Monday, June 17, 2024

The Science of Eating Dates during Ramadan

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By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

Dates (Phoenix dactylifera) are the sweetest fruits native to Iraq. The date palm tree produces these fruits, which have long been a staple food in the Middle East. In the Month of Ramadan, dates become more popular.

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Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) recommended Muslims break the fast with fresh or dry dates.  When one examines the nutritional facts and the health benefits of this amazing fruit from the date palm, one will realize that it is indeed a must-have fruit after fasting for hours during Ramadan and post-Ramadan. It is also recommended in a hadith to eat dates on daily basis in the morning.

Anas bin Malik narrated: The Messenger of Allah would break the fast with fresh dates before performing Salat. If there were no fresh dates then (he would break the fast) with dried dates, and if there were no dried dates then he would take a few sips of water. (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 696, Book-8 Hadith-15).

In this article, I examine the scientific aspect of eating Dates as recommended by the Prophet Mohammed.

Nutritional Profile

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The US Department of Agriculture reports that date calorie content is higher than most fresh fruit. The calorie content of dates is similar to that of other dried fruits, such as raisins and figs.  The following is the nutritional profile of a 100-gram date:

  • Calories: 277
  • Carbs: 75 grams
  • Fiber: 7 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Potassium: 15% Daily Value(DV)
  • Magnesium: 13% DV
  • Copper: 40% DV
  • Manganese: 13% DV
  • Iron: 5% DV
  • Vitamin B6: 15% DV

 Date and Ramadan

Dates are used in Ramadan due to many reasons:  this is because after fasting one feels hungry, and a study confirms that the best time to eat date is when you’re hungry or want to eat.

Though many health gurus claim that there are best times for the body to digest food — and that eating outside of these times will result in poor digestion — there’s little scientific proof to support these claims.

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Boland M, (2016) explained that the human body is ready to digest food before it even touches your mouth. It releases specific digestive enzymes in the mouth and continues to release them throughout the entire course of digestion.

The body can recognize the type of enzymes needed basing on the food’s macronutrient ratio — its carb, protein, and fat composition — and can do this at any time of the day.

Four studies (Müller et al. 2018; Hervik and Svihus, 2019; Rock et al. 2009; Ormsbee et al. 2014) established that the best time to eat dates is the following:

  1. At breakfast. Dates can be an excellent way to add natural sweetness and fiber to your diet in the early morning. What’s more, their high fiber content can keep you full and satisfied throughout the morning.
  1. As an afternoon snack. Dates are a good source of fiber and are high in natural sugars. This pairing of fiber and sugar allows for a slower rise in blood sugar to help you feel energized without crashing soon afterward.
  2. When you’re hungry. They’re a concentrated form of calories and very filling due to their high fiber content. If you’re feeling hungry but aren’t ready for a full meal, pair dates with some peanut butter for a good source of fiber, carbs, and protein.
  3. Before a workout. Though dates are naturally high in sugar, they don’t spike blood sugar quickly. Rather, they provide a type of slow-releasing carb that allows for a steady stream of energy to fuel your workout. Try having 2–4 dates 30–60 minutes before a workout.
  4. As a nighttime snack. They’re an excellent bedtime snack due to their high fiber content. Fiber takes longer to digest, which can help you stay full and keep midnight hunger pangs at bay.

Dates, Science

Fiber

Fiber is good for our overall health. Fiber enhances frequent bowel movements by contributing to the formation of stool (Dreher ML, 2018).

In one study (Eid et al. 2015), 21 people who ate 7 dates per day for 21 days had improvements in stool frequency and a significant increase in bowel movements compared to when they did not eat dates.

The fiber in dates also reduces blood sugar control by slowing digestion (Mirghani HO,2021). Also, dates have a low glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating a certain food (Atkinson et al. 2021).

Fights diseases

As compared to similar types of fruit, such as figs and dried plums, dates appear to have the highest antioxidant content (Siddiqi et al. 2020).

Below are the three most potent antioxidants in dates:

  • Flavonoids:  Three studies (Xu et al. 2018; Mossine et al. 2020; Bakhtiari et al. 2017) studies found that dates contain flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain types of cancer.
  • Carotenoids:  Neelam et al. (2021)  study found that Carotenoids support heart health, and eye-related disorders, such as macular degeneration.
  • Phenolic acid:  Two studies (Roleira et al. 2015; AlFaris et al. 2021) found that date anti-inflammatory properties, and phenolic acids may help lower the risk of cancer.

 Brain Health

Dates could improve brain function. For instance, Saryono et al. 2020; Essa et al. 2016; Hüll et al. 1996) found improvement in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s in laboratory studies.

Also, Essa et al. (2016) animal studies found dates to decrease the activity of amyloid beta proteins, which can form plaques in the brain.  Another study by Subash et al. (2015) in animals found that mice fed food mixed with dates had significantly better memory and learning ability, as well as less anxiety-related behaviors, compared to those that did not eat them.

More human studies are needed to confirm the role of dates in brain health.

Heart Health

Shahdadi et al. (2015) found that dates can fight free radicals and prevent cardiovascular diseases. The anecdotal evidence suggests that the antioxidants in dates may prevent atherosclerosis. These antioxidants may also stimulate cholesterol removal from the artery cells.

An earlier study by Threapleton et al. (2013) also found that dates also contain isoflavones (the second highest of any fruit) known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dates contain fiber. As per one UK study, regular intake of fiber may lower the risk of coronary heart disease. Slavin J (2013) study held that Fiber also helps in weight management. Ideal body weight could further reduce the risk of heart disease.  Finally, dates potassium content reduces high blood pressure (Houston, 2011). One medjool date contains about 167 mg of potassium. This content is relatively high when compared to other fruits. Not taking adequate potassium may also lead to kidney stones, though more research is needed to understand this mechanism.

Enhances Labor

Dates have been studied for their potential to promote and ease late-term labor in pregnant people.  One study by Kordi et al. (2017) confirmed that consuming dates in the last few weeks of pregnancy may promote cervical dilation and lower the need for induced labor. And reduces labor time.

A previous meta-analysis by Al-Kuran et al. (2011) examines studies on pregnant people who consumed dates before their due date and revealed that pregnant women who ate dates were in labor for less time than those who did not eat them, but also notes that the link between eating dates and a faster delivery needs to be researched further.

Another by Razali et al.  (2017) of 154 pregnant women also found that those who ate dates were less likely to be induced compared to those who did not.

In a third study,  Kordi et al. (2017) also found similar results in 91 pregnant women who consumed 70–76 grams of dates daily at the 37th week of pregnancy. They were in active labor for an average of 4 fewer hours than those who did not eat dates.

Dates could act as a natural oxytocin, a hormone that causes labor contractions during childbirth (Kordi et al. 2017).

Furthermore, dates contain tannins, compounds that have been shown to help facilitate contractions. They are also a good source of natural sugar and calories, which are necessary to maintain energy levels during labor (Kordi et al. 2017). Hemorrhoids are a common complication during pregnancy. Dates are excellent sources of fiber. They may help prevent hemorrhoids during pregnancy.

Avert blindness

One study by Al Binali et al. (2014) found that the primary cause of night blindness is a deficiency of vitamin A. Dates are rich in this vitamin as well and can help combat this condition. Regions with higher dates consumption seem to have rare incidences of night blindness. Dates may also help reduce night blindness in geriatric cases.

Prevent Intoxication, Sexual Health

One study by Mahmoudi et al. (2008) states that dates are added to native beer in Nigeria to make the drink less intoxicating.

Also, Kotta et al. (2013) state that date palm pollen is used in traditional medicine for enhancing male fertility.  Its efficacy in this area has been linked to the amino acids in dates that may also boost sexual stamina.

Natural Sweetener

Dates are a source of fructose, which is a natural type of sugar found in fruit.

For this reason, dates are very sweet and also have a subtle caramel-like taste. They make a great healthy substitute for white sugar in recipes due to the nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that they provide. Brianna Elliott, (2022) explained that the best way to substitute dates for white sugar is to make date paste by mixing dates with water in a blender. A rule of thumb is to replace sugar with date paste at a 1:1 ratio.

For example, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar, you’ll replace it with 1 cup of date paste.

It is important to note that although dates are high in fiber and nutrients, they are still fairly high in calories and best consumed in moderation.

Natural Anti-diarrhea.

One study by Al-Alawi et al. (2017) found that dates are rich in potassium and may help improve diarrhea. Date fruit has antimicrobial properties that act against microbes that cause diarrhea

Take Home

In conclusion, dates have many health benefits and should be consumed post-Ramadan as well. I end with this: “Do not grieve! Your Lord has provided a stream at your feet. And ˹if you˺ 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. (Quran 19:24-26).

NB:

Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups.  My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT), African Naturopathic Foundation, Ashaiman, Ghana. E. mail: [email protected].  Currently, BL candidate at the Gambia Law School, Banjul, The Gambia.

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