by Bree West
Though this tree looks similar to the coconut palm, dates grow on this one—named, you guessed it, the date palm tree. On trees which can grow up to about one-hundred feet, dates grow in clusters of up to about two-hundred. Interestingly, it takes about four to five years until the date palm begins to bear fruit, and it can then continue to produce fruit until about eighty years old. Each year a single date palm tree can yield up to two-hundred pounds of sweet, long, and golden brown dates.
The date palm tree in Muslim legend is called the "Tree of Life" because they believe the tree was made from the dust left over after the creation of Adam. It was likely the first cultivated tree in history, and was grown in the Holy Land for at least 8,000 years! The date palm was brought to China about 1,700 years ago, and then in the seventeenth century, Spaniards took the date seeds to California. Today, about three quarters of the world's date crop comes from the Middle East, but most of the United States supply comes from date orchards in California, Arizona, and Texas where the climate is hot and dry, perfect conditions for growing date palm trees.
Dates are not a low-calorie or low-sugar food, but they are full of nutrients and in fact, dates have calcium and potassium in an almost perfect 1:1 ratio. They are an excellent source of easily digestible carbohydrates and they have a sugar content that ranges from about sixty percent in soft dates up to about seventy percent in dry dates. Glucose or fructose is the sugar found most commonly in date varieties, but the popular Deglet Noor contains sucrose. Dates also are a great source of fiber; vitamin A; the B vitamins niacin, B6, riboflavin, thiamine, and pantothenic acid; and the minerals copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. In addition, they are a good source of folate and the trace minerals zinc and selenium. Ounce by ounce, dates have 260 percent more potassium than oranges and 64 percent more potassium than bananas, but they also have about sixty percent more calories than do either of these fruits.
Dates are a highly alkaline food, which means they’re a great food for helping to balance pH levels in the blood. An acidic blood and body leads to disease and illness of every kind, from acute conditions such as the common cold or flu, to chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes.
Dates also have a special kind of soluble fiber called beta-d-glucan. Beta-d-glucan fiber has been shown to decrease the body's absorption of cholesterol and to slow down or stop the absorption of glucose in the small intestine, which helps to keep blood sugar levels steady. Because dates can absorb and hold water, beta-d-glucan adds bulk and some softness to stools, which makes stool movement in the colon easier and elimination easier and more regular. Furthermore, this soluble fiber goes through the intestinal tract slower than insoluble fiber, and by so doing helps to slow down gastric emptying (gastric emptying is the rate that the stomach digests and empties the food after a meal). Beta-d-glucan helps to increase the feeling of satiety and can therefore help aid in weight loss.
Research has found that dates are actually surprisingly high in antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds. Date extract has been found to prevent free-radical damage to fats and proteins; the higher the concentration of the date extract, the greater the protection against free radicals. And it was found that dates have the ability to protect against free radical damage even when strong cancer-causing chemicals are present.
Medjool dates are also said to be a great food for athletes, especially female athletes. This is because dates are a natural source of sugar (carbohydrates) for sustained energy and they are low in fat. Dates are superior to gels and other sources of sugar because not only do dates contain these sugars, they also contain nutrients that help to nourish the body. Particularly, they are a good source of potassium, which is an essential electrolyte lost in sweat. So consuming dates during exercise helps to maintain potassium levels and keep the body balanced.There are three kinds of dates in the U.S. and they are the soft date, the semisoft date, and dried dates. The semisoft Deglet Noor date is the most common type of date in the U.S. followed by the semisoft Medjool date. Good quality soft and semisoft dates are smooth-skinned, glossy, and plump. If they are slightly wrinkled that is okay, but shriveled, cracked, dry, and broken dates are not. Dried dates should be significantly wrinkled but should not be rock hard. Avoid dates that have crystallized sugar on their surface or that smell, which indicates fermentation. For the longest shelf life, put dates in an airtight plastic bag or container to protect them from the odors of other foods, as dates quickly and easily absorb odors from other foods. If stored in the refrigerator, dates can keep for up to eight months, while they will keep for about one to two months left at room temperature.
Raw PB & J Swirl Cheesecake
Makes one 6 inch cheesecakeCrust:
- 1/2 cup raw peanuts or pecans, soaked and dried
- 1/2 cup sprouted buckwheat, dried in the dehydrator (or additional pecans)
- 1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- 10-12 soft medjool dates, pitted and chopped
- 2 cups young coconut meat (or if unavailable 2 cups soaked cashews, drained)
- 3/4 cup raw cashews (soaked at least 4 hours and drained)
- 3/4 cup raw peanuts (soaked at least 4 hours and drained)
- 1/2 cup coconut water (or filtered water)
- 1/2 cup raw coconut nectar or agave nectar or raw honey
- 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp raw coconut oil (warmed to liquid)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract and seeds from half a vanilla bean (other half reserved for topping)
- 1/2 cup fresh organic raspberries (or frozen and thawed, drained well)
- 1/4 cup fresh organic raspberries (or frozen and thawed, drained well)
- 1 Tbsp raw coconut nectar or raw agave nectar or raw honey
- 1/3 cup raw peanut butter
- 1 Tbsp raw coconut nectar or raw agave nectar