Dates and diabetes, have you wondered whether they are safe to eat?
Fruit can be a tricky subject when it comes to diabetes. How do you figure out which ones will raise your blood sugar and promote better health and which ones won't?
Some fruits are bursting with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants that build you up and give you energy. But some kinds of fruit just won't benefit your body, especially in terms of healthy blood sugar and A1c levels …and super-sweet fruits like dates are not on the good list.
Curious as to why this is? Then keep on reading…
What are Dates?
Dates are a type of fruit that are most commonly eaten dried. Native to tropical climates, these fruits grow on large palm trees. They are dark brown in color and about 2 inches long depending on variety.
They can be eaten by themselves but are often mixed into trail mix or energy bars, and they are also popular choice for sweetening desserts.
Depending on what sources you read, you may hear that dates can boost energy, relieve constipation, or even improve memory, but today we seek to find out if dates are a good choice for someone looking to improve their blood sugar levels.
Let's see how dates affect diabetes…
Nutrition Facts for Dates
Like most fruits, dates are high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. Most of the carbohydrates are in the form of straight sugar, which doesn't bode well for your blood sugar stability!
However, it's not all negative. Dates do boast numerous vitamins and minerals such as:
- 20% daily value (DV) of potassium per 100 grams
- 18% DV of copper per 100 grams
- 14% DV of magnesium per 100 grams
They also contain a fair amount of calcium and iron, but despite all these impressive nutrients the more important factor is that dates are very high in carbohydrates.
When compared to other dried fruits, dates are pretty similar nutritionally.
Notice the high amount of sugar found in dates and other dried fruits?
All types of sugar, whether it’s naturally occurring or not, will impact your blood sugar levels. This means 20 grams of sugar coming from dried fruit is ultimately going to raise your blood sugar just the same as if it were 20 grams of sugar coming from a candy bar.
Furthermore, the type of sugar found in dates is called fructose. Fructose is metabolized by your liver, and being that diabetes is already very taxing on your liver it’s best to not add any unnecessary stress to your liver.
Research on Dates and Diabetes
When it comes to research between date consumption and type 2 diabetes there are very few studies published. But it’s well concluded that eating a lot of sugar is going to drastically raise blood sugar and A1c levels and this applies to dates as well.
With that being said, a few studies have been conducted on date extract, specifically.
For example, a 2011 study found that date fruit extract can help mitigate diabetic neuropathy in rats. Likewise, another animal study noted that the extract improved A1c levels when given in conjunction with insulin.
When it comes to studies on extracts these types of results are typical. Of course, when you extract the nutrients from dates, those nutrients are going to have beneficial outcomes to our health.
But, if you are consuming whole dates that are high in sugar then the sugar absolutely negates any benefits of the vitamins and minerals.
Being that we don’t eat extracts of foods in our day-to-day lives these types of studies are irrelevant to human health.
Your best bet is to consume ample amounts of non-starchy vegetables, meat, dairy, nuts, and healthy fats. These foods are very nutrient rich, but do not contain the high amounts carbohydrates and sugar as found in dates.
The bottom line is if you’re looking to gain better control over your diet, you need to reduce your carb intake, and eating dates is not going to help you achieve this goal.
When compared to other diets, a low carb diet continuously proves to be one of the most effective ways to improve blood sugar and A1c levels.
For example, a 2010 study of 259 overweight patients with diabetes compared a traditional Mediterranean diet to a low carb Mediterranean diet and to a traditional ADA (high carb, low fat) diet. After 12 months of diet intervention, those following the low carb diet saw the largest improvement in A1c levels (2% reduction).
Those following the low carb diet also achieved the most weight loss (10.1kg) and were the only group to see an improvement in HDL cholesterol levels.
Likewise, a large meta-analysis from 2013 analyzed over 20 studies in an attempt to compare all types of diet interventions (low carb, low glycemic index, Mediterranean, high protein, vegetarian, vegan, and traditional ADA diet) and their effectiveness in improving blood sugar levels.
After all studies were analyzed it was determined low carbohydrate, alongside the Mediterranean diet, results in the most consistent improvements in weight status, fasting blood glucose, HbA1c and cholesterol markers.
Finally, a small crossover study compared the cardiac function and glycemic function of patients with diabetes following either a low carb or a low fat diet. The low carb diet significantly improved insulin resistance, triglycerides levels, blood pressure and diastolic cardiac function.
Once the people following the low fat diet were transitioned to a low carb diet, they also saw marked improvements in cardiac and glycemic markers.
Conclusion: Ditch the dates for lower sugar/carb options
Dates, just like all other dried fruits, are high in both carbs and sugar and therefore aren't a great snack choice for someone with diabetes.
In general you should avoid all dried fruits, and when you do choose to consume fresh fruit try sticking with strawberries, blueberries and blackberries as these are much lower in sugar.
If you’re someone who is used to snacking on dates, rest assured there are many other great snack choices that can be kept in a purse or desk drawer for emergencies. Some ideas include:
- Beef jerky
- Individual olive packs
- Homemade protein balls