If you find yourself feeling tired and pining for something sweet by 4pm, dates may just be the ideal midday snack for you. The sticky, super sweet dried fruits are chock-full of bioavailable sugars that'll perk you up almost immediately, but their sweetness might be the reason that dates are dismissed in weight loss or anti-inflammatory diets. We spoke to an integrative nutritionist and two dermatologists about everything you need to know about adding dates to your daily diet.
Why should you include dates in your diet?
Contrary to the popular misconception, adding dates to your diet can actually help shed weight. Since they keep a check on cholesterol levels and contain very little fat, they can assist in weight loss. Plus, despite their misleading high calorific values, dates have a low glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating a certain food. That's why these fibre-packed fruits are beneficial for a diabetic diet as well, although it's best to take your doctor's advice before adding a new food to your meals when you have a chronic condition.
Dates contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which control inflammation linked to obesity and weight-related diseases. Being a good source of iron and calcium, they help maintain blood and bone health too. With almost seven grams of fibre in a serving of three and a half ounces, dates make for a great way to increase the fibre intake in your daily diet, which can aid weight loss. “It also makes them excellent gut cleansers,” says Payal Kothari, integrative nutritionist and gut health coach.
The benefits of dates are many. They are a great source of protein for vegetarians and vegans, and regular gym goers following a high protein diet are asked to eat a couple of dates every day too. Kothari adds, “Dates maintain energy throughout the day, especially during hectic days, fasting days or just before a workout. They can be consumed any time—breakfast, lunch or as an evening snack—and are a powerhouse of nutrients, both macros and micros, vitamins and minerals.” Furthermore, the selenium found in dates has cancer-healing properties and is a vital micronutrient to boost the immunity of the body. The presence of powerful antioxidants also helps prevent the occurrence of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
Benefits of dates for skin and hair health
“Dates are an excellent source of Vitamin C and D, which boost collagen production leading to increased elasticity,” says Delhi-based dermatologist Dr Geetika Mittal Gupta. Dr Chiranjiv Chhabra, director and consultant dermatologist, Skin Alive, adds, “Dates are also extremely rich in antioxidants, especially tannins, which prevent cell damage and oxidation and help reduce inflammation. They contain nutrients that enhance the strength of the subcutaneous tissues, which results in softer and smoother skin.” The antioxidants present in dates keep the effects of free radicals in check and delay the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. “Dates contain pantothenic acid, which improves the skin from within and gives it a radiant glow. Another benefit of dates is treating skin allergies that usually break out all over the body,” she says.
And good hair days are just a few dates away too. Dr Chhabra states that consuming dates (two to three per day) can give you results for stronger hair in a short amount of time. “Being rich in iron, dates improve blood circulation to the scalp which helps in faster hair growth. This happens as oxygen is properly dispersed to your entire body, ultimately preventing hair loss and stimulating new hair growth.” It strengthens the hair follicles and hair roots, preventing breakage and hair loss too.
The best ways to add dates to your diet
Because of their inherent natural sweetness, dates are often used as a substitute to white sugar in confectionary. Use chopped dates to sweeten your salads or cereals, or have them as a midday snack. Swap maple syrup, honey and agave for dates to sweeten up smoothies, or use date paste as a sweetener in desserts like cakes or pies. Dates also work great with cheeses or nuts, making stuffed goat cheese or chopped nuts in a pitted date an indulgent but nutritious appetiser. Apart from this, dates also lend themselves as a great binding agent due to their stickiness, and can be mixed with nuts and nut butter to create energy balls and granola bars.