What’s the deal with dates?
Have you ever come across a ‘sugar-free’ recipe or a nice little health bar that is completely free of refined sugar? You try it and it’s delicious, really delicious. Wow, you can’t believe it doesn’t contain any sugar!….why it tastes so sweet! You could easily eat another one, oh and even another one. You turn the wrapper over to check the recipe or ingredients…yep, the betting is it contains dates in some form or other..
You might find yourself wondering if dates are good idea on low sugar diet when you’re trying to get control over cravings? (I know I did). Some argue yes, some argue no. It’s confusing to say the least. In this post you’ll get the full lowdown on dates as a natural sugar alternative vs. dried fruit sugar bomb.
As low fat goes out of fashion and ‘sugar-free’ becomes mainstream, the market will supply sugar-free recipes and products to help everyone reduce the amount of refined sugar in their diet. Of course this a good thing, I couldn’t be more supportive and am excited to see how this sea change pans out. Any natural sugar is certainly going to trump mass refined sugar and help the average Joe make healthy shifts towards an improved sugar consumption.
However, here’s the thing…
Dates are the most natural of the above, they’ve been around for centuries, keep well and are these days widely used in ‘health’ type bars. When I was scoffing Nakd bars myself a few years ago, they were quite hard to come by. Now they’re stocked everywhere in every flavour imaginable (a Christmas one has just come out!). Considering this, it’s important to remember that dates are actually seasonal – they weren’t around all year around in every corner shop for our ancient ancestors and even more recently were more to just a Christmas treat.
So what are the pros’ and cons?
- Completely natural – you know exactly where your sugar is coming from and in terms of processing, they’ve probably just been squashed a bit into bar like form!
- High in fibre (helps to slow down the fructose absorption & we need lots of fibre in our diets)
- Additional nutritional benefit – for example they’re a source of potassium
- High source of fructose by ratio to their weight (approximately 7.7g fructose per medium medjool date)
- Small and concentrated form of sugar
- Easy to eat more than one (thus consuming excessive fructose)
- May still drive sugar cravings
My personal experience with dates
In my sugar filled days, I used to be something of a date fiend. I really loved them because they gave me the sweet hit I craved but with that guilt-free ‘natural’ label. My uncontrolled sweet tooth was satisfied by these ‘healthy’ fructose sources but in excess, fructose is not healthy. I was not in control and dates played their part in this. Once I popped a date I more often than not couldn’t stop on my sugar need. I know I’m not alone as I’ve now worked with clients who pretty much don’t eat any refined sugar or even hidden sugar day to day, but are as hooked on the dried fruits and natural sugars as much as I was.
The last 2 years of going more seriously low sugar I was a lot more cautious with dates than any other food. I have indulged occasionally – once buying a small bag of dried date pieces for a recipe. I kept going back to the packet, just having a few more, then sitting down, then going back – it was hauntingly familiar. I’ve purposely avoided making any tempting looking recipes with dates since, as I’ve personally feared losing control, re-developing my former sweet tooth and eating all 10 bliss balls in one go rather than just 1 or 2.
That restraint definitely paid off as now I feel I can appreciate dates for just how naturally sweet they are. When I went to Abu Dhabi in January, the hotel gave out dates with traditional arab coffee. Not wanting to miss out on the cultural experience, I ate the date and found that just the one was enough. At the weekend, at the OM Yoga Show, I sampled some of the latest ‘health’ bars – all containing dates. By the time I reached the Nakd stand, I just couldn’t face anymore sickly sweet dried fruit, feeling a bit queasy at it all. A few years ago I would have been diving in (as many were!). Just shows how much you can adjust your tolerance for fructose over time, even in it’s natural form. At least now I do trust myself more because I’ve significantly reduced my tolerance.
Suggested low sugar date use
If you’re looking to reduce your cravings to get more control, replacing sugar with dates isn’t necessarily going to help – you can very easily just get addicted to a different form of fructose. With the sweet cravings still there, you’re going to find all sugar continually appealing and temptation may forever lurk. As I mentioned, I’ve worked with clients almost addicted to dates, figs and raisins as their only form of sugar so it can happen.
However, I do believe dates have their place and are certainly not to be demonised. They are a healthy (in moderation) source of natural sugar that can contribute to delicious recipes. The fibre slows down fructose absorption and blood sugar impact. If you’re about to grab the full on muffin in Tesco, ask yourself if you could be satisfied with something naturally sweetened with dates, thus making a much healthier substitution.
Also, if making a dessert or treat for sweet toothed guests, dates can be a very viable option. I’m looking at experimenting with medjool dates for upcoming dinner party purposes. I’m still a tad scared control wise, but I’m going to make sure there aren’t any leftovers in my cupboard that I will want to eat in one hit!
My recommendation is steer clear of dates until you feel really in a safe zone with sugar, then treat them like a wonderful naturally sweet indulgence occasionally when the opportunity strikes.
Hope that helps you get some perspective and a balanced view on dates from a sugar standpoint….
What are your thoughts on this highly topical sugar substitute?
Do you use them in recipes or do you try to avoid them?
Leave a comment and let me know!