{ HEALTH }

THE DELECTABLE DATE

This ancient fruit is loaded with health
benefits and is a great sugar substitute, too

BY CLAUDIA CARBONE

With sugar getting a bad rap, dates are quickly becoming the go-to healthy substitute for sweetening. It may be hard to believe, but these gooey, chewy, caramel-like treats are better for you than refined sugar and are certainly better than any artificial sweetener. Scientific studies have shown that even though dates do contain natural fruit sugars (about 25 grams each), they are a low-glycemic carb that provide sweetness without spiking blood sugar levels. Simply put, the health benefits of dates outweigh their sugar content.

An important nutritious staple in Middle Eastern countries since biblical times, dates have been a growing industry in this country since the early 1900s when the government imported the deglet noor and medjool varieties from Morocco to the Sonoran Desert between California’s Coachella Valley and Yuma, Arizona. The dry climate proved ideal for the date palms, and they thrived. Woodspur Farms is the largest organic date farm in the nation with 46 orchards growing 16 varieties.

“Dates have been the sweetener of choice in the Middle East since ancient times,” said Doug Resh, Director of Ingredient Sales at Woodspur Farms. “With the influx of Middle Eastern cuisine here in the U.S., that transition has started to emerge. Dates now serve as sweetener in items like ketchup, salad dressings, yogurts, smoothies, ice cream, baked goods and even vodka and beer.”

Beyond satisfying the sweet tooth, this shiny little tree fruit is packed with powerful nutrients. It outranks other superfoods like blackberries in health benefits like maintaining heart health and fighting cancer.

Besides the whole fruit, you can buy date syrup, powder, paste and pieces that can be used for texture as well as sweetness. Minimally processed date syrup resembles molasses and is less sweet than honey, agave nectar or maple syrup. It’s great for baking and replacing sugar in salad dressings, marinades, glazes, drinks and yogurt. Use the paste, pieces and powder for baking, making ice cream and concocting smoothies. Toss diced dates into cereal or trail mix for added energy, or just eat them whole for a pick-me-up snack.

Dates can be stored at room temperature for three months, in the fridge for 12 months and in the freezer for three years. Is it time to eat a couple of dates a day to keep the doctor away? 

farm_MG_8795

[ To find recipes and where to buy dates, visit naturaldelights.com or oasisdate.com/all-recipes ]

wooden-bowl-dates_MG_9565

Nutrients in dates

Protein – Dates contain 23 amino acids, including all the essential ones needed for plant-based diets.

Antioxidant Phytochemicals – These plant chemicals protect against oxidation and inflammation, causes of common health problems like heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.

Vitamins and Minerals – There are 16, including vitamins B3, B5, B6 and B9 plus iron, potassium (two and a half times more than bananas), calcium, magnesium, selenium and copper.

Healthy fatty acids – No cholesterol! Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids reduce triglycerides and help lower cholesterol.

Fiber – Soluble fiber aids the digestive system.

Watermelon Salsa
(from oasisdate.com)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. watermelon (about 2 pounds cut in ½ inch pieces)
  • 1 1/3 c. jicama (peeled and cut in ½ inch pieces)
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro (snipped fresh)
  • 1 tbsp. jalapeño pepper (minced)
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 c. dates (diced)
  • 1 avocado

Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine watermelon, jicama, cilantro, jalapeño and lime juice. Toss to coat. Use avocado as garnish.
Pairs well with grilled chicken or pork chops.

Medjool Date and Citrus BBQ Sauce
(from NaturalDelights.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½  c. grapefruit juice
  • 1 c. unsalted tomato paste
  • 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
  • 12 medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • ½ c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. each salt and ground black pepper

Preparation:

Heat oil in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté for
3 to 4 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and let simmer for
15 minutes. Using a blender or immersion blender, purée mixture, then simmer for 10 minutes more. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for as long as 10 days.