The Top Health Benefits of Dates, Explained

The wrinkly fruit brings a punch of sweetness — and nutrition — to any snack. Here's how to score all their health benefits.

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.

Here, the date nutrition facts you need to know, plus expert-approved ways to add them to your plate.

What Are Dates?

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 registered dietitian nutritionist. 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.

bowl of date fruits

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. Plus, each one boasts nearly 2 grams of fiber per serving, meaning they 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.

Here's a quick nutritional profile of one pitted Medjool date (~24 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 66.5 calories
  • <1 gram protein
  • 0 grams fat
  • 18 grams carbohydrate
  • 1.6 grams fiber
  • 16 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Dates

Dates offer up major sweetness in terms of taste and nutrition benefits. Here are a few healthy highlights of the chewy fruit:

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 USDA recommended daily allowance of 28 grams. 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.

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 milligrams of potassium, about 27 percent of the USDA’s recommended adequate intake of 2,600 milligrams 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 (NIH).

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.

Strengthen Bones

Dates may not offer too much of the superstar bone-boosting nutrients — calcium and vitamin D — but they contain manganese and magnesium, which also keep your bones strong and healthy, says Gans. According to the NIH, both of these nutrients play a role in bone formation, 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 provide 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 fixing 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.

“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,” she explains. In other words, as well as 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 is ideal to use in place of standard table sugar, says Gans. (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, it’s nothing to be too concerned about, stresses Gans. “When you’re eating fruit, you’re going to get sugar — but it’s naturally occurring, so along with that sugar comes the other health benefits that are in the actual fruit,” she explains. 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, adds Gans.

Potential Risks of Dates

With all the health benefits of dates, the fruit may seem like the next big 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 snacktime 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," she explains.

How to Buy and Eat Dates

As previously mentioned, dates are usually stocked in the bulk food aisle, or with other dried fruits and nuts. While simply munching on the fruit by themselves can help you reap the health benefits of dates, don’t be afraid to get creative with your consumption. Here are a few suggestions for how to use dates:

To sweeten your savory dishes. Chop a few up and mix them into a quinoa or barley salad for a few tiny punches of sweetness — or try this recipe for bacon-wrapped dates with goat cheese from Pinch of Yum.

As the star of a healthy dessert. Stuff a couple of dates with peanut or almond butter for a dessert free of refined sugar. Better yet, try whipping up these homemade candy bars that taste just like Snickers.

In lieu of refined sweeteners. Drop a date or two in a blender with fruit and milk for a smoothie or add them to your batch of energy bars or protein balls, suggests Gans.

As a fool-proof caramel. To make caramel that doesn't involve hovering over the stove or worrying about burnt sugar, try date caramel. You only need a blender, some dates, and water to create this delicious, better-for-you option.

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), adds Gans. And as the cliché goes, every little bit helps.

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