The date fruit is one of the oldest cultivated tree crops and has been grown for thousands of years, yet they are often misunderstood. When most people think of dates, they think of a sweet, sugary fruit that should be avoided, especially for those with diabetes. However, this is a proven misnomer. 

While not a low-calorie food, cup-for-cup dates have less calories than processed sugar and countless health benefits as they are high in nutrients and fibers. In fact, dates are part of the following diet plans: Dash, Mediterranean, Paleo, plant-based, Whole 30. 

To understand dates, it’s important to know their composition:

  • Dates are 75% carbohydrate (natural sugar plus fiber), 24% water and 1% protein.
  • Date carbohydrates are made up of simple sugars (glucose and fructose). 
  • Because dates have equal parts glucose and fructose, the glucose is quickly metabolized for fast energy, while the fructose is digested slower, resulting in sustained energy. 
  • Date fibers are carbohydrates that slow down the absorption of simple sugars, and these fibers are only partially digested.

Here’s what makes them a safe, healthy food, even for diabetics:

Glycemic index (GI): Dates have natural compounds that slow down sugar absorption. These are fiber, sorbitol, fructose and water. Foods with a GI under 55 are considered low, and the GI for dates is 42, less than that of bananas, grapes, prunes and watermelon, among other fruits. 

Dietary fiber: Dietary fiber is a carbohydrate that does not break down and is not digested. Instead, it remains in the stomach, small intestine and colon. Dietary fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, thereby helping prevent blood sugar spikes.1 Studies have found that the incidence of diabetes is lower among people who consume more fiber in their diets.2 In fact, dates have more dietary fiber than raisins, fresh figs, dried apricots and blueberries.

B vitamins and minerals: Dates are packed with six essential B vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B7 – which occur naturally, plus seven essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium and zinc. Many of these, especially magnesium, play a role in controlling blood sugar, reducing inflammation and regulating blood pressure.3 The one mineral dates do not possess is sodium, making them a perfect complement to dairy and meats, hence the ever-popular bacon wrapped dates on many menus. 

In addition to their designation as a superfood, dates are also part of the American Heart Association Heart Check Mark program. They are all-natural, gluten-free, non-GMO and vegan-friendly as well.  

So don’t be shy – add dates to your daily diet – you’ll fall in love with the benefits!

Kristy Kneiding is manager of the California Date Commission and can be reached at kkneiding@datesaregreat.com. For more information about dates visit www.datesaregreat.com.

References: 1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/; 2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4472947/; 3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549665/

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