Dates are sweet fruits from the palm family; they are consumed as dried fruit and used as a natural sweetener as well.
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist at Amazon Nutrition Cabinet, says dates are a source of fructose, which is a natural type of sugar found in fruit.
Because of this, he says dates are very sweet and also have a subtle caramel-like taste.
“They can make a great healthy substitute for white sugar in recipes due to the nutrients, fibre, and antioxidants that they provide,” he says.
He says one can substitute dates for sugar by making date paste, whereby it’s made by mixing dates with water in a blender.
He says that it is important to note that although dates are high in fibre and nutrients, they are still fairly high in calories and best consumed in moderation.
According to research by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), dates are a good source of energy, fibre, sugar, and various vitamins and minerals.
The research also indicates that essential minerals, such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, sulphur, and zinc can be found in dates.
Apart from that, Kamanzi says dates also contain important vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K.
Dates are high in natural sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose. The high energy present in them can be attributed to this high sugar content.
For a quick snack, Kamanzi points out that one can eat dates to help boost their energy levels.
Since dates are a good source of energy, Joseph Uwiragiye, head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says one can consume them when exercising.
A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition suggests that eating dates while taking water helps avoid overeating of food, especially if one was fasting.
He notes that since dates are rich in fibre, they are essential for promoting healthy bowel movements and ensuring the comfortable passage of food through the intestinal tract.
It also has high levels of dietary fibre and insoluble fibre, in particular.
“The insoluble fibre found in dates promotes healthy digestion by bulking up the stool, and may also aid in relieving the symptoms of constipation,” he says.
Kamanzi says they are also a good source of iron.
He explains that a deficiency of iron can contribute to anaemia, a condition characterised by fatigue, dizziness, brittle nails and shortness of breath.
He, however, says that this can be prevented by increasing the intake of iron-rich foods such as dates.
Kamanzi says consuming dates also helps when it comes to reducing triglyceride levels and decreasing oxidative stress, both of which are risk factors for heart disease and atherogenesis, which is the build-up of fatty plaque in the arteries.
The reason, he says, is that dates are rich in antioxidants, which may help prevent atherogenesis and aid in reducing the risk of stroke.
He adds that this type of fruit is also high in various phytochemicals which may help protect against heart disease.
Furthermore, they are a rich source of potassium that helps in lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of stroke as well as other heart-related diseases.
Uwiragiye says vitamin A deficiency is often linked to night blindness, along with other symptoms, like dry eyes and an increased risk of infection.
He says dates are rich in carotenoids, which may help prevent night blindness and preserve healthy vision.
He goes on to note that foods rich in potassium, like dates, can help replace and replete electrolytes that one may have lost due to chronic diarrhoea.
“This is because of their high fibre content, they can also aid in digestion and may alleviate the unpredictable nature of chronic diarrhoea,” he says.
Dates also contain boron which is amongst the nutrients that promote healthy bones.
Uwiragiye adds that significant amounts of minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, found in dried fruits, make them a superfood for strengthening bones and fighting off painful and debilitating diseases like osteoporosis.
Kamanzi says dates contain selenium, manganese, copper, and magnesium, all of which may aid in managing bone health, particularly amongst older adults.
For healthy weight management, he says high fibre content in dates can help out.