The fruit of the date palm: its possible use as the best food for the future?
Researchers: Walid Al-Shahib and Richard J Marshall
As we work to build a healthier society, people often wonder what foods should be staples in their new dietary habits. People with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, should opt for food that will not strain their bodies or cause adverse reactions.
Because dates have a sweet taste, many people confuse dates as unhealthy, similar to other treats such as ice cream and candy. However, dates are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients. They have a low-glycemic index, which means they are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar than other sweet foods. This is especially important for diabetics and others sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations.
A recent critical review of the date fruit explores its potential benefits and why it may be considered the fruit of the future.
The first thing to note is that when the term “date” is used, it refers to the fleshy part of the date fruit that can be eaten. The date palm is one of the longest cultivated plants. It has been used for over 6,000 years as a food source for humans and has high nutritional, health, and economic value to societies. Dates have beneficial characteristics for reducing hunger and preventing and alleviating diseases. They are rich in carbohydrates, minerals, fiber, vitamins, proteins, and fatty acids.
Dates are grown on the date palm tree, up to 25 meters tall and 40 centimeters in cross-sectional radius. There are over 2,000 different varieties of fresh dates, and many are available throughout eight months of the year. The amount of crop each tree provides depends on the weather conditions and location, but some can give up to 600 kg of dates per year.
Once dates are harvested from the date tree, they are dried and packed, which is how they are sold in stores. Without preservatives, dried dates can last up to eight months.
Dates have a high concentration of sugar, which is considered their main component and why they are high in carbohydrates. The sugars in dates mainly reduce sugars in the form of glucose, fructose, mannose, and maltose, and non-reducing sugars such as sucrose. In fact, 44-88% of the carbohydrates in dates are sugars.
In addition to the high carbohydrate load, many other components make up a date fruit. There are 15 salts and minerals, vitamins, and high dietary fiber in dates. Fiber makes up 6.4-11.5% of the date fruits. The flesh of the date contains approximately 0.2-0.5% oil, while the seed contains approximately 9% oil. The seed makes up about 6-14% of the date’s weight and must be removed before eating.
Fatty acids, which are essential for energy and cell and tissue metabolism, are found in the flesh and the seed of dates. Date seeds contain 14 types of fatty acids, but only 8 of these are found in the flesh (in low amounts). Unsaturated fatty acids, such as palmitoleic, oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids, are also found in dates. Oleic acids are found in the seeds with a 40-60% concentration, suggesting that dates could be used as a source of oleic acid.
There are also 15 minerals found in dates, each of which has a percentage of 0.1-916 milligrams per 100 grams of dates fruit. Potassium is among the highest minerals in dates and can be found in concentrations as high as 0.9% in the flesh and 0.5% in the seeds. Boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, and other minerals are also found in dates. Fluorine particularly protects the teeth against decay and prevents cavities from forming.
Other nutrients found in dates include aluminum, cadmium, chloride, lead, and sulfur, each with its own health benefits. For example, selenium is thought to help prevent cancer and improve immune function. Dates also contain 23 types of amino acids, which build proteins and provide cells with the nutrients to perform daily functions. Many of them are not commonly found in other fruits and vegetables, which is why dates are considered one of the healthiest foods.
Dates have Vitamin C, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Nicotinic acid, and Vitamin A that support organ health. They are also high in fiber, vital for healthy digestion and gastrointestinal health. Fiber increases satiety for longer, which stabilizes blood sugar levels and helps maintain a healthy weight. The amount of fiber in dates depends on the variety and level of ripeness.
As dates are recognized for amazing health benefits, worldwide production continues to increase. In the past 40 years, the export of dates has increased by 1.71%. Because of their wide range of health benefits and packed nutrients, dates are widely considered a superfood. When you think of what to include in your daily diet, dates should be at the top of your list. They are truly a food of the future.