Are dates healthy?
When asking, “are dates healthy?”, we should first look to the role dates have played in human history. Here in Dubai and the rest of the Middle East, we have long sung the praises of dates. Our cultures are built on them – literally! It seems that the rest of the world is only just catching on – and aren’t we happy about it! Aside from being ridiculously delicious, easy to use in recipes and very versatile in variety, dates are also extremely nutritious. We are lucky to have date palms about every 3-4 metres on every street!
Sometimes they get a bad rep for being “too high in sugar” – I see this all the time amongst the people around me – “I’ll just have one because they’re too high in sugar” – but this assertion is one based on myth. Dates alone will not cause you to gain weight. I’ll go into this in more detail below. Since I’ve been in Paris, I have been eating between 200-600 g dates PER DAY! It’s a lot, but I feel amazing! So satisfied. They’re so easy to carry around, so convenient and packed full of energizing, nutritious carb-calories.
Fun fact: They are also a holy food! The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used to follow ‘date islands’ (consuming nothing but dates and water) for months at a time, and believed they were the most nutritious food on the planet!
Dates in the UAE:
In Dubai, the date palm is a symbol of sustainability and life. That is because without it, there would not have been life here. They were the primary source of fuel for desert nomads. They grew in oases and desert gardens (yes, there is such a thing) and in the wadi valleys. For those who don’t know, a ‘wadi’ is the Arabic name given to a valley between two steep mountain cliffs.
Thus, the desert inhabitants – nomads – have subsisted on date-based diets for 7000 years. They are not the only ancient culture to have thrived on a high-carb diet. In fact, the oldest-living cultures in the world all subsist on high carb plant-based diets, living up to 120 years.
The flesh of the date is 75 – 80% sugar. This sugar, unlike refined sugar, is very easily digestible, restricts harmful bacteria and is an instant energy boost. They are almost fat-free and are rich in vitamins A, B and D. If dates and sugar were as bad for you as is constantly reported, then the bedouins would have long died out due to malnourishment. Like the other cultures mentioned in the study above, sthis type of natural sugar formed the base of the ancient diet.
Aside from the fruit, the date palm itself was made into barasti huts, providing shelter for the desert humans and animals. The leaves and fronds were used to produce fans, trays, baskets, mats, boats (abras) and huts. Weaved together, they could make water containers. The strands of fibre in the trunk could be used to make rope, brushes, sacks and stuffing while the wood was used to make furniture items.
Today, 98% of fruit trees in the UAE are date palms.
Benefits of eating dates:
Dates can help alleviate such conditions as constipation, intestinal disorders, heart problems, anemia, sexual dysfunction, diarrhea and abdominal cancer. They are rich in minerals and fiber. They also contain calcium, sulfur, iron, potassium, phosphorous, copper, magnesium and manganese.
I see a lot of people on social media saying they have ‘fresh dates’ when they really only have fresher dried dates. Fresh dates are yellow or red and very juicy, sometimes even crunchy. See below: Those are fresh dates! We are lucky to have friends with wonderful date trees. The Arab culture is extremely generous and hospitality is THE most valued trait, so we are never short of these wonderful, juicy cherubs.
These Bateel dates, though pricey, are the MOTHER of all dates! This brand is very expensive, but they are famous throughout the Middle East. My favourites are the ones stuffed with either orange peels or candied ginger!
So, are dates healthy? The answer is YES! Eat these morsels of nature’s candy to your heart’s content! And while you’re at it, check out many of my healthy recipes, such as my date-sweetened sweet potato brownies or my minted Persian jeweled quinoa salad with chopped dates and nuts.