By HAYLEY SIMS, Contributing Columnist
Dates are gaining popularity in the US and UK, and rightly so. Dates, coming in both fresh and dried forms, are extremely nutritious little fruits to have in your kitchen.
More often than not, dates are assumed to be an ingredient for puddings and desserts, and thanks to the success of baking shows such as the UK’s beloved Great British Bake Off, many people have started to appreciate their sticky, caramel goodness!
Dates are prepared and eaten differently all the over the world, and in the Middle East you might be more likely to find them in a salad or even an omelette. Whatever the presentation, these nutritious little gems have some seriously good health benefits, including boosting fertility, easing childbirth, supplementing nutrition and even fighting cancer and diabetes! Read on for our top 7 crazy good health benefits of dates.
A Little History of Dates
Dates have been a popular delicacy for thousands of years, dating back to the Ancient Egyptians.
Dates are a staple food across the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and have religious significance across the Muslim world.
Traditionally, dates are eaten to break the fast each day during the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims and in the Jewish tradition as well, dates are considered one of the seven holy fruits and are eaten at certain festivals.
The mysticism and importance of dates has lasted for centuries and the fruits are still abundant in the Middle East, and have swept the globe over to the US and UK too.
The FAO in the US reports that 93% of dates that are produced are consumed locally, with the top 5 producers named – Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iraq.
The biggest consumers in the West are France and the UK, with a steady increase since the 1960s. They are not quite as popular in the USA, where all dried fruit accounts for a mere 1% of fruit consumed, however, it is also growing. But as those of us in the West slowly warm up to the delicious and healing powers of the fruit that has been common knowledge in the East for centuries!
And perhaps this list of crazy good health benefits will convince them.
1. Deliver your baby with some dates
One of the most potent powers of the date is its use in inducing labor in pregnant women. A study held between 2007 and 2008 and led by Dr Al-Kuran at the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid, Jordan, trialled the effects of consuming dates on childbirth.
A total of 69 women were monitored and given six dates to eat per day for 4 weeks prior to their delivery date, while 45 women who were given none were also monitored. The study had considerably positive results, with the date-consuming women experiencing higher cervical dilation during labor, higher probability of spontaneous labor --- it occurred in 96% of them ---and a significantly shorter first stage of labor.
Overall, the scientists concluded that eating dates can be a big help for some women in the immense challenge of labor as it can can reduce the need for labor induction and provides a more favourable delivery experience!
2. Go forth and multiply with the help of some dates!
As well as helping out the ladies in the delivery room, components of dates have also been proven to help out the guys in baby-making.
Dates are useful for fertility, as studies have shown that they can improve sperm motility.
A team led by Dr Dostal at the Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tested the effects of date palm pollen (DPP) extract on the fertility of rats.
The analysis of sperm motility and the number of sperm cells showed that DPP had a positive effect and essentially, an improvement on the fertility of these rats.
3. Boost your nutrition with some dates
Dates on the whole have fantastic nutritious value. They are packed full of carbohydrates, salts and minerals, dietary fiber, vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids – all essential for all-round wellbeing.
Supplementing your diet with some dates can boost your nutrition and overall health. A study last year led by Dr Ismail Hamad of Aljouf University in Saudi Arabia, examined the nutritional qualities of dates and produced an impressive set of results that proved that dates have high nutritional and therapeutic value.
Dates have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which can be good for fighting any bacterial or fungal infections such as a UTI or athlete’s foot. (Read more about natural ways to lower the amount of bacteria in your blood.)
Furthermore, date pit powders are a popular health food for people who like to drink something similar to coffee without the caffeine addiction.
Why not give it a go?
4. Reduce Swelling By Eating Dates
Dates have been proven to be an excellent anti-inflammatory, which can help treat a large number of conditions, from something as small as a mosquito bite to something as life-impacting as arthritis.
A study led by Dr Mohamed at the Food Sciences and Nutrition Department in the National Research Center of Giza, Egypt, set out to evaluate the anti-inflammatory properties of extracts of dates.
The team tested the oral use of the date extract on arthritis in rats and the results revealed a positive reduction of swelling in the foot.
Simply adding dates to your morning granola could have substantial impact on your mobility and health.
5. Fight Disease with Dates
As well have possessing anti-inflammatory qualities, dates are also rich with anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are important little chemicals that are beneficial in fighting disease.
Essentially, they interact with and work against the ‘free radicals’ – cells that can cause major harm. Therefore, deactivating the free radicals is part of the process of managing disease.
A team led by Dr. Joseph Allen Vinson from the University of Scranton set out in 2005 to determine the amount of anti-oxidants in dried fruits, including dried dates.
Samples of dried and fresh fruits were compared to measure a certain type of anti-oxidant – phenolic – and were given to be eaten by 10 different people.
They were all asked not to eat, and then were given some fruit to eat, before their anti-oxidant capacity in their plasma was measured.
The results showed that dates had the highest concentration of this type of anti-oxidant, compared to other fruits such as figs and dried plums.
6. Dates Help Battle Cancer
It’s a big claim, and studies on the effects of some components of dates on combatting cancer are still in their initial stages; however, there have been some major results.
In fact, the phenol anti-oxidant plays a significant role in cancer control, according to a 2014 study by Dr. Rahmani et al from Qassim University in Saudi Arabia on the therapeutic effects of dates.
This is without any side effect, which is obviously preferable to chemotherapy.
Moreover, a study in Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China, led by Dr. Ishurd in 2004, isolated a constituent of the Libyan date fruit and saw anti-tumor activities.
A massive breakthrough, this was the first study to report anti-tumor activity for a date component.
7. Combatting diabetes with dates
Diabetes is one of the most common metabolic disorders in the world – it affects 2.8% of the world’s population. And, there is still no cure. Turning to natural remedies, similar to the treatment of cancer, can provide good relief and there are less side effects.
Recent research has revealed that an extract from the leaf of the date plant can have anti-diabetic effects.
A study in 2010 tested this on some diabetic rats. Led by Dr Mard at the Ahvaz Jundishapour University of Medical Sciences in Iran, a group of rats were fasted overnight and then given the extract before blood was collected to analyse the levels of blood glucose and plasma insulin.
The extract significantly reduced blood glucose and the plasma insulin levels increased in the treated rats, demonstrating that the date extract has anti-diabetic effects.
So there you have it! 7 crazy good health benefits of dates. So now you know, you have no excuse – go and buy a Middle Eastern cookbook and starting sampling the delights of dates! Perhaps save the omelette for once you’re a pro.