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Make a “date” with deliciousness … how this delectable fruit supports strong bones

Make a “date” with deliciousness … how this delectable fruit supports strong bones

Dates, honey-sweet and satisfying, are sometimes known as “nature’s candy.”  While - as with candy - it’s best not to overindulge, eating moderate amounts of dates can confer significant (and science-backed) health benefits.

With osteoporosis - characterized by brittle, fracture-prone bones - striking one out of every five American women over 50, it’s good to know that dates are packed with minerals that promote bone health.  In addition to helping you to “stand strong,” dates offer other gifts to your overall well-being.  Let's take a closer look at the sweet health bonuses of these decadent-tasting treats.

Dates promote bone health

While dates don’t “slack” in the vitamin department - they contain generous amounts of vitamins B6 and B9 - their major claim to nutritional fame is their content of bone-protecting minerals.  For example, a 3.5-ounce serving of dried dates (about a dozen fruits) provides a surprising 20 percent of the adult recommended dietary intake of potassium for the entire day.  Researchers have noted that people who eat a lot of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables have higher mineral bone density.  Consuming appropriate amounts of dietary potassium also helps preserve muscle mass and reduce muscle wasting and frailty in older people, potentially contributing to the ability of elderly individuals to avoid or withstand debilitating falls.

Incidentally, the same 3.5-ounce serving of dates contributes 14 percent of the RDI for magnesium, which helps the body absorb and transport bone-building calcium while suppressing parathyroid hormone levels that break down bones.  As if that weren’t reason enough to nibble dates, they are also a good source of the bone-friendly minerals selenium, manganese, and copper.  Dates may help defend against osteoporosis while satisfying a sweet tooth at the same time!

Promote digestive health with dates

 A 3.5-ounce serving of dates provides close to seven grams of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, allowing these fruits to promote efficient elimination and help to prevent constipation.  Dates are also rich in flavonoids and carotenoids - antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may help to defend against inflammatory bowel conditions.  (In fact, dates are even higher in these antioxidant “good guys” than super-healthy figs and prunes). 

Finally, dates are a prebiotic food that supports the balance of the all-important gut microbiome, the community of beneficial microbes living in the digestive tract.

Surprise: dates may help regulate blood sugar

As sweet, chewy, and satisfying as they are, dates are not a “forbidden food” for diabetics.  While you shouldn’t binge on dates if you have diabetes (and shouldn’t even if you aren’t), experts say that eating moderate amounts is unlikely to raise blood sugar excessively.  According to a study published in Nutrition Journal, dates are low on the glycemic index and don’t result in significant rises in blood sugar. 

In fact, because of their dietary fiber, dates may even help with blood sugar regulation by slowing down digestion.  The researchers concluded that dates won’t cause harmful blood sugar “spikes” and may even benefit diabetic patients when eaten in moderation.

Lose the sugar - add some dates

Dates owe their sweetness to fructose, a natural sugar found in fruit.  Nutritionists report that fructose is nutritionally superior to refined white sugar, and many advise using dates as a natural sweetener and sugar substitute - for instance, as an alternative to chocolate chips in oatmeal cookies.  In fact, the sticky, adhesive quality of dried dates makes them an ideal binder for baked goods of all kinds.

Blend dates into oatmeal, yogurt, or cottage cheese or add chopped dates to salads, salad dressings, and marinades.  You can also employ dates to “dress up” a ho-hum trail mix.  Or, add them to chicken salad for an intriguing note of sweetness.

Dates partner well with almonds, cashews, apples, and cheese. Of course, they are also delicious all by themselves.

Dried dates are more readily available than their fresh counterparts.  When it comes to nutritional value, though, no worries: dried dates are still crammed with healthy constituents - if somewhat high in calories.  While a 3.5-ounce serving of dried dates provides close to 300 calories, you get plenty of nutritional “bang for the buck.”

Incidentally, dates are also believed to support brain health, boost immunity, and improve cholesterol levels.  So isn’t it time you made some room in your diet for the amazing date?

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