Dates are SuperFoods
What nutrients are rich in dates? A lot indeed! Here are sweet, delicious fruits from the tropical oasis, brimming with much-needed minerals and energy to help stay fit and healthy.
Botanically they are the “drupe” (single pitted) fruits, grow on the palm tree belonging to the family of Arecaceae, in the genus: Phoenix, and scientifically named as Phoenix dactylifera. The tree is believed to originate in the lands on the banks of Nile and Euphrates Rivers of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Date palm is now grown extensively for its edible fruits under warmer climates across all the continents.
There are many varieties of date palm cultivated. ‘Amir Hajj,’ ‘Saidy,’ ‘Khadrawy’ and ‘Medjool’ are some of the important varieties popular for their rich taste, flavor, and superior quality.The date fruit is a “drupe,” in which its outer fleshy part (exocarp and mesocarp) surrounds a shell (the pit or stone) of hardened endocarp with a seed inside. The fruit is oval to cylindrical in shape, 3–7 cms long, and 2–3 cms diameter, and ripe dates range from golden yellow, amber, bright-red to deep-brown depending on the cultivar type.
Health benefits of dates
- Wonderfully delicious, dates are one of the most popular fruits packed with an impressive list of phyotnutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are essential for normal growth, development, and overall well-being.
- Fresh dates compose of soft, easily digestible flesh and simple sugars like fructose and dextrose. 100 g of mejdool dates hold 277 calories. When eaten, they replenish energy and revitalize the body instantly. For these qualities, they traditionally served to break the fast during Ramadan month since ancient times.
- The fruit is rich in dietary fiber, which prevents LDL cholesterol absorption in the gut. Additionally, the fiber diet works as a bulk laxative. It, thus, helps protect the colon mucous membrane from cancer-causing chemicals binding to it in the colon.
- They contain health benefiting flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants known as tannins. Tannins are known to possess anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic (prevent easy bleeding tendencies) properties.
- They are minor sources of vitamin-A (contains 149 IU or 5% of RDA per 100 g), which is known to have antioxidant properties and essential for vision. Additionally, it is also required maintaining healthy mucosa and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin-A is known to help protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
- They compose antioxidant flavonoids such as ß-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants found to have the ability to protect cells and other structures in the body from harmful effects of oxygen-free radicals. Thus, eating dates found to offer some protection from colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
- Zeaxanthin is an important dietary carotenoid that selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea, where it thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions. It thus offers protection against age-related macular degeneration, especially in the older adults.
- Dates are excellent source of iron, carry 0.90 mg/100 g of fruits (about 11% of RDI). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
- Further, they are excellent sources of potassium. 100 g contains 696 mg or 16% of daily recommended levels of this electrolyte. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure. They, thus, offer protection against stroke and coronary heart diseases.
- Date fruits are also rich in minerals like calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Calcium is an important mineral that is an essential constituent of bone and teeth and required by the body for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve impulse conduction. The human body uses manganese as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Copper required for the production of red blood cells. Magnesium is essential for bone growth.
- Further, the fruit has moderate levels of the B-complex group of vitamins as well as vitamin-K. It contains healthy amounts of pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin. These vitamins are acting as cofactors help body metabolize carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Vitamin-K is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood as well as in bone metabolism.
Selection and storage
Dates can be readily available in the groceries year round. Some varieties of fresh, soft, good-quality fruits, however, only found from September through December. In certain dry regions of Africa, dates gathered while just reaching maturity and allowed to ripen inside the jars.
In the stores, one may come across soft, semi-dry, and dried types display for sale. At home, store them at room temperature in a cool place, inside an air-seal container where they stay can well for several months.
Preparation and serving method
High-quality dates handpicked directly from the fruit bunch and sold as a premium variety in the markets. On a commercial scale, most are harvested by cutting the entire cluster, fumigated, cleaned, graded, packed, stored under refrigeration, and released to markets according to demand.
Here are some serving tips:
- Dry and soft dates are usually eaten out of hand without any add-on.
- Pitted dates can be stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, candied orange and cream cheese.
- They can also be chopped and added to fruit salad and in a range of sweet and savory dishes.
- Dates are also being used to prepare juice and Jallab (a type of syrup popular in the Middle East and made from dates, grape molasses, and rose water).
Date fruit allergy is a rare occurrence. The fruits are safe to eat in infants and the pregnant woman. However, in some sensitized individual to birch family pollen, exposure to date palm pollen may elicit cross-hypersensitivity reactions. For the same reason, avoid any food preparations that contain date palm products in these people.