I feel like every time I scroll through Instagram, I’m seeing some kind of recipe with medjool dates in it: energy balls with dates, smoothies with dates, vegan cookies with dates. When did dried fruit get so cool?
Yes, medjool dates (which are basically just one of several varieties of date) are having a big moment in the wellness world as a beloved “natural” sweetener alternative. But are they actually good for you, or is it just like eating glorified candy? Here’s what a registered dietitian has to say.
What are the benefits of medjool dates?
First off, here’s the lowdown on medjool dates’ nutrition. A serving of two dates (pitted) has:
- 133 calories
- 1 gram protein
- 0.5 grams fat
- 36 grams carbs
- 3 grams fiber
- 0 mg sodium
- 32 grams sugar
That’s…quite a bit of sugar. (There’s a reason they taste so sweet!) However, medjool dates offer up a lot of other nutritional value. “These dates are a great source of potassium, an essential mineral that most Americans do not consume enough of,” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. A serving will get you about 334 milligrams of the mineral, similar to what you’ll find in a small banana and about 13 percent of what you should eat every day. “Potassium is important for controlling fluid balance and regulating your heartbeat and blood pressure,” she says.
Dates also provide some calcium and phosphorus, both of which contribute to bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis, Jones adds. So eating dates on occasion will do your bones some good, especially if you don’t eat dairy.
Additionally, there is a decent amount of fiber per serving. “Dates provide some fiber, which regulates digestion, aids in satiety, supports heart health, and feeds gut bacteria that regulate immunity, metabolism and more,” Jones adds.
And even the sugar content isn’t an entirely bad thing from where Jones sits; she says it provides a quick source of natural energy. This can be beneficial when used pre-workout or during endurance training.
How to use medjool dates every day
The opportunities are endless. Compared to other varieties of dates, medjool dates have a slightly higher liquid content, making them smoother and easier to chew—and thus easy to incorporate into cooked dishes. Plus, since the sugar is paired with fiber and nutrients, these dates may be a good sweetener alternative in baking for those with diabetes or reactive hypoglycemia, Jones adds. In addition to being a paste and sugar substitute, she says medjool dates can also easily be blended into crusts for cheesecakes and pies, as well as into homemade energy bites, bars and smoothies.
“Dates also pair well with savory items and can be stuffed with goat cheese and nut butter as an appetizer or snack,” Jones says. “For athletes and those competing in endurance events or [who] exercise longer than an hour, salted dates are a great way to replace energy naturally without using sports nutrition products like gels and chews.”
Need more ideas on how to use dates? Try one writer’s favorite vegan peanut butter cup dupe, which uses dates as the main ingredient. You can also check out this chocolate hummus recipe, if dessert hummus is your thing.
Any downsides to dates?
Again—there’s a lot of sugar. But that’s OK in moderation. “Sugar, among other nutrients, shouldn’t be demonized, as this idea of complete restriction often leads to binging at a later point in time followed by feelings of guilt,” Jones says. And medjool dates are a great way to add sweetness to food along with other great nutrients.
However, you’ll still want to stick to the serving size, especially if you’re diabetic. “The high sugar content may be of concern to those who are diabetic,” Jones says, especially in excess. In those cases, she recommends eating dates along with healthy fats and protein to help lessen the fruit’s impact on blood sugar.
Basically, if you are seeking a more nutrient-dense sweetener, then medjool dates are a great option. But as with any healthy food, you can get too much of a good thing. “Consuming dates and other sweet snacks in moderation should allow a person to feel that they are enjoying what they eat, but it’s important to focus on incorporating an abundance of foods to help the body get a wide variety of nutrients,” Jones says. Hear, hear.
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