Dates are the cornerstone for many healthy plant-based dessert recipes because they're one of the most naturally sweet fruits in the world. But dates aren't just a healthy sweetener for treats; they pair nicely with savory dishes, too! Not to mention, eating dates is good for your health! Here's why dates are a must-have plant-based pantry item.
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History lesson! You may be new to dates, but they were the first fruit to be cultivated by humans and have been around for over 50 million years! They originate in Northern Africa and the Middle East, growing on trees called “date palms." This stone fruit can be eaten early in the fruit development stage where they are juicy and less sweet, or more commonly, towards the later stage of their ripeness where they are sticky, chewy, and sweet.
There are many types of dates but you'll most likely encounter Medjool dates or Deglet Noor dates in supermarkets here in the United States. Medjool dates are large, rich, chewy, and sticky. They're very sweet and have a caramel-like flavor. Deglet Noor dates are smaller than Medjool dates, with a firm flesh and more delicate flavor than Medjool dates.
One of the reasons dates are so popular is because they're so wonderfully sweet; they're about about 80% sugar!, But are dates healthy, even with all that sugar? Yes! Dates are more than just a sweet natural treat. They pack quite a nutritional punch, alongside that natural sugar.
1. Dates Are High in Fiber
Studies show that even though dates are one of the sweetest fruits, due to their fiber content there are no adverse effects on blood sugar or weight gain when consumed, even in mass quantities.
2. Dates Are Loaded With Nutrients (Including Antioxidants!)
Just 3.5 ounces of dates contain 7 grams of fiber, 20% RDI of potassium, 14% RDI of magnesium, 18% RDI of copper, 15% RDI of Manganese, along with other important nutrients like iron and B6.
Because dates are loaded with fiber and antioxidants, they are classified as anti-tumor, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory.
3. Dates Are Good For Your Gut Health
They also act as a prebiotic for healthy gut flora, which improves our mental health, heart health, skin health and digestive health. Those who ate 7 dates for 3 days found that they are more regular bowel movements, reduction of stool ammonia concentration, reduced genotoxicity, and less DNA damage.
4. Dates Can Make Giving Birth Easier
Yep! Dates can help to make childbirth easier. Pregnant women who consume dates every day for about one week leading up to the start of labor were fifty percent less likely to need synthetic oxytocin and had more successful deliveries.
Studies show that the use of dates can actually shorten labor by up to 6 hours!
In one study, group A was given synthetic oxytocin and group B was given dates. It was found that in women who experienced Postpartum Blood Loss, group B experienced significantly less blood loss (around a ¼ of a cup!).
There were no adverse effects to using dates and reduced the need to be induced by fifty percent from just eating 7 dates a day for a week leading up to birth.
If you're new to dates, you may be wondering where you can purchase them. Good news: they're found in most major grocery stores and natural food stores.
At traditional grocery stores, head to the produce section and they're typically found near or next to the bananas in plastic containers. They may also be found in the bulk section.
You can buy them pitted so you have one less meal prep item on your plate!
Straight Up or Stuffed with Nut Butter
Dates can be eaten as is! They make a great snack (just remember to remove the pits). They are fantastic stuffed with all-natural nut butter as an energy booster or even dessert.
Chopped Up and Tossed In Just About Anything
Chop dates into muffin batter, pancake batter, oatmeal, breads, cookies or even salads for a ooie-gooie sticky sweet burst of flavor!
Use Dates as a Healthy Sweetener (2 Ways)
1. Date Syrup
Date syrup is a super easy and healthy sweetener you can make at home by blending soaked dates with a little water. Use it in your morning coffee, sweeten your non-dairy milk, pour over oatmeal or pancakes, or use in baked goods recipes. Store-bought date syrup is not always made with the whole fruit, so if you’re looking to get the most out of your sweetener, make it yourself.
2. Date Sugar
Surprisingly enough, date sugar is just as healthy for you as whole dates! This healthy sweetener is made from dehydrated dates and can be used in place of granulated sugar in any situation.
BONUS: Make This Easy Vegan Date Caramel!
Yep, you can make a healthy vegan caramel from dates. Whip up this date caramel recipe then add to anything you so choose! Or try any of these 10 decadent Medjool dates recipes next time your sweet tooth demands it.
- Dates can be eaten at any stage of ripeness, but are the sweetest when overly ripe (which is how you will find them in the grocery store)
- Are dates healthy? You betcha! Dates are great for gut health, mental health, heart health, and even pregnancy thanks to their impressive nutritional profile.
- Dates are versatile and can be used as a healthy sweetener in place of refined sugars.
By Caroline DiNicola Fawley
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies