Dates – Superfood or Super Villain?

I was recently watching the French Open Men's Final when then commentator started discussing how Novak Djokovic was fuelling himself on dates rather than the bananas that you usually see. And I don't think you can argue on how well he performs!

This slightly piqued my interest because dates are one of those foods that I have always debated whether to eat or not.

When I was training for the marathon I ate a lot of dates and would take them on my runs to keep myself fuelled and I personally found them great for that purpose but are they all that good for you?

Where I have a problem with dates is the amount of sugar contained in them, 100g will give you an enormous 63g of sugar however the glycemic index of dates comes in at somewhere between 30 and 50, depending on the variety, it is actually a low GI food. Plus studies have shown that dates may be useful in glycemic and lipid control and so could actually be useful for a low GI diet and type-2 diabetes prevention which to me seems totally counter intuitive.

What other benefits are there to eating dates?

The obvious one is they taste great. They are perfect to add to smoothies and to use as a sweetener in your baking.

They are completely natural. The problem with some many sugars we come across is they are either heavily processed, artificial of are high GI. Dates are none of these things and so are a little bit wonderful.

There are also some fantastic nutritional benefits to dates, for example they are high in potassium and magnesium. If you are doing physical exercise then these are 2 essential nutrients for your muscles.

As dates are not broken down into sugar all in one go they will gradually be broken down leading to a slower release of energy than many other foods with the same amount of sugar.

How Should I Deal With Eating Dates?

In my view dates can be a good addition to any diet but they need to be used in the correct way and like any food not abused, which is very easy to do when you get addicted to their sweetness.

Dates are brilliant food for fuel and are sure to keep you powered for longer than anything artificial.

When I was training for the marathon I was advised to eat all sorts of things containing glucose which I avoided. On the day of the race I bought some date based bars, honestly these were not as good as real dates and I was disappointed I did not have the dates I used in training.

The unfortunate thing is that during the race people were handing out sweets, really kind of them but not really the best for your body. But that is not the biggest problem, that comes from the organisers who hand out energy drinks and gels during the race.

I could not bring myself to try the gels, they were far too artificial to even go near but at one point during the race I got so tired I went for an energy drink. This was a massive mistake as not only did it taste disgusting it just made me feel sick. I am thinking about starting a campaign to get dates handed out!

What Is Best For YOU?

I think it is important to remember that everyone is different and will respond in different ways to food.

I have rigidly followed a low Glycaemic Load diet in the past and I have eaten badly. I now have more balance and eat what works for me and dates are definitely one of these foods.

It is important to learn how your body works and if dates are good for your normal functioning then make them part of your diet, don't go overboard like some do and stick them in everything, too much of a good thing can be bad for you too!

Do I Think Dates Are a Superfood?

Not really?!! Dates are a food, they have some great nutritional benefits and are one of the best ways to add sweetness to your diet. But, if you are someone who has an addiction to sweet food and blood sugar issues then they could still cause a problem.

Not a Super Villain Either?

No they are definitely not. If eaten in moderation they are good for you and will not cause any long term health issues.

It is one of my bug bears that so much of what we eat needs to be classified as good or bad rather than just being food. We can eat whatever we want as long as we do it in moderation.

The best advice I can give to anyone who is concerned about their diet is to learn what works for your body and keep it natural. The more whole foods you eat the better you will feel and dates are one of these natural foods that can definitely be part of any diet.

Do you eat dates and what are your thoughts on them?

Image courtesy of khumthong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net​

About the author

Mercedes Aspland

Mercedes is a Yoga Sports Coach with experiences working with athletes from many disciplines and experience levels. She is keen to spread the word of how valuable yoga is to sport. With additional qualifications in nutrition she also shares a number of recipes and nutritional advice to keep you fuelled while training.

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