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Dried Dates: A Superfood Sweetener?

Pitted Dates

The term superfood is a non-medical term commonly used to refer to foods that are exceptionally rich in nutrients and/or antioxidants. While Medjool dates and other dates are an increasingly popular sweetener among health-conscious cooks, these sweet fruits of the date palm tree, or Phoenix dactylifera, have not landed on too many superfood lists in the past. However, as more research on the health benefits of eating dates keeps pouring in, it is now a good time to re-evaluate whether dried dates should be considered a superfood. Read on to learn more about what we know about the antioxidant properties and nutritional value of dried dates.

Dates Are Loaded with Antioxidants

Date fruits contain extremely high levels of phenolics, which scientists believe might be linked to the fact that the date palm is exposed to more extreme temperatures and climates than many other fruit-bearing plants [1, 2]. Phenolics are powerful antioxidants, and date extracts have been shown to have strong antioxidant activity, both in vitro and in vivo [2, 3, 4]. What's more, a study that compared the antioxidant capacity of over ten types of natural sweeteners found that only blackstrap and dark molasses had higher antioxidant capacity than date sugar in vitro [5], a finding that gives credence to the claim that date sugar is a healthy sweetener.

Antioxidants in general, and polyphenols in particular, are thought to have all sorts of health-promoting properties, including slowing down aging and reducing the risk of degenerative diseases like cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis [6].

Dates Make an Exceptionally Nutritious Sweetener

Regardless of whether you go for Medjool dates or regular Deglet Noor dates, you will be providing your body with tons of fiber as well as a slew of health-promoting minerals. Both dried Medjool dates and Deglet Noor dates are excellent sources of potassium, magnesium, selenium and copper, with a 100-gram serving of either type providing over 15% of the daily Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)/Adequate Intake (AI) of these vital nutrients. What's more, dried dates contain moderate amounts of calcium, manganese, iron, phosphorus, niacin (vitamin B3) and pyridoxine (vitamin B6). [7]

While the amounts of minerals and vitamins in dried dates do not reach the sky-high levels commonly seen in famous superfoods like kale or chia seeds, it is safe to say that by using dates as a sugar substitute you will be supplying your body with a good amount of vital nutrients, as opposed to empty calories. In terms of nutritional value, dates are also in a completely different league from sweeteners like agave syrup or honey which contain nowhere near as much nutritional goodness as whole dates [8].


  1. J. Vinson J. et al (2005). Dried fruits: excellent in vitro and in vivo antioxidants. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 24(1):44-50. PubMed
  2. Yasin et al (2015). Date (Phoenix dactylifera) Polyphenolics and Other Bioactive Compounds: A Traditional Islamic Remedy's Potential in Prevention of Cell Damage, Cancer Therapeutics and Beyond. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 16(12): 30075-30090. PubMed
  3. P. Vayalil (2002). Antioxidant and antimutagenic properties of aqueous extract of date fruit (Phoenix dactylifera L. Arecaceae). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(3):610-7. PubMed
  4. F. Biglari (2008). Antioxidant activity and phenolic content of various date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) fruits from Iran. Food Chemistry, 107(4):1636-1641. ScienceDirect
  5. K. Phillips (2009). Total Antioxidant Content of Alternatives to Refined Sugar. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(1):64-71. ScienceDirect
  6. K. Pandey and S. Rizvi (2009). Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2(5): 270-278. PubMed
  7. M. Al Fari and C. Lee (2008). Nutritional and functional properties of dates: a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 48(10):877-87. PubMed
  8. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 28, released September 2015, slightly revised May 2016). USDA Database

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