Eating healthy can be a daunting task. With the prevalence and accessibility of unhealthy food, it may take a real effort to eat healthfully - and even harder to find healthy foods that are multifaceted and delicious. Luckily, there is a tasty fruit called the date that provides a nutrient-dense and tasty way to eat healthily and still feel like you’re treating yourself to something amazing (1). There are so many benefits to adding dates to your diet...here are ten! (And stay tuned for 8 tasty date recipes as well!)
Dates Combat Anemia
Dates are an effective way to combat anemia. Anemia is a condition in which the sufferer’s blood has a low count of healthy red blood cells (2). This means that the blood can’t properly diffuse oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. Anemia is often caused by iron deficiency, meaning that because the sufferer doesn’t have appropriate levels of iron in the body, their red blood cells begin to lag. Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, fast heartbeat, headache or dizziness, cold extremities, brittle nails, or poor appetite (3).
Iron is also necessary to maintain other healthy systems, including hair, skin, and nails. We consume iron naturally through meat, but only a small amount of the iron we consume is actually absorbed into our body and blood cells. This means we need to consume far more than our body will actually use.
Iron-deficiency anemia is very common. You may be especially at risk if:
You are a woman with heavy menstrual flow
You have recently given birth
You have recently undergone major surgery
You have celiac, colitis, or Crohn’s disease
You have an ulcer
You have undergone weight-loss surgery
You are vegan or vegetarian
You drink too much milk, which can inhibit your body from absorbing iron
Generally, increasing iron intake through dietary changes and iron supplements can remedy the problem. One easy way to do this is with dates. Because dates have a high mineral content, including iron, they are the perfect way to supplement an anemic diet. Eating dates can level out iron, increase red blood counts, and boost energy levels in anemic patients (4).
Dates Balance Digestive Health
It is common to suffer from digestive irregularities, including IBS, constipation, or diarrhea (5). IBS can be a painful affliction that causes discomfort between meals and decreases a person’s enjoyment of food and, more generally, life. Frustratingly, IBS can be difficult to tackle because it can cause diarrhea or constipation, and many IBS sufferers report having to deal with both afflictions throughout the course of the illness.
Because IBS symptoms shift and change, it can be a difficult affliction to treat with medication, as IBS medications are often specified for either diarrhea or constipation. While doctors aren’t entirely certain what causes IBS (6), they do know that nutritional therapies provide relief from its symptoms, often better than medication. One recommendation is always to make appropriate dietary changes.
Adding dates to your diet can be one effective dietary adjustment to help with your digestive discomfort. Ripe dates are an excellent source of potassium, which can relieve diarrhea, and they are also rife with soluble fiber, which can alleviate constipation (7). Its unique mineral and vitamin components make dates the perfect food to help you regulate your digestive tract.
Dates Can Relieve Allergy Sufferers
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, then you know that trying to mitigate your allergy symptoms is an ongoing battle. Many people don’t want to continually take antihistamines or other over-the-counter pills and have turned instead to natural or homeopathic remedies (8).
One “natural” remedy is not even a remedy at all, but a preventative lifestyle involving maintaining a balanced, healthy diet - and dates can be a big part of this! Dates contain organic sulfur, a compound that has been linked to lower incidences of allergies (9). So not only are dates a healthy part of a balanced, all-natural diet, but they further contain naturally-occurring elements that can ebb the impact of seasonal allergies.
Dates Promote Healthy Weight Gain
While most people follow a healthy diet in an effort to lose weight, there are circumstances under which people may have a need to gain weight. With over 400 calories per cup of dates, plus assorted vitamins, minerals, and plenty of carbs, dates can be a healthy way to beef up your caloric intake (10). If, for instance, you are pregnant or suffering from a condition like hyperthyroidism, you may need to make sure that you are consuming a higher amount of nutrient-dense calories (11). Dates are an appealing choice in these - and other - circumstances for maintaining a healthy weight without resorting to empty calories.
Dates Boost Energy
There’s nothing faster or easier for an afternoon energy pick-me-up than a quick infusion of sugars (sucrose, glucose, and fructose) (12). Worldwide, especially in the Middle East, where dates originated, people commonly eat dates as a late afternoon snack to give them energy to get through the evening and over the afternoon slump (13).
The high iron content of dates also promotes red blood cell production and circulation, which increases the oxygenation of a person’s organ. This also contributes to a more energized feeling, reducing anemia-related exhaustion and sluggishness (14). Because dates are low on the glycemic index, the sugar in them is broken down more slowly by your body, meaning you won’t crash as they are being digested.
Dates Promote Heart Health
Dates contain several nutrients that are important for heart health, as well. Dates are rich in potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 (15). These minerals and vitamin work together to promote a strong cardiovascular system. Potassium helps regulate the electrical impulses of the heart and helps reduce overall sodium levels, which can be taxing to the heart.
Magnesium, meanwhile, lowers blood pressure while also combating bad cholesterol, meaning that sufficient levels of magnesium help keep your heart relaxed and safe from being overworked. Finally, B6 helps process certain amino acids in the blood that can, when accumulated, lead to an elevated risk for cardiovascular diseases. A single-ounce serving of dates can contain up to 5% of the recommended daily value of these critical nutrients!
Dates Ensure Nervous System Health
The high levels of potassium present in dates also contribute to its being a promoter of nervous system health (12). Potassium’s positive impact on the electrical impulses mean that it can also regulate healthy brain waves and nerve functioning.
The high potassium content also helps reduce cholesterol, which can reduce your risk of stroke. Preventing strokes, obviously, is also a boon to your overall nervous system (16). The effects of strokes include paralysis, vision impairment, memory loss, or nerve damage including numbness or tingling in your face or extremities (17). These neurological consequences can be avoided in part by including dates in your healthy diet!
Dates Can Prevent Cancer
Dates are chock full of the nutrients that have been linked to decreased incidence of cancer in people (18). Fiber, for one, has been linked to stomach and gut cancers. A healthy diet in general can be a useful tool in keeping your body cancer-free. Non-starchy vegetables, fruits, healthy fats in nuts, and vegetables rich in lycopene all contribute to a well-rounded diet filled with the nutrients that fight free radicals and keep human cells healthy. Dates are an essential part of this type of diet.
Fighting and preventing cancer is something that nearly everyone is concerned with. One way you can take charge is to get regular cancer screenings and eat a healthy diet - including delicious dates! Many medical experts, including the World Health Organization, encourage a healthy diet replete in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and meats, as the primary way to combat developing cancer.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Dates
Dates are also a great, nutritious way to reduce inflammation in the body. Magnesium, of which dates have much, are a mineral known to have anti-inflammatory properties (19). Magnesium taken from whole food sources has been shown to reduce tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and the lining of the major arteries, among other benefits (20).
Reducing inflammation in the body can help prevent such diseases as cardiovascular illnesses, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. Sometimes anti-inflammatory measures can also reduce suffering from everyday ailments such as headaches and migraines, toothaches, and mild injury-related pain.
Dates Improve Bone, Blood, and Immune Health
Because dates are rich in magnesium, manganese, and selenium, they are also a boon to your bone and immune health (21). In combination, these three minerals are responsible for helping to keep our bones strong and our blood cells well balanced and primed for carrying nutrients to all the cells and systems in the human body.
Bone health is a critically important but often neglected aspect of our overall well-being. When we are young, our bodies make new bone material faster than it breaks down old bone, and so our bone mass steadily increases. Our bone mass reaches peak capacity sometime around the age of 30. After that, the destruction of bone happens faster than the construction of bone, and so we overall lose bone mass each year.
Osteoporosis, a diseases in which bones become weak and brittle, can be prevented by making sure our bones are strong and healthy in the years leading up to age 30. The more bone mass we have at age 30, the more we can stand to lose as we age.
This means that supplying our body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to keep our bones healthy is vitally important. Since many of these nutrients are found naturally in dates, they are an ideal way to help maintain your bone health and keep your structure sound and safe as you age.
Dates Reduce Sugar Consumption - and the Attendant Health Risks!
Because dates are naturally sweet, they are often ground into a paste and used to replace sugar as a sweetener in recipes and baking. Sugar is a nutritional stumbling block in average American diet. It causes myriad problems and can be addictive, stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain and increasing a body’s desire and even need for it over the course of days, weeks, and months. Additionally, like a drug, sugar can be cumulative, requiring greater and greater amounts to satisfy the consumer’s so-called sweet tooth.
Furthermore, and frighteningly, sugar hides in many different forms, including the ever-present high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). On average, Americans consume nearly 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, well above the recommended daily amount. While sugar can be consumed healthily, through fruits and simple carbohydrates, most of American sugar consumption comes in the form of processed foods, sweets, and added sugar. American sugar consumption dominates the world; we consume over twice as much sugar as the next-highest sugar consuming nation, Germany (23).
Realistically, the human body can only safely and effectively process six teaspoons of added sugar per day. Anything over that (like the 26 unaccounted for daily American teaspoons of sugar!) are turned by the body into fat, which can lead to many illnesses. Some long-term side effects of sugar include:
Damaging your liver (much as alcohol can)
Interfering with your insulin signalling (which can be especially detrimental for diabetics)
Causing metabolic dysfunction (including weight gain, abdominal obesity, poor cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure, among other things)
Increasing levels of uric acid in the body (which can lead to gout or fructose toxicity)
So if you are craving something sweet, instead of turning to candy or processed foods, consider drinking a glass of cold, clear water and some dates. Dates are naturally sweet - no HFCS or artificial sweeteners! - and will alleviate your craving without putting you at risk for the negative side effects of too much added sugar.
Now that we know the myriad benefits of incorporating dates into a well-balanced diet, let’s investigate some easy and delicious ways to eat them every day! Check out these recipes:
Recipe 1: Date Butter
This great alternative to peanut butter is allergen-free and super tasty!
2 cups of dates
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Place dates in a saucepan or pot and pour cool water over them. Add the lemon juice. Bring liquids to a boil and cover the pot. Consider tilting the lid to vent the steam.
Reduce heat to low. Simmer the mixture until it reaches the proper consistency, which is thick and viscous, when a tablespoon can stand straight up in the middle without falling to the side.
Cool for 5-10 minutes then place in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Choose your desired consistency: you can blend until totally smooth, or leave a few lumps and pieces.
Store in a refrigerated air-tight container for up to a few weeks or in the freezer indefinitely.
Recipe 2: Date Nut Energy Bars
This recipe makes delicious energy bars (or balls!) perfect to fuel you through your afternoon slump!
1 cup nuts (of your choice - can be mixed nuts, peanuts, cashews...whatever you prefer!)1 cup dried fruit of your choice - raisins and dried apricots pair well with this recipe1 cup (12-15 whole) pitted dried dates
Roast your chosen nuts. Roasting the nuts adds additional flavor to the energy bars. Spread the nuts in a thin layer on a baking sheet, then roast for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow the nuts to cool while you pit the dates.
Put the nuts, dried fruit, and dates in a blender or food processor. Blend them on the pulse setting, then blend consistently until smooth. The nuts and dates should be crumb-sized and the dough should have a sticky consistency.
Continue blending for 1-2 minutes, until the dough forms a ball in the blender or processor. Remove the ball from the processor or blender.
Place the ball on a piece of wax paper and press into a square. Alternatively, form the big ball into many small, walnut sized balls if you prefer energy balls. Chill the dough.
If you chose a square, chill the dough overnight, or for at least 3 hours.
Once chilled, remove the dough from the wax paper and cut into 12 bars. Store the bars in the fridge in an airtight container.
Recipe 3: Stuffed Date Appetizers
These finger foods are perfect to serve at your next get-together!
½ cup pistachios
1 tsp tahini
1 tsp honey
26 whole dates
Shredded coconut for garnish
Use a food processor on pulse mode to chop the pistachios.
Once the pistachios have been minced, add the honey and tahini and little at a time to the food processor, pulsing until the mixture is thick and sticky.
Slice each date (long-wise) to remove the pit.
Stuff each date with the pistachio mixture.
Sprinkle a little shredded coconut on top of each date.
Recipe 4: Heart Healthy Ice Cream
Want a healthier alternative to traditional ice cream? Look no further!
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp cornstarch
¾ oz cream cheese, softened
Heaping ½ cup heavy whipping cream
⅓ cup sugar
3 tbsp corn syrup
20 large dates
1 cup hot water
2 tbsp pomegranate syrup
¼ cup honey
2 tbsp cool water
For the ice cream:
Mix the cornstarch with 1 tbsp of the whole milk in a medium bowl and set aside for a moment.
In a medium pan, heat the rest of the whole milk along with the heavy cream, sugar, and 1 tbsp corn syrup. Boil for four minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat at the end of the four minutes and stir in the cornstarch and milk mixture.
Combine the milk and cream mixture with the softened cream cheese, adding a bit at time until the mixture smooth and complete combined. Once everything has mixed, place the bowl within a larger, ice-filled bowl and let it become cold.
Pour the cold mixture into an ice cream machine and let it churn for at least 25 minutes.
For the flavoring:
Combine the dates and hot water in a food processor and blend until completely smooth. If you wish, you can use a sieve to strain the combination so that it is free of lumps.
In a medium pan, heat the date mixture, pomegranate syrup, and honey. Whisk continuously for three minutes as it heats.
Add the remaining portion of cornstarch and 2 additional tbsp of water. Continue stirring for two more minutes.
Once the mixture is thick and fully heated, pour it in a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Add this flavoring to the ice cream at the end of its 25-minute churning. Allow the mixtures to churn together for an additional 5 minutes.
Place ice cream in the freezer overnight before serving.
Recipe 5: Vegan Pudding
This rich, creamy treat will leave you wanting more, more, more - and you can have it, because it’s healthy!
1 ½ ripe avocadoes
1 ripe banana
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup reduced fat peanut butter
½ cup date paste
Heaping ¼ cup almond or soy milk
First, make the date paste. Do this by soaking 2 cups pitted dates in 2 cups of water overnight. Remove the dates from the water and blend them in a food processor, adding a few tablespoons of water to make the consistency smooth (if necessary).
Add all the ingredients into a clean food processor and blend until creamy smooth. If needed, you can add more almond or soy milk to the mixture to reach a more pudding-like consistency.
Spoon the pudding into six small serving cups and cover to store in the fridge, or serve immediately. You can top this with your choice of dairy-free whip (such as coconut whip) if desired.
Recipe 6: Guilt-Free Truffles
Whip these up and wow your friends without splurging on a high-calorie treat.
1 ½ cups pitted dates
½ tsp salt
¼ cup reduced fat peanut butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
Pit the dates and place in a food processor. Use the pulse mode to puree them, along with ½ tsp salt, to a doughy consistency. Ideally, the dates will form a large ball.
Using a measuring spoon, scoop out small balls (less than a tablespoon) and roll them into balls. Freeze the balls for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the peanut butter with ½ tbsp of the oil in a microwave, until it becomes a thick liquid mixture. Drizzle this mixture over the date balls.
Freeze the balls for another 15 minutes, until the peanut butter drizzle hardens.
Mix the chocolate chips and 1 tbsp of oil in a bowl; microwave and stir until the chocolate is liquid. Using a fork, dip the frozen date balls in the chocolate, making sure to totally cover each truffle.
Freeze the truffles for another 20-30 minutes (minimum) before serving. Some people prefer to let their truffles warm to room temperature before serving.
Recipe 7: Date Energy Shake
Need a mid-afternoon energy boost? Try this tasty and healthy shake to keep you going!
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup cashews
¼ cup raisins
10 finely chopped dates
2 ½ cups milk
Honey to taste
Add the dates and nuts to a blender and pulse until well crumbled
Add the milk, raisins, and honey and blend until completely smooth
Pour into glasses - makes about 3 shakes.
Recipe 8: Cookie Balls
Easy, hassle-free, and, best of all, guilt-free snacking!
1 cup pitted dates
½ cup roasted peanuts
Salt to taste
Optional: 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips and drizzle of vegetable oil
Blend dates and peanuts in a food processor until smooth.
Roll the dough into balls and chill.
You can serve the balls as is, or you can melt the chocolate in a microwave with a little oil, and use it to dip the cookie balls into before serving. Enjoy!
Recipe 9: Fruit and Date Salad
A refreshing and healthy summer salad!
5 ripe oranges
1 cup sliced strawberries
6 dates, pitted and sliced
2 ounces cheese (feta or parmesan recommended)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh mint leaves
1 pepper of your choice, sliced
Peel oranges and either slice into rounds or separate into their natural pieces. Be sure to seed them if desired. Arrange the oranges concentrically, alternating with dates and pepper slices. Lay strawberry slices on top. Then, sprinkle the cheese on top and drizzle with the olive oil before garnishing with mint.
Recipe 10: Herbed Rice with Dates
This is an absolutely stunning side dish, a perfect accompaniment to pork, lamb, or chicken.
1 cup cooked rice (basmati or jasmine recommended)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ cup chopped dill
½ pomegranate, seeds removed
⅓ cup chopped roasted pistachios or almonds
6 dates, pitted and finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Boil rice with salt and ginger according to rice directions. Ideally, simmer the rice until all the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and soft, approximately 15-18 minutes. Let rice stand for another 10 minutes to fully absorb ginger flavor.
In a large bowl, let the rice cool for another 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients: dill, pomegranate seeds, nuts, and dates. Drizzle with oil and lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
Serve while the rice is still warm.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.