Foods that harm, foods that heal: dates

October 9, 2015

Prized for their sweet fruits, date palms are among the oldest cultivated trees. The following information will walk you through the health benefits and drawbacks of consuming dates.

Foods that harm, foods that heal: dates

Prized for their sweet fruits, date palms are among the oldest cultivated trees. They have been grown in North Africa for at least 8,000 years. These desert trees are extraordinarily fruitful, producing up to 200 dates in a cluster. It can take between four and eight years before a date palm will start bearing fruit after which it will produce for up to 10 years.

Fresh dates are classified according to their moisture content, falling into three categories: soft, semi-soft and dry. Most varieties in North America are semi-soft, which are marketed fresh, as well as dried after part of their moisture has been evaporated.

1. Nutritional value

With 60 to 70 percent of their weight coming from sugar, dates are one of the sweetest of all fruits. About 12 medium dates (125 grams or one half cup) contains about 275 calories — many more than most fruits.

They are very high in potassium; 12 dates provide 650 milligrams, more than a comparable amount of other high-potassium foods, such as bananas and oranges. Twelve dates also provide 15 percent or more of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of iron, niacin and vitamin B6, as well as six grams of fibre. However, dates have almost no vitamin C.

Dates contain tyramine, an organic compound found in aged cheese, certain processed meats, red wine and other products. Anyone taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors to treat depression should avoid dates, because tyramine can interact with these drugs to produce a life-threatening rise in blood pressure. In some people, tyramine can also trigger mi­graine headaches. It's important to brush your teeth after eating dates. Both the dried and fresh fruits are very sticky, and because of their high sugar content, they can lead to dental decay if bits are allowed to adhere to the teeth.

2. Benefits

  • An excellent source of potassium.
  • A good source of iron, niacin and vitamin B6.
  • High in fibre.

3. Drawbacks

  • High sugar content and stickiness promote tooth decay.
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