You need only a few dates at a time to reap the potential benefits. A 100 gram (g) serving of dates (about four of five) contains 277 calories, 1.81 g of protein, 75 g of carbohydrates, 6.7 g of fiber, 0.15 g of fat, and an abundance of micronutrients, per data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can snack on them as is or incorporate them in oats, smoothies, trail mix, granola bars, yogurt, and cereal.
Here are seven reasons to eat this decadent, fibrous fruit (aside from its sweetness).
1. High in Fiber, Dates Can Aid Healthy Digestion
Like most fruits and vegetables, dates are packed with fiber, a key nutrient many people fall short on. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fiber is a nutrient of concern, because more than 90 percent of the U.S. populace doesn’t consume enough of it. The guidelines recommend at least 25 g of fiber per day for women and 28 g of fiber daily for men. Adding dates into your weekly rotation can help you reach that goal, because a serving of about four or five of them contains nearly 7 g of fiber.
The benefits of fiber are numerous, as Harvard Health Publishing notes. “The fiber and potential prebiotics in dates support healthy digestion,” says Jenna Volpe, RDN, the Austin, Texas–based owner of Whole-istic Living. “So adding just a few per day can make a dent in your fiber goals.”
2. Antioxidants Found in Dates May Support Heart Health
While their fiber may help stave off heart disease, dates are also rich in antioxidants that may have beneficial effects on vascular health. “Dates contain almost 15 different antioxidants, which may play a role in reducing the risk of developing heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes,” Volpe says, pointing to a study published in the January 2020 issue of Nutrients that found a link between date consumption and improved lipid profiles.
The antioxidants in dates aren’t just beneficial for lowering cholesterol, though. Antioxidants counteract oxidative stress, a potential contributing factor to cardiovascular diseases, per a review published in the September 2020 issue of Antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich dates can be used to manage oxidative-stress-related diseases, according to research published in 2019 in the Journal of Pharmacy and BioAllied Sciences.
3. Dates May Help With Blood Sugar Control
Dates are notoriously sweet, so it’s no surprise that they’re high in sugar. Researchers estimate that dates contain more than 70 percent sugar, but that doesn’t mean people with diabetes must avoid them. Likely because of their high fiber content, dates are actually considered a low-glycemic food. A low glycemic index (GI) rating is 55 or less, and research shows dates indeed have a low GI, between 43 and 55, says Brittany Poulson, RDN, CDCES, the owner of Your Choice Nutrition in Salt Lake City. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends including low-glycemic fruits like dates as part of a balanced meal plan, though dried dates are best enjoyed in smaller portions. Researchers have noted that dates may even help reduce blood sugar levels in people living with diabetes.
“Even though they are extremely sweet, dates may not increase blood sugar as much as other carbohydrates,” says Kim Kulp, RDN, the owner of Gut Health Connection in San Francisco. “For this reason, dates can be a great swap for other sweeteners in the diet, and, in the right amount, can be a healthy choice for those with diabetes.”
As with any food when managing diabetes, it’s important to keep your daily carbohydrate budget in mind, per the ADA. One date provides 18 g of carbohydrates. “An appropriate serving size of dates for someone with diabetes is around two to three per day; however, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider for an individualized recommendation,” says Poulson, adding that chopped or pureed dates make for a great natural sweetener in oatmeal, yogurt, protein balls, salads, smoothies, sauces, and dressings. “As a snack, a date stuffed with some natural nut butter (about 1 teaspoon) is a fun way to balance out the carbs in the dates and add more protein, fiber, and healthy fats to your day.”
4. Dates Are Rich in Minerals That Are Good for Healthy Bones
Dates are loaded with beneficial micronutrients including several minerals that are essential for maintaining bone health. “Dates are particularly abundant in potassium, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc,” says Volpe. “These minerals are crucial for strong, healthy bones as well as teeth, muscles, hair, skin, and nails.”
While calcium is often credited with keeping bone health in check, Volpe says magnesium and phosphorus are essential, too. Researchers have identified at least 15 essential minerals in dates, including those that are vital for healthy bones. Deficiency in trace minerals like these may increase the risk of bone diseases like osteoporosis, noted one review published in the April 2021 Biomolecules. Magnesium affects bone mineral density, which is key for preventing fractures in older adults, according to a meta-analysis published in the January 2022 issue of Bone.
5. Dates Have Prebiotic Potential
You’ve probably heard that gut health is important. It’s true: The gut microbiome, a collection of good and bad bacteria, may play a role in your risk for numerous chronic diseases, suggested research published in the July 2019 Nutrients.
Dates in your diet may support your gut health because they contain prebiotics. Probiotics contain live microorganisms that maintain or improve the community of bacteria in your gut and overall body, and prebiotics act as a food source for that bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Prebiotic compounds in dates include soluble fiber, polyphenols, and oligosaccharides, Kulp explains. “Together, they feed the good gut microbes, which can lead to improved absorption of calcium and magnesium from the diet, and decreases the inflammation that can otherwise lead to a variety of diseases,” she says.
6. With Antioxidants and Fiber, Dates May Offer Some Protection Against Certain Cancers
No one food can safeguard against cancer (or any disease, for that matter), but dietary patterns can affect the risk of certain cancers, per the American Cancer Society. “Dates are loaded with a variety of antioxidants, which may protect against some types of cancer,” Kulp says. According to one preliminary study, medjool dates have significant antioxidant properties and may have anticancer activity on breast cancer cells. (More rigorous research in humans is needed.)
Researchers have also explored the link between dates and a lowered risk of colon cancer. Fiber may play a role in these cases. People who eat diets higher in fiber are less likely to develop colon cancer, per a large, prospective study.
7. Dates May Help With Labor and Delivery During Childbirth
Certain foods have been rumored to make childbirth a smidge easier, and dates are one of those foods. Some people have said dates may even induce labor. While this hasn’t been proven, research suggests dates may shorten labor and reduce the need for oxytocin injections, which are used to increase contractions and speed up labor. Not only are prolonged labors uncomfortable, they can be risky for the baby, with potential but rare complications such as a drop in heart rate or lack of oxygen, according to Cleveland Clinic. Prolonged labor, also known as failure to progress, is defined as labor that lasts 20 hours or longer for first-time mothers or 14 hours or longer for mothers who have previously given birth, notes the American Pregnancy Association.
What’s more, dates may reduce the need for labor intervention, such as induction, per one study. An earlier trial found that those people who consumed dates in the last few weeks of pregnancy were significantly less likely to be induced, had a higher mean cervical dilation, and had a more favorable delivery. But more research is needed.
This content was originally published here.