When you hit the supermarket to restock your kitchen with nutrient-packed fruit, you probably unconsciously turn your cart into the produce section, where apples, oranges, and grapes abound. But in doing so, you could be missing out on a fresh fruit hiding out next to the raisins and prunes in the bulk bin aisle: dates.
That’s right: Though wrinkly, sticky, and chewy like dried fruits, naturally sweet dates are typically sold in their raw, fresh state, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a dietitian and Shape Brain Trust member. At the grocery store, you’ll often find two types of dates, which have slightly different textures and tastes but similar nutritional values: Medjool, a soft date variety with a high moisture content and a sweeter flavor, and Deglet Noor, a semi-dry date variety that contains very little moisture and has a nutty finish. And with those craveable qualities come a few health perks.
Here, the date nutrition facts you need to know, plus expert-approved ways to add them to your plate.
Dates Nutrition Facts
For a tiny fruit, dates are teeming with vitamins and minerals, including (but not limited to!) iron, potassium, magnesium, and B vitamins. And while they’re high in calories and carbs, they’re full of good-for-you fiber. Boasting nearly 2 grams of fiber per serving, dates can help promote healthy digestion and bowel movements. These prune-looking fruits are also full of disease-fighting antioxidants, such as flavonoids and phenolic acids — both of which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body — but more on all this in a sec.
Here’s a quick nutritional profile of one pitted Medjool date (~24 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture:
- 66.5 calories
- 0.4 grams protein
- 0.04 grams fat
- 18 grams carbohydrate
- 1.6 grams fiber
- 16 grams sugar
Health Benefits of Dates
Provide Tons of Fiber
The biggest health benefit dates have going for them is their fiber content. In roughly four Medjool dates, you’ll score 6.7 grams of fiber, or a quarter of the 28-gram recommended daily allowance, according to the USDA. Remember, fiber is the part of plant foods that can’t be digested or absorbed, so it helps bulk up your stool and ensure everything passes through your gut smoothly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, fiber can help lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood glucose levels by slowing the absorption of sugar, and boost digestive health, says Gans. So if you’re looking to regulate your number twos, this fruit is definitely for you. (To add even more fiber to your diet without overhauling your plate, try putting these sneaky tactics into action.)
Promote Heart Health
Bananas may be the go-to source of potassium, but they’re not the only fruit that can help you fulfill your daily quota. Munch on four Medjool dates, and you’ll snag 696 mg of potassium, about 27 percent of the USDA’s recommended adequate intake of 2,600 mg per day. This mineral not only helps your kidneys and heart function properly, but it also plays a key role in regulating blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health.
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ICYDK, high sodium intake is linked with high blood pressure (when the force of the blood hitting your artery walls is greater than normal). If the pressure stays high over time, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. But luckily, when you consume potassium, your blood vessels widen and you excrete more sodium through your urine, both of which can help lower blood pressure, according to the NIH. (Related: The Most Common Causes High Blood Pressure, Explained)
Dates may not offer too much of the superstar bone-boosting nutrients — you know, calcium and vitamin D — but they do contain manganese and magnesium, which also keep your bones strong and healthy, says Gans. Both of these nutrients play a role in bone formation, according to the NIH, and studies have shown that upping magnesium intake can improve bone mineral density, which can minimize your risk of breaking a bone.
Still, four Medjool dates provides just 17 percent of the RDA for magnesium and 16 percent of the recommended adequate intake for manganese, so you’ll likely need to add other sources of those nutrients to your diet in order to fulfill those USDA recs. In order to get your fill of magnesium, nosh on pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, or almonds, too. To hit your quota for manganese, munch on hazelnuts or pecans. Or try whipping up a hearty bowl of oatmeal (which the NIH lists as one of the top sources of manganese) topped with a few of those fixings *and* dates to get enough of both nutrients in a totally delicious way.
Boost Your Immune System
Along with key vitamins and minerals, dates are a good source of antioxidants, compounds that can help combative oxidative stress caused by free radicals (harmful molecules that, in excess, can damage cells and increase oxidative stress). When these free radicals build up in cells, they can harm other molecules, which may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke, according to the National Cancer Institute. What’s more, antioxidants have been found to improve immune system functioning by fighting off those harmful free radicals, according to an article in the journal Immunopathologia Persa. (Related: How Exercise Can Boost Your Immune System)
“The question here is how many dates you would need to eat to get a significant amount of antioxidants,” says Gans. “So if you’re eating dates solely for those antioxidant benefits, I think there might be better food choices. But if you’re using dates in place of regular table sugar, then you might be getting a little bit of an added nutritional bonus in terms of antioxidants.” All that’s to say that, in addition to adding a few dates to your plate, consider regularly snacking on other antioxidant-rich foods, such as blackberries, walnuts, and strawberries, to strengthen your immune system — and maybe even fend off a nasty cold.
Work As a Healthier Sweetener
Okay, this isn’t technically a health benefit of dates, but it’s definitely a perk worth mentioning. A single Medjool date contains a whopping 16 grams of sugar, so the fruit’s ideal to use in place of standard table sugar, says Gans. (ICYDK, table sugar is a type of added sugar that, when consumed in excess, can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
While that number may still seem pretty big, Gans stresses that it’s nothing to be too concerned about. “When you’re eating fruit, you’re going to get sugar,” she explains. “But it’s naturally occurring, so along with that sugar comes the other health benefits that are in the actual fruit.” On the flip side, the standard white sugar you’d typically add to your brownies and energy bars is totally void of good-for-you nutrients, she adds. (P.S. here’s a breakdown of the difference between artificial sweeteners and real sugar.)
How to Get *All* the Health Benefits of Dates
With all the health benefits of dates, the fruit may seem like the next ~superfood~. But they do come with one major drawback: Their high calorie content. A single Medjool date contains 66.5 calories, while a comparable serving of green seedless grapes has just 15.6 calories, according to the USDA. “Yes, dates are good for you, but don’t want to nosh on them like you would some other fruit because that will likely be too high in calories,” says Gans.
So if you’re planning on adding dates to your snack-time routine, consider capping your intake to just three dates, or about 200 calories’ worth, at a time, says Gans. “However, normally I wouldn’t suggest just a carbohydrate like that as your snack,” she adds. “I would stick to two dates and then add 100 calories of pistachios or almonds, or you could have a string cheese.”
While simply munching on the fruit raw can help you reap the health benefits of dates, don’t be afraid to get creative with your consumption. Chop a few up and mix them into a quinoa or barley salad for a few tiny punches of sweetness or stuff them with peanut or almond butter for a dessert free of refined sugar. Better yet, drop a date or two in a blender with fruit and milk for a smoothie or add them to your batch of energy balls, suggests Gans. In any case, using dates in place of sugar will amp up your dish’s level of sweetness *and* nutrition.
Remember, you won’t reach all your nutritional goals simply by eating a few dates a day, but they do provide some essential vitamins and minerals (unlike refined sugars), she adds. And as the cliché goes, every little bit helps.