Dates are actually a saviour. Particularly for those who have a sweet tooth, and even for those who need to cut down on their sugar and fat intake because of a health issue as they are a fat-free food — this makes them a delicious alternative to high-fat desserts. Plus, even otherwise, unlike sugar, they are actually good for us.
I am reminded of dates this week because Ramzan is here, and dates are a favourite for breaking the fast with as they instantly replenish energy and revitalise the tired body. But that aside, there are many other reasons why they are a perfect fit.
First, they are easy to digest so they don't overwhelm the stomach after a long fasting period. In fact, they activate the release of digestive secretions and prepare our stomach for more food. They also feed our brain cells and nerves immediately and instantly — much needed after a long period of scarcity.
Keep you satiated.
They help prevent constipation that could result due to low-fibre intake during these days of infrequent eating. Finally, as they are big energy boosters, they are in any case perfect for the summer months when fatigue is rampant. Actually, that's precisely also why they have been a favourite of dessert nomads since ancient times, providing life-sustaining nutrition in sparse situations. Today, this attribute makes them a good pre- and post- workout snack for all fitness enthusiasts.
But the benefits of dates don't end with Ramzan. There's much going for them. In spite of being high in sugar (fructose) and glycemic index (that can increase blood sugar levels significantly), dates are still a good alternative to sugar. That's because unlike sugar — which delivers only empty calories — dates deliver a stockpile of nutrients, too. Just four dates (30gm) provide around 90 calories, 1gm protein, 13mg calcium, 2.3gm fibre and myriad other nutrients.
They deliver B vitamins, which is always good news, and B6 in particular — they are loaded with this, as has been shown by studies — and help improve brain performance and better test scores. They even have vitamin K, a blood coagulant that helps metabolise our bones, and are literally an eye tonic thanks to their vitamin A content that keeps our vision sharp and guards against night blindness. Another compound — zeaxanthin — offers protection against age-related vision loss. A also keeps our skin happy and healthy, making dates an effective skincare aid.
A fabulous natural laxative.
This tiny fruit is in fact known as a mineral master because it contains small amounts of almost every essential mineral: calcium, magnesium, manganese (plays a part in forming bones, and sex hormones, regulating energy metabolism, calcium absorption and blood sugar level and maintaining brain and nerve function, zinc, copper (helps in the production of red blood cells, connective tissues and maintaining proper brain function), iron (keeps anaemia away), selenium and potassium and more. Also has fluorine that prevents cavities. So, use it as a substitute for sugar without guilt and score a stockpile of nutrients in the bargain.
Dates are loaded with fibre, both soluble and insoluble, which help regulate blood sugar, keep us satiated, lower blood cholesterol and keep our gastrointestinal tract happy.
Free of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and cholesterol, they are a heart-friendly food, and are known to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body. Plus, their potassium content helps control heart rate and keep blood pressure low. High potassium and low sodium also make a good combination for a healthy nervous system.
Dates contain plant antioxidants called polyphenols, which help to remove free radical toxins from the body, and detoxify the body naturally, besides suppressing inflammation in the body. The antioxidant activity in dates plays an important role in absorbing and neutralising free radicals and lower cancer-associated mortality. In fact, Bedouin tribes of the Middle East, who eat lots of dates every day, have one of the lowest rates of cancer in the world.
Dates are known to increase one's sexual stamina. Their high levels of estradiol and flavonoid components increase sperm count and motility. That's why they have been used as an aphrodisiac since ages.
Plus, they are a friend of our digestive system and a fabulous natural laxative. The fibre in dates prevents constipation and abdominal cancer. Eating them regularly also helps prevent the growth of pathogens in the digestive tract, and boosts the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Eating dates soaked overnight is a proven remedy for hangovers too — and helps detoxify.
So, I say three-four dates a day is a good idea. Soak and have them in the morning, or remove the pit and add a walnut or almond and snack anytime. You can just add them to shakes and sprinkle some on puddings, kheer, custard, oats and muesli.