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Dates: A Healthy Sunnah Superfood

Nutrition | Ramadan | Resources

As Muslims, we know that dates are a popular sunnah food as both hadith and the Quran make reference to the date fruit. Dates are often a symbol associated with Muslims and Islam, and in particular Ramadan as the Prophet ﷺ would break his fast with dates explaining  “When one of you breaks his fast, let him break it with dates for they are blessed” – Sunan al-Tirmidhī 695

In the Quran, dates are referred to in the context of abundance, as in Surah al-Mu’minun: 

فَأَنشَأْنَا لَكُم بِهِ جَنَّاتٍ مِّن نَّخِيلٍ وَأَعْنَابٍ لَّكُمْ فِيهَا فَوَاكِهُ كَثِيرَةٌ وَمِنْهَا تَأْكُلُونَ

“With it We produce for you gardens of date-palms and grapevines, in which there are abundant fruits, and from which you may eat” (23:11)

Whether you know them as tamr in Arabic, khajoor in Urdu, hurmah in Turkish or simply dates in English, dates are not famous without reason as there are many great health and nutrition benefits that make them worthy of this sunnah superfood status. 

Nutrition and Health Benefits

  1. Fibre

Dates are a good source of fibre, and this can be beneficial for blood sugar control (more on that later) as well as for digestive health. A study showed that individuals who consumed more dates in their diet experienced improved bowel movements and digestive health compared to before when they did not consume any dates (1). During Ramadan, digestive health may be an issue for a lot of people, so be sure to check out my blog post on addressing some of these concerns.  

 

2. Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds in food that have many different health benefits. Dates contain a high amount of antioxidants that are known to reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and inflammation (2).

3. Natural Sweetener

Dates are a natural sweetener and can be used as an alternative to sweeten foods instead of sugar. Adding whole dates to smoothies, baked goods or other recipes will ensure you’re getting not only the sweetness, but also the nutrition benefits that come along with dates as well.

4. Lots of Nutrients

Dates are very nutritious and contain lots of micronutrients including potassium, magnesium, copper and vitamin B6. All of these nutrients are important for overall health and wellbeing, such as healthy bones, blood vessels, nerves and immune function.

5. May Promote Natural Labour

In the Quran, in Surah Maryam, when Maryam is giving birth she is told to consume dates:

وَهُزِّيْٓ اِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ تُسٰقِطْ عَلَيْكِ رُطَبًا جَنِيًّا

فَكُلِيْ وَاشْرَبِيْ وَقَرِّيْ عَيْنًا

“And shake the trunk of this palm tree towards you, it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink, and put your heart at ease.” 19:25-26

Research has now shown that dates can potentially promote ease in late-term labor and reduced labour time in pregnant women. In a study, the women who consumed dates 4 weeks prior to their due date were more likely to go into labour naturally, and have a significantly less labour time compared to the women who did not eat dates (3)

 

What About Blood Sugar?

While dates are naturally sweet and have a high sugar content, some, especially those living with diabetes, may be concerned with the effect on blood sugar. However, the reality is in moderation dates are a perfectly healthy dietary choice and can be enjoyed even if you have diabetes. 

Glycemic Index of Dates 

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a way of measuring how carbohydrates affect your blood sugar. Foods that are ranked “high” on the GI are known to raise your blood sugar quickly, and those that rank lower cause less changes in blood sugar. As mentioned before, dates are a good source of fibre which helps in blood sugar control, as fibre allows carbohydrates to be absorbed slower in the body. Because of this, dates actually have a low GI and when consumed in moderation, are perfectly healthy and safe, and a good choice even for those living with diabetes (4). 

Consuming 1-2 dates alongside some protein like some nuts will also help slow down the absorption of sugar and will not cause a blood sugar spike. Check out my date energy bite recipes such as Peanut Butter Chocolate Date Balls, and Coconut Date Balls that have the perfect balance of carbohydrates, protein and fibre. 

 

Pairing 1-2 dates with other fruits/vegetables like cucumber or watermelon will also help increase your fibre intake and is also a sunnah, as Abdullah ibn Ja’far reported: 

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ جَعْفَرٍ قَالَ رَأَيْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَأْكُلُ الْقِثَّاءَ بِالرُّطَبِ

I saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, eating fresh dates with cucumbers.(Sahih Muslim 2043)

Different Variety of Dates

Dates come in many different varieties, some of the most popular include mejdool, ajwa and sukkari. While the nutrition and health benefits remain the same between the different types of dates, the natural sugar content will increase with the different sizes of the dates, as the bigger the date the more sugar it will contain. Being mindful of the size of the date you’re consuming will help with choosing the right portion size.

 

With Ramadan fast approaching, The Healthy Ramadan Guide will help you have the best Ramadan yet! With a 4 week meal plan, weekly grocery lists, healthy recipes for suhoor, iftar and post-iftar snacks, and a full 4-week fitness program and daily mobility routine to reduce aches and pain. Through simple healthy eating and exercise you will be able to enjoy delicious food and stay active without losing focus on the priorities of this blessed month. Order your copy of The Healthy Ramadan Guide today!

 

References

  1. Eid, N., Osmanova, H., Natchez, C., Walton, G., Costabile, A., Gibson, G., … & Spencer, J. P. (2015). Impact of palm date consumption on microbiota growth and large intestinal health: a randomised, controlled, cross-over, human intervention study. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(8), 1226-1236.
  2. Vinson, J. A., Zubik, L., Bose, P., Samman, N., & Proch, J. (2005). Dried fruits: excellent in vitro and in vivo antioxidants. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 24(1), 44-50. 
  3. Al-Kuran, O., Al-Mehaisen, L., Bawadi, H., Beitawi, S., & Amarin, Z. (2011). The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery. Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, 31(1), 29-31.
  4. Alkaabi, J. M., Al-Dabbagh, B., Ahmad, S., Saadi, H. F., Gariballa, S., & Al Ghazali, M. (2011). Glycemic indices of five varieties of dates in healthy and diabetic subjects. Nutrition journal, 10(1), 1-9.

 

 

 

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