Dates are great, aren’t they? And if all those delectable little bundles of goodness aren’t enough to get us as excited as Nicole Diaz, the Abu Dhabi @holistichealth chef who filmed an Instagram story ripe on fruit hanging from trees at the side of the road earlier this month, it’s also official celebration time. Today marks the start of the 14th Liwa Date Festival in Al Dhafra, which runs until July 28. The event celebrates everything to do with this life-giving fruit, so important to this region, and the tree on which it grows.
Studies have shown that dates are one of the healthiest foods around, with a low-to-medium glycemic index. They provide a host of benefits, even for those on a restricted diet. Due to their sugar content, however, it is recommended to eat no more than two or three a day. And here’s why you should do that today, and some quick ideas for how.
Victoria Pena-Acuna, dietitian at the Perfect Balance Rehabilitation Centre and a Livehealthy.ae expert:
“I love dates – I use them in smoothies, vegan ice cream, energy balls covered in dark chocolate or plain. They’re an amazing ingredient in dairy-free recipes, packed with natural sugars and dietary fiber. I also advise triathletes to use them as a snack, specially when they need a small volume of food that gives them a good amount of healthy carbohydrates to help balance their blood sugar levels. The super fruit is high in soluble fiber, which helps support healthy bowel movements. They also promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which can support more effective digestion overall. Dates are rich in vitamins A, K and B6, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.”
Zendy Marsam, food blogger and recipe developer @flavoursbyzendy:
“Dates are a fantastic alternative to sugar to sweeten your recipes – they are packed with nutrients and fiber. Use them whole if blending or soak the dates in water to make a date paste.”
Mira Naaman, chef and founder of Nectar cafe in Abu Dhabi, Livehealthy.ae expert:
“We love dates. It’s one of our best ingredients. Dates provide not only a natural sweetener but a slow-release energy boost and fiber. It is packed with minerals and vitamins and we are super lucky that the UAE has such a strong date culture. Our new favorite twist that I personally can’t live without is our dates stuffed with house-made almond butter, a pinch of Himalayan sea salt and cinnamon. It’s a great fuel booster and delicious treat. Dates are also in all our raw bites in different ways, which lends to dates possibilities. It can be made into a chocolate bite or a tahini bite. It can be blended into a date caramel to fill a raw bar.”
Kelly Stoeckle, manager at Boroughs, the new speciality coffee shop and cafe at Yas Marina:
“I just like to eat them whole. I prefer to eat the ones that aren’t dipped in syrup. I like them straight from the tree. I love them with oatmeal. After lunch, if you have a sandwich. It’s a better way of having dessert.”
Kamilla Omarzay, founder of The Snack Society:
“Dates are so diverse in the ways you can eat them. They can be eaten on their own and they sit at the top of my list of favorite snacks. But there is so much more you can do with them. I like to dip them in almond butter or melted chocolate for a pre-workout snack, or I remove the pit and replace it with almonds. I use dates as a binding agent for most of my recipes. When broken down in a food processor, they bind the nuts and serve as a great base for cakes and muffins. They are also a great source of natural sweetener.”
Laura Holland, nutritionist and author of Your BeUtiful Body:
“With dates, I love to keep it simple because I love them so much. My absolute favorite is to split them open and stuff them with peanut or almond butter. So good. If I’m feeling more adventurous, I top that with raw cacao nibs too. Heavenly.”
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.