Dates are one of the healthiest fruits

Sakina Bano Mendha
18 December 2015

Above: Image © Dates growing on a date palm tree (Stan Shebs, Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a single fruit that provides most of the nutrition you need to maintain a healthy diet. It’s small and you don’t even need to cut or peel it. Just grab and eat! I am talking about dates, an old-fashioned superfood.

Did you know? Bedouins traditionally live as nomads in the deserts of the Middle East. They can live for long periods of time on just dates and camel milk.

Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, which is one of the oldest plants cultivated by humans. They have been a popular and culturally important food for thousands of years. Today, the largest producers are Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, although dates are also grown in other parts of the Middle East and Africa. They grow in areas with high temperatures and low rainfall. A date palm tree still needs a lot of water, more than 230,000 litres per year. But most of this water comes from underground, through the plant’s roots.

Dates and nutrition

The long history and widespread popularity of dates have inspired scientists to take a closer look at their nutritional value. Researchers have discovered that dates are rich in fibre, which helps digestion, as well as vitamins and minerals. They are a particularly good source of iron and potassium. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure by balancing the salts in your body, which keeps your kidneys working properly. Iron is an ingredient of the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. It helps bind oxygen to red blood cells so they can carry it to cells all over your body.

Dates are also a good sources magnesium, calcium, and copper. Calcium is important for bones and teeth, muscle contraction, and conducting nerve impulses in your brain and spinal cord. The vitamin A in dates is good for your eyesight and is even used to treat some eye disorders. Dates are full of antioxidants, which are substances that help prevent cells damage.

Did you know? While scientists have studied dates for their nutritional properties, the fruit is also an important religious symbol. They are mentioned in the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah. And they are used in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim ceremonies.

Given all the nutrients contained in dates—plus the fact that they are a source of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins—some people have even suggested that you could survive on water and dates alone. But that’s probably an exaggeration, so don’t try it at home!

Dates and childbirth

Scientists have also found that dates can help during labour and delivery. Researchers had one group of pregnant women eat six dates per day during the four weeks before their due date. A second group of women consumed no dates at all. The women who ate dates had improved cervical dilation, had more natural (spontaneous) labours, required fewer drugs like oxytocin, and took less time to deliver their babies. The researchers concluded that consuming dates late in pregnancy reduces the need to induce labour and leads to more successful deliveries.

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You might be surprised that such a small fruit provides so much nutrition and so many health benefits. Maybe that’s one reason why they have so much cultural and religious significance. So be sure to give them a try! And if you like them, consider making them a regular part of your diet.

Learn more!

General information on the date palm tree:

Date Palm Fact Sheet (2003)
Northern Territory Government, Australia

Scientific articles about the nutritional and health benefits of dates:

Date Fruits (Phoenix dactylifera Linn): An Emerging Medicinal Food (2012)
Praveen K. Vayalila, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 52
Link to abstract. Registration or subscription required to view full text.

The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labor and delivery (2011)
O. Al-Kuran, L. Al-Mehaisen, H. Bawadi, S. Beitawi & Z. Amarin, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 31

The fruit of the date palm: its possible use as the best food for the future? (2009)
W. Al-shahiba & R. J. Marshall, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 54
Link to abstract. Registration or subscription required to view full text.

Sakina Bano Mendha

I am a Student currently enrolled doing my biology undergraduate studies from Montreal, Canada. I like playing badminton and doing Calligraphy. Skills: Public speaking, writing, research, teamwork. 

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