Whole Food Sweetener: Dessert Dates

Madjool DatesWe are eating too much sugar.  It’s causing numerous health problems, and in fact, it appears to be more related to the onset of heart disease and diabetes than we ever realized.  By using pureed dates in recipes, we can add sweetness with awesome whole-food nutrition, while decreasing the need for processed sugar.

Of course, dates add some sugar and calories (about 60 calories per Medjool date), but unlike cane sugar and many other sugar sources, dates comes packed with healthy nutrients.  Each date alone contains almost 2 grams of fiber, helping to slow down the absorption of the sugar into the blood stream, and therefore avoiding the insulin surges that promote body fat and prevent us from feeling full.

Dates are packed with vitamins like B6, A, K, niacin, riboflavin, folate, and pantothenic acid, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, iron, zinc, copper, phosphorus and calcium.  Dates are also rich in protein: they contain 5 times more protein than other fruit.  There are 23 different amino acids in dates, most of which are not available in other common fruits.

Dates are an excellent source of antioxidants, such as carotenoids and polyphenols.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), dates are higher in total polyphenols than any of the most commonly consumed fruits or vegetables.  The harsh desert environment where dates grow promotes the formation of polyphenols in order to provide protection from oxidative stress in the fruit.  When we eat dates, our bodies obtain this extra protection as well.  Cane sugar, even in its most raw form, doesn’t provide anywhere near this kind of quality nutrition.

Cherry Power BitesDates contain a seed that must be removed before using, but it’s easy to feel and to take out with your fingers.  Dried pitted dates can easily be used as a sweetener in your recipes by utilizing a food processor or a high-powered blender.  Pureed dates with nuts make a nutritious sweet treat that tastes like candy, but without any added sugar.  Try these delicious Cherry Power Balls (with or without cocoa) for a healthy and simple snack that can replace a granola bar.  Want a sweeter smoothie?  Simply add a pitted date or two instead of resorting to sugar or agave nectar.

Chicken with Tangy Smooth Date SauceStuff your dates with cheese, peanut butter or nuts, like pecans, walnuts, or almonds, for a filling snack or a decadent appetizer.  Make them into a sauce or chutney to add to meat dishes.  This Asian-inspired Ginger Date Sauce tastes amazing cooked with chicken or pork, or mixed into a stir-fry.  Use them as a natural sweetener for your morning smoothie, but don’t forget to take out the extremely hard pits.  These Double Chocolate Black Bean Muffins use dates as a sweetener and they are terrific.  Uncooked pies prepared with this Pie Crust, which is made with dates, unsweetened coconut, and walnuts, are better than pies made with any sweet crust I’ve ever tried.  Make these Frozen Chocolate Mousse Bananas for a delicious dessert that no one will guess is healthy.Chocolate Filled Frozen Bananas

Dates are the most nutritious sweetener we have, so let’s start using them to replace sugar.  Medjool dates are readily available and are usually found in the produce department.  Even Costco sells them alongside the other dried fruits.  You will need a food processor and/or a high powered blender to truly take advantage of their sweet goodness in your cooking, baking and healthy snacking.  Take March’s (2013) Healthy Challenge and replace sugar with nutritious, disease-fighting dates.  It’s a date to remember!