The Arabs were well aware of the many medicinal benefits of eating dates for thousands of years and referred to the date palm as “the source of life.” Not only does it provide the traveler with its nutritious fruit, dates, but it also provides a sugary beverage when the tree trunk is tapped, textile fibers to make garments and rope, and refreshing shade.
Although dates have served as a staple food for many in the Middle East for millennia, many in Western countries consider them simply a sweet or dessert, ignoring their nutritional value.
Nutrition in Dates
Dates are one of the most energy-rich fruits: one hundred grams (about ten dates) provides 275 calories. This represents eleven percent of the daily energy needs of an adult male involved in moderate physical activity. The most significant of dates’ nutrients are:
- Sugars (66 percent) are comprised primarily of glucose and fructose. Dates are one of the most sugar-rich fruits.
- B group vitamins, particularly B1, B2, niacin, and B6. These vitamins, among other functions, facilitate the utilization of sugars by the body’s cells. Dates provide significant amounts of these vitamins, contributing to their stimulating effect.
- Minerals – Dates are among the richest of all fruits in minerals. Among these are potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium are prominent in order of importance. The trace elements copper, manganese, and zinc are also present in significant amounts.
- Vegetable fiber – One hundred grams of dates provide almost one-third of the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of vegetable fiber. These are predominantly soluble fibers in the form of protein and gums, although they also contain insoluble or cellulose fiber. Both types of fiber have a favorable, complementary effect on the intestine.
Dates then are highly nutritious and energy-producing fruit. Their protein content barely reaches two percent is relatively low but higher than most fresh fruit, except avocado. The body digests these complete proteins easily. Their fat content is around 0.5 percent.
Medicinal Benefits of Eating Dates
The most important dietary and therapeutic applications of dates are:
Respiratory disorders – Dates have been traditionally used to relieve dry coughs and to fight bronchial colds. They have a demonstrated soothing effect on the bronchial passages and are antitussive. This is possibly due to their richness in sugars and some other component that has yet to be identified. The most helpful way to utilize them is by boiling them in milk.
Low protein diets – Dates contain very few proteins in proportion to their richness in energy. This is useful when it is necessary to limit protein intake, for example, in cases of renal failure.
High-energy diets – Dates have a stimulating effect. They are helpful in cases of fatigue or weakness at any age. Because of their rich sugars, vitamins, and minerals (including iron), they are highly beneficial for adolescents, young athletes, and pregnant and lactating women.
Because of dates’ extraordinary richness in sugars, people with diabetes and the obese must exercise great caution in their consumption or avoid them altogether.
Dates Scientific Facts
- Scientfic name: Phoenix dactylifera L.
- Other names: Date palm, Deglet Noor date, Bahri date.
- French: Datte.
- Spanish: Dátil, támara.
- German: Dattel.
- Description: Dates come from the date palm, a tree of the botanical family Palmaceaae, reaching a height of 20 meters.
- Environment: Dates have been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mesopotamian region, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. During the middle ages, the Arabs introduced the date palm to the hot areas in the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula. Spaniards took it with them to the American continent. The North American State of California is one of the world’s greatest date producers.
How to use and Prepare Dates
- FRESH – Fresh dates are softer and more pleasant than dried ones. In many cases, dates are frozen in their country of origin after harvest and are thawed immediately before export to market. Although the freezing process affects them very little due to their relatively slight water content, fresh dates are better—and more expensive.
- DRIED – Drying is the traditional way of preserving dates. To avoid their tough texture, they may be soaked in water or milk before eating.
- BOILED IN MILK: One hundred grams of dates are placed to boil for a few minutes in a half-liter of cow’s milk or soy milk. The dates are then eaten with the milk to take full advantage of their effect on the respiratory system. A spoonful of honey may be added.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 147, 148. Print.