Sweet Solutions: Dates

Out Sweet Solutions series is back with information about dates! Dates are one of the most naturally sweet fruits, making them a great alternative to processed sugars. For all you’ve ever wanted to know about dates, keep reading!

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There are many varieties of dates, but medjool dates are used most frequently as sweeteners because they have a sweet caramel flavor, are large and soft, and are usually naturally dried in the sun on the date palm tree (no chemicals added).

Dates are used as sweeteners in a few ways:

  • Fresh dates can be eaten as a sweet snack
  • Dried dates can be eaten whole, roughly chopped up and added to a recipe, or made into a date paste/puree
  • Date syrup is close to the consistency of maple syrup
  • Date sugar is simply dehydrated and ground dates

How are dates different from other sweeteners?

  • 1 serving of dates (4 dates/100 grams) = 277 calories and 66 grams of sugar
  • Dates are one of the only sweeteners that contain a fair amount of nutrients. 1 serving of dates has approximately:
    • Fiber –28% RDA
    • Potassium –19% RDA
    • Copper – 18% RDA
    • Manganese – 15% RDA
    • Magnesium – 13% RDA
    • Vitamin B6 – 10% RDA
    • Iron – 4%
    • Protein – 3%
    • Vitamin A – 2%

(USDA and based on a 2,000 calorie diet)

  • Both dates and table sugar contain glucose and fructose. In dates, these elements are separate and easy to digest. In sugar, they are combined to make sucrose which requires our body to use more enzymes to break down and use it as energy.
  • Date sugar can be used as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar as it has caramel notes that are more akin to brown than white sugar.

Pros

  • Dates are raw/unprocessed and naturally dry on the fruit trees
  •  The soluble and insoluble dietary fiber in dates offers both digestive and cardiovascular benefits. Soluble fiber acts to slow the pace of carbohydrate breakdown and lower cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber can help promote regular bowel movements.
  • Date puree and date sugar are quite versatile in use and can be made at home or bought prepared at the store.
  • Although there is a reduction in antioxidant content upon drying, dates are still considered a good source of antioxidants compared to other dried fruits.
  • Dates are also fat free.

Cons

  • The sugar in dates is absorbed very quickly, and there’s a lot of it. The blood sugar spike resulting from eating dates is almost as strong as eating a spoonful of sugar. This is great if you need energy, but can be troublesome if you aren’t readily using the energy.
  • Date sugar does not melt well, which results in flecks of brown in the final product – date puree melts/dissolves much better though.
  • Date puree can be a substitute for sugar or other syrup sweeteners such as maple syrup, but there is no set ratio. There is a great deal of experimenting that is required to replace traditional sweeteners in a recipe with this alternative.
  • The fruit naturally has a relatively high glycemic index, given the amount of sugar it contains. Those already afflicted with diabetes will have to really limit their consumption of dates or avoid it altogether.

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