Home Health A few dates a day can keep a lot away. 6 ways to use the fruit in healthy dishes – Desert Sun

A few dates a day can keep a lot away. 6 ways to use the fruit in healthy dishes – Desert Sun

12 min read

The Coachella Valley produces more than 90% of the nation’s dates. 
Anywhere you go in the desert, you can see evidence of this. Date palms dot the streets, mark the entrance of buildings, stand tall in backyards. They’re cultivated and eventually harvested in the east valley and Desert Hot Springs.
Places such as Shields Date Gardens, events like the National Date Festival — plus the recently announced first annual Date Harvest Fest — and even streets such as Date Palm Drive constantly remind us of the importance of this fruit to our valley. 
But what about the importance of this fruit to our health?
“Dates can definitely be a healthy part of the diet,” said Courtney Pogue, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. “They’re a really great natural sweetener to use, rather than adding (ingredients) like sugar or agave into anything that you’re trying to sweeten.”
Dates are high in Vitamin B6 and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese and iron, according to online health publication Healthline. Studies have shown that dates can be beneficial for boosting brain function. B vitamins “help with mental clarity (and) focus,” Pogue said.
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Dates also have high fiber content, Pogue added.
Fiber is good for digestive health because it helps prevent constipation. Additionally, fiber gives dates a low glycemic index because it slows digestion and can be helpful for regulating blood sugar levels, according to Healthline.
Dates also have high levels of antioxidants, which can help lower the risk of various diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. 
“All fruits and vegetables have different types of antioxidants, so we’re ideally looking for fruits and vegetables of a variety of colors,” Pogue said. “The fact that dates have that kind of brownish, purplish color, that’s a really great color that we’re not getting from other fruits and vegetables that are more popular in the diet.”
Despite all of these nutritional benefits, dates are higher in calories than fresh fruit. 
“Since they are a dried fruit, they are a little bit higher in sugar, so we do have to watch how many we eat,” said Pogue. “We can’t eat just a ton at once, ’cause too much sugar at one time can raise our blood sugars and not be best for those who may have diabetes.”
For this reason, Pogue suggests eating “no more than two or three a day.” She enjoys using dates as a substitute for sugar. 
“I really like to throw one in a smoothie to sweeten it up instead of adding extra sweeteners to it,” Pogue said. “Or chop it up and put it in oatmeal.”
The healthiest way to eat dates is basically up to you and “however you like ‘em,” Pogue added.
Our valley’s crown jewel of fruit is also graced with versatility. Here are some healthy ways to use dates.
Because dried dates are so sweet, they can be used as a healthier substitute for sugar, typically at about a one-to-one ratio. Dates by themselves, in the form of a paste or simply ground into date sugar, can replace white or brown sugar, as well as other sweeteners in recipes from baked goods to tea and coffee sweetener.
Some people stick to savory when it comes to salads, but some like it sweeter. Whether sprinkling berries on top or eating a bowl of cut-up, mixed fruit and calling it a salad, using dates to do so is a bit more authentic to the desert. Grab some greens to make one yourself or try local restaurant offerings. In Palm Springs, Farm serves a chicken salad with dates in addition to a brie sandwich with date jam. Chef Tanya’s Kitchen offers a Moroccan roasted cauliflower salad that includes dates. 
Recipe:Palm Springs chef reveals her recipe for Moroccan roasted cauliflower salad
A popular appetizer, snack or even light meal, these boards can, in fact, be made healthy! Dates can be a great dried fruit to pair with the meats, cheeses, nuts, olives and other ingredients on a platter made at home or ordered at the Parker Palm Springs’ Mini Bar.
Because dates are so sticky, they act as a perfect binding compound for healthy, “raw” recipes, which do not require baking. From brownies and bars to power ballsand crusts, dates can be substituted as an adhesive, allowing you to satisfy your sweet tooth without as much of the guilt. Raw Remedy Organic Juice Bar, based in Palm Springs but also present at valley farmers’ markets, uses dates in raw energy bars and the crusts of raw vegan cheesecakes.
In the desert, big juicy dates wrapped in salty bacon and stuffed with creamy melted cheese are not unheard of — and are not exactly known as superfoods. However, there are nutritious ways to dress up dates while still pairing sweet with savory. Healthy combinations include cheese and prosciutto — which can be found at Grand Central Palm Springs — as well as nut butter and dark chocolate.
Give this other local trademark a makeover. There are places in the valley that make healthier versions of the notorious treat, including Bowl of HeavenLuscious Lorraine’s and Wildest Greens. At each, date shakes contain all-natural ingredients like bananas, non-dairy milk or coconut water, instead of ice cream and other added sugars. You can also make your own using Bowl of Heaven’s recipe, originally created for the tennis players and coaches of the BNP Paribas Open.
For cheat day:5 date shakes you need to try across the Coachella Valley
Serves: 1
8 ounces vanilla almond milk (less if you want a thicker shake)
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1 cup frozen bananas
3 ounces chopped dates (about three to four dates, remove date pits)
Scoop of almond butter
1 ounce or a sprinkle of cinnamon
Directions: Using a blender, blend together on low for a couple seconds and then move to high. Once the loud sound of the dates blending gets lower, and the blend starts to look smooth, it’s done.


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