Dates have been cultivated for thousands of years and our ancestors were probably plucking them off trees in the Middle East whilst we were still hunting and gathering, making them a great Paleo sweet treat. They are high in soluble fibre, helping to keep our colon naturally clean and able to fully eliminate toxins. A 2014 study in the Journal of Nutrition Science reported that “date fruits may enhance colon health by increasing beneficial bacterial growth and inhibiting the proliferation of colon cancer cells”.
Dates are antioxidant rich, so support immunity and protect cells, including carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that protect the eyes and other fatty areas of our bodies. They contain 15 important minerals, including iron, which we need for healthy red blood cells and oxygenation, potassium for blood pressure regulation and fluid balance and selenium for immune function and cancer protection. Others we need for optimal health include boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, sodium and zinc. They show levels of 23 types of amino acids (protein building blocks), some of which are not present in popular fruits like oranges, apples and bananas.
A 2003 study in the International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences stated that dates “may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits.” This includes at least six vitamins including a small amount of vitamin C, and vitamins B(1) thiamine, B(2) riboflavin, nicotinic acid (niacin) and vitamin A.
Dates were once believed to have a high GI ie release their sugars into the bloodstream more quickly than our basic sugar glucose. This has since been refuted by the original researchers of the Glycaemic Index who have agreed they are actually low GI (42) so are a slow-release sweet food. They are high in fructose though, fruit sugar that can overburden the liver and raise uric acid levels if eaten in too high amounts. So with any healthy food, eat as part of a rich and varied diet. Dates can make a great puree or substitute to higher sugar jam by removing the stones and blending with hot water to make a sticky paste.