The date palm is one of the oldest trees cultivated by man and has its origins in the desert around the Persian Gulf.
Dates, which are actually the berries of the date palm tree, provide a wide range of essential nutrients. You can incorporate the goodness of dates into your diet in a few different ways.
Dried dates have had all the moisture of the fresh berry removed and provide the benefits of fresh berry in concentrated form. Research shows that dried dates also contained a significant concentration of antioxidant polyphenol compounds.The drying process concentrates all the nutrients so a few fruits supply good amounts of nutrient and fibre.
Look for dates that have not been preserved with sulphites. In addition some dried dates are sold with a gooey coating to keep them soft – unnecessary on an already very sweet fruit if you store them properly.
Fresh dates (yellow fruits on the stem – that’s how they are usually sold). Although rarely seen outside speciality food stores, they do appear for a few weeks in late summer and are delicious eaten fresh. When ripe they are sweet and have the texture of a firm pear. When fresh, dates contain much more vitamin C than the dried variety.
Date syrup is rich, treacly natural sweetener made from cooking dates down into a sticky syrup. Proper date syrup shouldn’t contain anything but dates, of check the ingredients. Use it sparingly – it’s very sweet – in dressings for salads or steamed vegetables, to sweeten stews or just drizzle over yoghurt or porridge in the morning. Also try mixing date syrup with tahini and spread on toast for a quick energy pick-me-up.
Although dates have a naturally high natural sugar content, they are also a good source of important nutrients particularly:
Potassium If you are in need of some potassium try a handful of dates. Eating 6 medium sized pitted dated will supply around 6% of your daily requirement. As both a mineral and an electrolyte, potassium triggers enzymes crucial for energy metabolism and proper muscle function. People whose diets are low in potassium are more vulnerable to osteoporosis, stroke, kidney stones or high blood pressure.
Fibre A 75g (around a ¼ cup) of dried or fresh dates contains 3 grams of dietary fibre, or 14% of your daily requirement. Most of this is in the form of soluble fibre pectin which has been shown to help lessen your risk of diabetes and high blood cholesterol.
Magnesium Six pitted dates will also supply around 5% of your daily requirement of magnesium. Magnesium is important for energy metabolism, to regulate vitamins and other minerals and to help maintain the strength of bones and teeth. Getting enough magnesium can help decrease the risk of diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Dates are also a good source of manganese, selenium, iron and zinc and trace elements such as boron, cobalt, copper, fluorine.
Regularly including dates in your diet can support health in numerous ways. These include:
Supporting digestion Because dates are a great source of soluble and insoluble fibre they can help aid digestion and promote bowel regularity and feed beneficial bacteria in the gut. The potassium in them is useful for calming an upset stomach as is the tannin in them, which gives them an astringent quality, which makes them useful in treating intestinal troubles.
Balancing blood sugar Although dates high in sugar they defy the dogma that all sugar is bad. The sugar in dates is released slowly (they are generally considered a medium to low GI food) and eating them has been shown to benefit blood sugar control. Their soluble fibre content further aids blood glucose regulation.
Heart healthy Dates are a good source of potassium is an essential mineral that maintains proper muscle contractions including contractions of the heart muscle. Potassium also promotes a healthy nervous system and efficient metabolism in the body. The soluble fibre in dates helps lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
Colds and flu In the form of an infusion, decoction, syrup or paste, dates are a traditional remedy for sore throat, colds and bronchial catarrh. If you have a scratchy throat try date syrup as an alternative to traditional (in the West) honey.
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