Are dates good for you?

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As you’ll know I’m loving all these nakd healthy snack bars and working my way through all of the different varieties.   I enjoy these as good healthy “saddle bag snacks” as training for the Coast to Coast 2014 gets underway (that’s 150 hilly miles, in a day).  I have mentioned these – and the Trek bars – also made by those nice people in Natural Balance Foods.

So are dates good for you?  As dates are a common ingredient in a number of their bars, I thought I might look into them and learn a little more.

Dates are a valuable food for sporty types.  These fruits travel quite well in tact because they don’t fall to bits, go soft and mushy, gooey and make a mess everywhere.  They contain generous amounts of sugars to provide energy and 100g of dried dates will provide over 200kcal, so that makes them a fairly potent fuel source.  Used as an ingredient in snack bars they are ideal.

Dates are fairly fibrous: they are filling to eat and are a useful food in easing constipation.  With this in mind it is always good to make sure your fluid intake is right – not too much, not too little.

Dates also contain Potassium which help the body maintain optimum fluid levels.  It helps regulate blood pressure and many metabolic processes.  Potassium is found in a number of other fruits so providing you get a good variety in your daily diet, being deficient is unlikely.

Other nutrients include vitamin C, magnesium and tyramine.  We all know vitamin C is essential for good health and we need to consume this daily as it’s not readily stored by the body.  It helps our immunity amongst other things.  As for magnesium, this is used by the body for a variety of purposes in muscles, nerves and only required in smallish quantities.

I think dates are a good ingredient for snack foods.  They are sweet and most people like the taste.   Me?  I love them, always have!   It’s lovely to scoff a handful at home when I’m feeling peckish and I know it’s probably more healthy than having a rummage in the biscuit tin.  Dates can be chopped and used in cakes, cookies etc so quite a versatile fruit to cook with.  However when used by the likes of Natural Balance, they are raw and pressed together with other ingredients so less of the goodness is lost.  This is something I warm to very much – I am not keen on over-cooked foods where much of the nutritional benefits have been lost.

The only downside to dates, as far as I can tell, is that I’ve noticed they can be sticky and cling onto my teeth.  This does not help me look after my teeth very well!   Grrrrrr.

I know dates are used by some long distance runners as vital fuel and I remember being impressed by the performance of some vegan runners in a race I did a while back – yes I got thoroughly beaten by a couple of gifted, lean and well trained vegans. I remember they were eating some dates from the back pocket of their jerseys just before the race.  So as I move from competing as a veteran runner to become an endurance cyclist next year, I reckon these foods will become increasingly more important.

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