It’s the fourth week of my new A-Z Superfoods series for The Herald, and this week I’m discussing the many health benefits of dates – a natural sweetening superstar…
This stalwart of healthy treats is nature’s finest sweetener, and an ideal replacement for refined sugar in recipes. I use them in everything from smoothies, mousses and truffles, to form the base of cakes and tarts. They’re incredibly versatile, and can even be used to make a healthy two-ingredient caramel sauce for drizzling on desserts and dipping strawberries and apple slices into.
Dates are like nature’s very own toffees. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend having them every single day, but they make a superb base for sweet treats, because apart from their gooey, syrupy sweetness and great taste, dates have plenty of impressive health benefits too.
Dates are rich in dietary fibre, which is so important for a healthy digestive system. This fibre helps to slow down the rate that their natural sugars get absorbed into your blood stream, so you don’t experience a sugar high and subsequent crash. This also sends your insulin levels soaring and can affect everything from your fat burning abilities to your body’s intricate hunger control mechanisms, cravings and even your mood. So upping your fibre intake if you’re trying to maintain your weight or even lose a few pounds, is a really good idea to help keep you feeling full and stabilise blood sugar levels. Fibre is found primarily in plant-based foods, as animal protein foods are almost devoid of it.
Dates boast an impressive content of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients to really benefit your health. Firstly, they’re easy for your body to digest, which means that all of their goodness is better absorbed and put to metabolic use by your body cells.
Iron is a nutrient found in dates, and is especially important for women, who tend to be more prone to developing anaemia. It is a key component of the haemoglobin in red blood cells, which transports oxygen around the body, helping to boost energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue.
Dates are an excellent source of copper, which is a lesser-known essential trace mineral, yet it’s needed by every tissue in the body for normal metabolic function. It also plays a big role in reducing inflammation, strengthening connective tissue such as collagen in the skin for a supple complexion, and even helps to keep grey hairs at bay. Along with magnesium and manganese, copper helps your body metabolise carbohydrates, protein, and fats. It’s a true beauty mineral.
We tend to associate banana with potassium, but dates are another excellent source of the mineral, which helps to regulate blood pressure and control your heart rate. Many people don’t manage to reach their RDA of potassium each day, but this can be quite easily rectified by boosting your intake of fruit and vegetables.
The various antioxidants found in dates, including the carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin, are important for eye health and vision by helping to maintain healthy light-filtering function.
The range of B vitamins in dates really help to boost your energy and metabolic function, while their vitamin A content supports vision and helps to heal skin and maintain mucus membranes. In fact, vitamin A is one of my essential nutrients for helping to prevent and reduce acne.
As if you need anymore reason to eat dates, they make a delicious creamy chocolate mousse when whizzed up with two of my other favourite superfoods, avocado and cacao.
- 1 ripe avocado
- 45 (½ cup) raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 Medjool dates (If you can’t source Medjool dates, use normal pitted dates, soaked in hot water for twenty minutes to soften)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or seeds
- 60ml (1/4 cup) unsweetened almond milk, to blend
- Fresh berries, to serve
- Place all the ingredients into a high-speed blender and blend until a smooth mixture forms.
- Refrigerate and serve chilled, topped with fresh berries
- Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.