A-Z of Plantalicious ingredients  D is for Dates

I can recall my parents always having dates in the house around Christmas.  As a child I could never see the appeal of these sticky blobs, and would avoid them.  As I got older, I have realised that the dried dates of my childhood were not really the best incarnation of this most ancient and nobel of fruits.  In fact, Dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits – it’s thought that they were a staple part of the Babylonian diet 8,000 years ago. Grown in North Africa and Israel, there are several varieties, but only a handful are exported to Britain.

Colours range from honey yellow, red to brown, the last of which is the most common.

Available fresh or dried, they’re very sweet, with a rich, deep flavour and a lush, slightly chewy texture. My favourite is the  mahogany brown Medjool variety which is the sweetest, and tastes a little like toffee.

Given that they are sweet and sticky, the key question is are they good or bad for your health?  Dates are high in sugar, with 60-80% of their calories from sugars.  In addition to all that sugar, dates are high in fibre and in a particular kind of soluble fibre that helps keep you regular – known as beta-D-glucan. In addition to its usual function as a soluble fiber, beta-D-glucan can also absorb and hold water, giving it the ability to add bulk and softness to stools — a quality predominantly associated with insoluble fiber.

Dates are one of the best sources of Potassium which helps regulate blood pH, is required to maintain intracellular fluid balance and is used to convert glucose into usable energy. Potassium also maintains intracellular fluid balance and is involved in hormone secretion, muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Low potassium levels are linked to high blood pressure. Medjool dates are higher in potassium than oranges, bananas and spinach, providing 20 percent of the nutrient’s daily value per 3.5-ounce serving.

Dates help your body to absorb iron as they are high in copper which is an essential trace mineral that helps your body both absorb and use iron to form red blood cells. It’s needed to maintain healthy nerves and is also an important component of several of the enzymes that facilitate the production of energy. Copper is used to form collagen, a fundamental component of skin, bone, cartilage and connective tissue. It’s also a critical element of an important antioxidant known as superoxide dismutase, which is manufactured by the body to prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals.

Additionally dates contain significant amounts of several other essential nutrients, including: manganese, magnesium and vitamin B-6 as well as: niacin. pantothenic acid, calcium and phosphorus and some iron. Dates also provide lesser amounts of folate, zinc, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin K. A 2009 study published in the “Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry” found Medjool dates to be high in antioxidant phenols. According to the study, these compounds may help reduce high blood triglyceride levels.

Here is Dr Michael Greger’s take on Dates –

A quick tip/recipe – I make a date syrup by blending dates with warm water in my vitamix and blitzing until smooth.  I let it down with more water and store in a jar.  It is great to use in desserts, to top lattes/mochas and to use over fruit and iced desserts.

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