Date-based treats are all around us and are promoted as a healthier alternative far kinder to our blood sugar levels than traditional desserts. However, is it as simple as swapping one for the other?
We asked two natural health experts whether we should be approaching date-based foods with caution.
Alyce Serpell said... NO
Dates are presented to us in a sweet, caramel-like gooey, chewy goodness. Many of us have enjoyed raw, vegan, organic treats made with dates and those of us not eating refined sugars may even be so bold as to refer to dates as nature’s lollies or chocolate – corny, but true!
We are told now not to eat them, that there’s too much sugar and some people are shunned if you bring a raw vegan date slice to your friend’s birthday party. It’s time to have a closer look to prove my point that dates are our friend.
They are packed with vitamins. Dates provide the body with not just energy in the form of carbohydrates, but also nutrients and minerals such as potassium and magnesium for the muscular system, along with iron to improve blood circulation and utilisation of oxygen. Also offering a good source of calcium and phosphorus for our bones, nerves and brain function (1), dates are the perfect example of the wonder of eating food in its natural state.
Dates are celebrated in Chinese Medicine for building strength. Their warming nature supports digestion by promoting digestive juices and circulation instead of stagnation. It is even suggested the warming sweet nature of foods can be beneficial in the early stages of detoxification in supporting the liver and blood flow and in times where mood and emotional energy are low, small amounts of minimally processed sweeteners such as organic dates can improve energy to the brain and support our nervous systems (2). Did you know dates even have an alkalizing effect in our bodies, therefore reducing inflammation? (3)
Dates are the better choice over highly processed sweeteners. Whilst fruit sometimes gets a bad rap in the health world, dates are a wholefood and in its most natural form, providing nutrition and benefit to our bodies. We often forget that fruit carries such a beautiful natural sweetness and is a beneficial way to sweeten our cooking.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying dates in moderation. In the wilderness where wild dates grow, we would have seen warriors and those living off the land consuming them for energy and to support their bodies through the long days. They would have eaten them in moderation and when required, not gorging on a packet whilst watching TV.
Organic dates are a great energy food, but because of their high glycemic index consuming organic dates should be done in moderation and adding something like nuts is a great way to balance our blood sugar levels.
1. Koch, M 2001, Laugh With Health, Everbest Printing Co Ltd, China, p.49
2. Pitchford, P 2002, Healing with Wholefoods, North Atlantic Books, USA, p.327
3. Edgelow, D 2006, Apple A Day, Griffin Press, Adelaide, Australia, p.37
About Alyce Serpell
Alyce is a Melbourne-based naturopath with a passion for holistic health and wellbeing. Her clinic SEED Naturopathy was built on the traditions of naturopathic medicine and her tagline for health is ‘it all begins with a seed’.
Emily Seddon said... YES
Close your eyes and think of your favourite oozy, caramelly, melt-in-your- mouth sweet treat.
What are you thinking of? You might go all out with a Snickers bar. Or you might try to be virtuous and picture an all natural and ‘healthy’ date.
Yep, Medjool dates are definitely “nature’s caramel” and provide a gooey sweetness to raw desserts (or even savoured on their own).
And, because they’re a whole food, they’re also healthy, right? Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. Before you launch into a box, it’s time to read the fine print.
Dates are loaded with sugar! Just one Medjool date can contain 16g of sugar, or a whopping four teaspoons. That’s more than half the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily intake.
And a lot of that is fructose. Dates are more than one third fructose, which studies show is the sugar causing us problems. It’s been linked to numerous metabolic conditions, including type 2 Diabetes.
The sugar is concentrated. The fructose content wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the water wasn’t drained out, because you wouldn’t be able to eat as many! Drying fruit makes it much, much easier to gorge on. You wouldn’t eat a whole bag of fresh dates, but it’s easy to chow down a bag of the dried versions. You’ve been warned!
Dates can contain yucky stuff. Dried fruit is often preserved or even coated in rancid oil. These can cause horrible digestive and respiratory problems and many kids don’t tolerate them well.
The mineral content is negligible. “But dates contain iron!” we hear you cry. Yeah, that’s true, but we choose to get our iron from other sources that aren’t accompanied with a mound of sugar. Try red meat, eggs, dark leafy greens – so much more nutritious.
They’re not sweet enough for cooking. You need lots of dates to achieve the same sweetness as sugar. This means you end up eating more than you should in any given recipe (including blending up entire cups for raw vegan cakes and “datorade” smoothies). Sneaky little dates.
We know it’s tempting to throw a handful of dates into all your sweet recipes, but try to keep them for special occasions. We prefer to sweeten our foods with fresh fruit and naturally sweet veggies, adding some fructose-free sweeteners like rice malt syrup if we need that little bit extra.
Then again, we don’t eat desserts that often... an abundance of vegetables, fruit, protein and healthy fats keeps us nourished and satiated every day.
About Emily Seddon
Emily Seddon is a naturopath and nutritionist in Sydney who previously worked at I Quit Sugar. Emily loves using herbal medicine to treat ailments. You can follow her on Instagram.
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