium,your%20bones%20strong%20and%20healthy.&text=Dates%20also%20contain%20calcium%20and,benefit%20from%20absorbing%20more%20minerals.
- Brouk M, Fishman A. Antioxidant properties and health benefits of date seeds. In: Kristbergsson K, Ötles S, editors. Functional Properties of Traditional Foods [Internet]. Boston, MA: Springer US; 2016 [cited 2023 Mar 19]. p. 233–40. (Integrating Food Science and Engineering Knowledge Into the Food Chain). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4899-7662-8_16
- Al-Dashti YA, Holt RR, Keen CL, Hackman RM. Date palm fruit (Phoenix dactylifera): effects on vascular health and future research directions. Int J Mol Sci [Internet]. 2021 Apr 28 [cited 2023 Mar 19];22(9):4665. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8125345/
- Subash S, Essa MM, Braidy N, Awlad-Thani K, Vaishnav R, Al-Adawi S, et al. Diet rich in date palm fruits improves memory, learning and reduces beta amyloid in transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. J Ayurveda Integr Med [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2023 Mar 19];6(2):111–20. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4484046/
- Fooddata central [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 19]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168191/nutrients
- Al-Shahib W, Marshall RJ. The fruit of the date palm: its possible use as the best food for the future? Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2003 Jul;54(4):247–59.
- Brianna E. 8 proven health benefits of dates [Internet]. Healthline. 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 19]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-dates
- The healthy journal - gluten, dairy, sugar free recipes, interviews and health articles [Internet]. https://www.thehealthyjournal.com. [cited 2023 Mar 19]. Available from: https://www.thehealthyjournal.com/en/
- Blackburn N. Dates protect against heart disease [Internet]. ISRAEL21c. 2009 [cited 2023 Mar 19]. Available from: https://www.israel21c.org/dates-protect-against-heart-disease/
- Abdullah N, Mokhtar RH, Marwan AA, Noh NA. Improvement of Stress-Induced Changes Related To Mood and Cognitive Function in Healthy Young Adults Following Supplementation With Ajwa Dates. The Malaysian Journal of Islamic Sciences. 2019;26(1).