Dense, chewy and exceptionally sweet, dates have a fitting nickname: nature’s candy. Up to 70 percent of a date’s weight comes from sugar, whereas most fresh fruit gets at least 80 percent of its weight from water. Despite the dozens of cultivated varieties, only a few kinds of dates are widely available in the United States. One of these is the medjool, a firm-textured, semi-soft date easily identified by its large size.
The standard amount for an individual serving of most kinds of fresh fruit, including melon, grapes, apples, oranges and bananas, is either 1 cup or a single average-sized fruit. Dates are an atypical fresh fruit, however, because their nutritional profile more closely resembles that of dried fruit. The established size for an individual serving of dried fruit is 1/4 cup. It takes about two average-sized medjool dates, or roughly 2 ounces worth, to approximate a 1/4-cup serving. Like other date varieties, medjools can vary in size -- it may take three or four smaller ones to make a 1/4-cup serving.
A serving of two average-sized pitted medjool dates provides about 130 calories, just under 1 gram of protein, very little fat and 36 grams of carbohydrates, most of which is in the form of the simple sugars glucose and fructose. This serving delivers just over 3 grams of fiber, or 13 percent of the recommended daily value, as well as 10 percent and 9 percent of the daily values for potassium and copper, respectively. Medjool dates also contain trace amounts of iron, zinc, calcium and B vitamins. They’re not a source of vitamin C, however, unlike the vast majority of fresh fruit.
Much of a date’s value lies in its fiber content. The fruit is an especially good source of soluble fiber, the type that dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. According to the “Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” dates contain beta-D-glucan, a special kind of soluble fiber that’s particularly efficient at reducing high cholesterol levels. This type of fiber also helps control blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which your small intestine absorbs glucose. As a good source of potassium, medjool dates help keep fluids and minerals balanced throughout your body, which ultimately allows your nerves, muscles and organs to work properly. Their significant copper content helps your body form red blood cells and use iron.
Medjool dates are an excellent source of readily available energy because nearly all of their calories come from simple sugars. These sugars are naturally occurring, however, and therefore don’t count toward your intake of added sugars, the kind the American Heart Association advises women to keep under 100 calories a day. Despite their high sugar content, dates have a low glycemic index, or GI, meaning they have a minimal impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. According to Harvard Health Publications, dried dates -- which are higher in sugar than the fresh variety -- have a low GI value of 42. Bananas, raisins and watermelon all have significantly higher GIs by comparison.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Dates, medjool
- American Heart Association: Sugars and Carbohydrates
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load For 100+ Foods
- Wellness Foods A to Z; Sheldon Margen, M.D., et al.
- Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; Michael Murray, N.D., et al.
- dates image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com