The listing on the price board is that of different varieties of dates!!! Are you amazed by the multitude of varieties? Believe it or not, that is not even an exhaustive list. Dates being the indigenous fruits of the Middle East, other cultivars like Amir Hajj, Barhi, Deglet Noor, Faisali, Halawy, Khadrawy, Madina, Medjool, Saidy, Zahidi and many others are also available. These fruits assume paramount importance in the Arabic culture – be it iftars, weddings or welcoming guests, dates are served. Products made from the fruits like dates syrup, Jallab (drink made of grape molasses, dates and rosewater), Rangina (dates in butter sauce), Ma’Amool (sweet cookies stuffed with dates), dates stuffed with nuts or stuffed dates dipped in honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds are very popular here.
The assortment of dates in the shops would definitely overwhelm and confuse anybody in deciding his pick. But there is a convenient custom that makes the task easier-samples can be tasted before buying. What stands out among the manifold types and is the cynosure of all eyes, is undoubtedly the bright yellow, fresh date. This is a rarity in many parts of the world.
Dates are renowned particularly for their rich iron content. The book, “Nutritive Value of Indian Foods”, shows the iron content of 100 g of fresh dates as 0.96 mg whereas that of their dried counterpart as 7.3 mg. What makes the dried variety richer in iron? Simple logic is all that is needed to answer it. On drying, the fruits lose moisture and therefore volume. Though the weight may be the same (100 g of fresh vs. 100 g of dried dates), the number of fruits in each case will vary. More number of dried fruits will be found in 100 g when compared to fresh ones in a similar weight – Greater the number of dried fruits, higher their iron value.
Diet recommendation of dates to beat anemia is common. But the practice of consuming it as milk shake (rich in calcium) may not yield satisfactory results. Studies have proved that calcium hinders the absorption of both haem and non-haem iron. So, the fruit should instead be eaten along with any vitamin C rich food for better assimilation of iron.
Dates milk shake is however not that bad an idea when taken for energy. The carbs in dates are present as dextrose and fructose and will serve as instant energisers. Moreover, the word “Milk shake” may just be the woo factor required to persuade a poor or finicky eater to consume it. But considering that dried dates are concentrated sources of sugar, we may have to omit the addition of sweeteners or be frugal with them.
Dates shake may be a good post-event drink to recharge an athlete’s body, whereas a mishmash of dried dates, other dried fruits and nuts (small quantity of each, please) may fit as a perfect pre-event snack for those engaged in weight-lifting exercises or strenuous activities. I deliberately did not mention the dates shake as a pre-event drink, for unless it is made isotonic or hypotonic it may cause stomach discomfort in some and may also dehydrate; one has to experiment with the amount of sugar, dates and pre-event time suitable for him before using it on a regular basis.
Dates are usually sought after by people who wish to gain weight and resisted by weight watchers. Such discrimination towards dates may not be necessary as long as they are consumed in moderation. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004) conducted by Keast et al. in the USA has revealed that consumption of dried fruits is associated with improved diet quality and reduced obesity. Further more, a few dates (3-4) are way better intermediary snacks than chips, biscuits or chocolates that some binge on, because the dietary fibers in dates promote satiety and help to stave off hunger.
Most often, iron and carbs in the dried dates steal the limelight sidelining all other nutrients. But the fruits in fact are treasure troves of other nutrients as well and possess multifarious health benefits. So pop a few dates from time to time.
Gopalan, C., Rama Shastri, B.V., Balasubramanian, S.C., 1989. Revised and updated by Narasinga Rao, B.S., Deosthale, Y.G., Pant, K.C. Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, 2004 Reprint. National Institute of Nutrition, ICMR, Hyderabad, p 53.