Health benefits of dates

Monday March 29 2021

Dates are chewy with a sweet flavour. They are also high in some important nutrients and have a variety of advantages and uses. PHOTO/

By Joan Salmon

Dates come from date palm trees and are mainly grown in desert areas. While some are dried hence their wrinkled skin, others are sold fresh. Both types are available in Uganda and these sweet fruits come with loads of benefits for your health. 

Nutrient rich
Seeing that most of these are dried, Joshua Kalema, a nutritionist, says they are bereft of water but provide lots of energy. Three dates provide approximately 200 calories, a gramme of proteins, five grammes of fibre, 54 grammes of carbohydrates but no fat. “That is not forgetting Vitamin K, B Vitamins, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and iron, although in smaller quantities. Therefore, dates will not just fill you with lots of natural sugar but with lots of other nutrients,” Kalema says.

Rich in antioxidants 
Dates are loaded with a variety of antioxidants such as polyphenol that Kalema says better your digestive health, lower oxidative damage, improve blood flow and lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease.

He adds that antioxidants deal with oxidative stress which is as a result of an imbalance between the body’s ability to counter effects of cell-damaging free radicals and their production. This imbalance is also responsible aging.

Containing antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds (flavonoids), Stephanie Mujuzi, a dietician, says eating dates also helps in preventing infectious diseases, and reducing the risk of diabetes.
“Dates also contain carotenoids, which help in promoting heart health and reducing the risk of eye-related diseases such as macular degeneration. They also have tannins, which have anti-fungal properties thus giving the body the ability to fight off fungal related diseases,” he says.

High in fibre
With five grammes of fibre from every three dates, Kalema says bowel movement is more regular, thus ensuring good digestive health. He adds that the fibre in dates is also crucial in controlling blood sugar levels since it slows digestion and is said to prevent a blood sugar spike after eating.
Kalema adds that despite being overly sweet, dates have a low glycemic index (how quickly blood sugar rises after eating a certain food).


May help with natural labour
Diligently eating dates in the last weeks of pregnancy is said to promote the dilation of the cervix thus lowering the need for induced labour. “The role of easing natural labour is attributed to the presence of tannins, compounds that help in causing contractions. More to that, dates have high sugar and calorie levels which are a necessity during labour,” Mujuni says.

Great sugar substitute 
Owing to the high sugar levels, dates can work as a natural sweetener.
To replace table sugar with dates, Mujuzi says, remove the seed and blend dates with water. “Work with a 1:1 ratio. For example, if you were using a cup of sugar, replace it with a cup of date paste,” he advises.

Brain health
With protective compounds, dates are said to promote brain health. For example, antioxidants such as flavonoids are said to combat inflammation and cell-damaging free radicals, also in the brain. “This improves brain health thus lowering the risk of its degeneration which could cause Alzheimer’s disease,” Kalema says.

How to eat dates
Mujuni says there are several ways to eat dates which include:

● In a smoothie
Blend dates with any other fruit of your choice, say bananas to have an amazing smoothie for breakfast.

● Wrapped
Unlike the meat wraps, try wrapping dates in bacon. These will thrill your children as a snack or indulge your guests at a small home gathering.

● Baked
Rather than have raisins in your fruit cake, substitute them with dates. You could also add them to bread, scones, and cookies.

● Spice your breakfast
Seeing that they have lots of sugar, dates can go well in oatmeal, making breakfast even more interesting.

Side effects of consuming dates

The side effects of consuming dates include:

● Weight gain: Dates, when consumed in excess, can lead to weight gain due to high caloric content. So, it is essential to consume dates in moderation.

● Kidney disease: Individuals with kidney disease should follow caution while having dates. Consult a doctor regarding the amount of potassium to be taken every day.

● Allergies: Dried dates often contain sulfites that may trigger allergies in some. After having dried dates, monitor for symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, diarrhoea, skin rash

● Asthma: Sulfites can exaggerate the symptoms of wheezing in people with asthma.