Benefits of dates
Phoenix dactylifera (the palm tree) is extensively cultivated in many countries and it has been used as a staple food for thousands of years. In some countries as Egypt, dates have been of great economic and social importance . Dates are the most abundant crop in the United Arab Emirates .
Dates are also very popular in countries like India, where they are widely cultivated in districts as Kutch in Gujarat. In this district, dates are harvested at the immature stage before the onset of monsoon to prevent spoilage . Image: See credits under ref.  below.
Common name: Palm tree, date.
FIRST ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE OF DATES EXISTENCE
One of the firsts archaeological evidence of date cultivation can be found in Mehrgarh, a Neolithic civilization in western Pakistan, around 7000 BCE, as well as in eastern Arabia in 6000 BCE [6,7], having found further evidence of its cultivation throughout later civilizations in South Asia, as for example in the Harappan period extending from 2600 to 1900 BCE [6,8].
Palm fruit lipids were detected in vessels from the Nubian site of Qasr Ibrim, being the first direct evidence of the exploitation of palm fruit in antiquity and the use of pottery vessels in its processing . Image left: GENESIS 1-11 - Fruit (Dates) by zeeweez under Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0).
In spite it wasn't clearly known at that time what the nutritional and functional constituents of dates were, many populations, especially in the Middle East, had dates as their main and most dominant source of nutrients, forming the basis of their traditional diet. Let's have a look at the health benefits of dates.
DATES USED AS FUEL AND CONSTRUCTION MATERIAL
Nothing to do with the health benefits of dates but worth mentioning, in spite the benefits of dates are enormous and numerous they are not the only product used from the date palm. Date palm wood is used as fuel and construction material by some regional tribes, where it is highly appreciated.
NUTRITIONAL VALUES OF DATES
Many are the varieties of dates available around the world, for example, in the United Arab Emirates we can find the following ones:
- Khalas, Barhe,
- Shikat alkahlas,
- Naptit saif,
- Raziz and
- Shabebe ,
Each one of them with different nutritional values, because each date is
different. Image right: See credits below under reference .
Dates are also highly nutritional:
- Date flesh is low in fat and protein but rich in sugars, mainly fructose and glucose.
- Date seeds contain higher protein (5.1 g/100 g) and fat (9.0 g/100 g) as compared to the flesh. It is a high source of energy, as 100 g of flesh can provide an average of 314 kcal . The consumption of 100 g of dates can provide over 15% of the recommended daily allowance from minerals as selenium, copper, potassium, and magnesium .
One of the reasons that probably justifies the health benefits of dates is their highly nutritional value. Dates contain a high percentage of carbohydrate:
- Total sugars, 44-88%,
- Fat 0.2-0.5%,
- Salts and minerals: selenium, copper, potassium, and magnesium among others [15,19],
- Protein (2.3-5.6%),
- Vitamins (B-complex and C) and
- A high percentage of dietary fiber (6.4-11.5%) .
MINERALS IN DATES
But dates are not only a rich source of energy, they also provide important minerals to our diets, something that would also explain the health benefits of dates. Among the minerals found on dates we can mention:
- potassium, and
- magnesium as the top ones,
being the consumption of 100 grams enough to provide up to 15% of the daily recommended allowance from these minerals .
VITAMINS IN DATES
Several vitamins are found in dates. Among the most important vitamins found in dates, we can mention the B complex vitamins and C vitamins .
PROTEINS IN DATES
Dates are low in proteins. Proteins in dates are mainly found in date flesh, which is known to be low in fat and protein but rich in sugars, from which fructose and glucose are the main ones. Date seeds contain higher protein (5.1 g/100 g) and fat (9.0 g/100 g) as compared to the flesh .
CALORIES IN DATES
As you may already know, dates are a rich source of energy, providing up to 314 Kcal per 100 grams of date flesh .
HEALTH BENEFITS OF DATES FOR MEN
Dates are rich in many active constituents, in fact, date palm fruit contains very high quantities of carbohydrates as fructose and glucose a source of energy for the human body that can be rapidly converted and used, something that highlights health benefits of dates for men have always been claimed to be important.
Dates also contain a very high amount of dietary fibres, being also very good to fight constipation. And last but not the least dates are also rich in essential minerals as:
- selenium and
Their high nutritional value and the wide array of phenolic antioxidants, mainly carotenoids and phenolics , with a very high antioxidant activity, makes them also an ideal fruit for both, young and adults.
Additionally, we can find also flavonoid glycosides of:
- quercetin, and
also present in dates apigenin is also a flavonoid believed to have some influence over the mild sedative effects claimed by the herbs that contain this active principle.
In recent scientific studies the flavonoid apigenin, was found to also act as an anti-inflammatory agent , also exerting antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties .
Among other several alleged health benefits of dates we can mention the most important ones and the scientific evidence supporting them as follows:
DATES FOR CONSTIPATION
In folk medicine dates have been traditionally recommended as a natural remedy for constipation. Other dried fruits as figs, raisins, apricots share with dates this quality as a natural remedy for constipation.
Among the scientific and medical evidence supporting these claims we can mention some medical studies done on the nutritional and functional properties of dates, where it was found that dates are high in dietary fibre (8.0 g/100 g), being insoluble dietary fibre the major fraction of dietary fibre in dates , another quality to add to the health benefits of dates. Image left: Dates by Aleksandar Cocek under Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0).
DATES FOR DIARRHOEA
Dates are also a rich source of potassium , a mineral that is frequently lost during diarrhoea. Some sites about cancer recommend the intake of fruit juices, sports drinks, potatoes without the skin and some other sources of potassium as a way to ease the recovery process that involves suffering from this ailment.
DATES FOR WEIGHT GAIN
Due to the high content of sugars present in dates, they are believed to be a good source of calories for those needing to gain weight. Of course, this seems not to be a priority nowadays in western countries but still many underdeveloped countries can use dates as a primary source of energy and staple food and fight starvation.
DATES TO FIGHT AGEING
Dates are a rich source of natural antioxidants. As we know antioxidants are fighting naturally free radicals, the main reason for most of the 21st-century illnesses as cancer accelerated ageing...etc. A diet rich in antioxidants prevents or, at least, delays the occurrence of those illnesses and can, therefore, help to delay ageing.
DATES FOR A HEALTHY SKIN, HAIR AND MUSCLE TONE
Dates are a rich source of vitamins, among those vitamins found in dates the most important group is the group of B vitamins. B vitamins are known to help you keep a healthy skin, hair and muscle tone  and, therefore, dates are a natural way to achieve this.
DATES EFFECTS ON LABOUR
Among the many properties that we already know from dates it is worth mentioning the effects that dates have on labour.
In a prospective study carried out between 1 February 2007 and 31 January 2008 at Jordan University of Science and Technology on 69 women who consumed six date fruits per day for 4 weeks, it was noted that the consumption of date fruit in the last 4 weeks before labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome .
ACTIVE CONSTITUENTS IN DATES
Among the different compounds and active constituents found in dates we can mention:
- Thirteen flavonoid glycosides of luteolin,
Apigenin is present as only the diglycoside. Quercetin and luteolin formed primarily O-glycosidic linkages whereas apigenin is present as the C-glycoside .
A significant amount of antioxidants and carotenoids was lost after sun-drying of dates, whereas the total content of phenolics and free and bound phenolic acids increased significantly (p < 0.05). Anthocyanins were detected only in fresh dates .
Dates contain also certain macro-elements as:
- potassium and
and some essential micro-elements as:
- strontium and
- vanadium .
DATE SEEDS RESISTANCE
Some of the archaeological evidence gathered during recent times shows how ancient cultures made already used of dates in the past.
Some of this archaeological evidence include date seeds, preserved until nowadays in good conditions to even be able to germinate.
Date seeds are extremely resistant to time. Ancient date seeds excavated from Masada and radiocarbon-dated to the first century Common Era were germinated after 26 months of seedling propagation, something that didn't differ from normal date seedlings , showing how resistant date seeds can be to the past of time.
The above-mentioned seeds produced a different genetic variation of date palm in comparison to modern, elite date cultivars currently growing in Israel . Image right: Date palm tree by Dennis Jarvis under Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0).
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