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Food Focus: Dates

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Make this Middle Eastern staple your go-to sweet treat to aid your digestion, stabilise blood-sugar and ward off depression

It hogs the limelight when it comes to raw dessert recipes, but ,until recently, the humble date was an unsung hero.

Dates are naturally high in sugar, but this doesn’t mean they are bad for you. Dates are actually  a low-glycaemic food, which means they don’t significantly raise blood-sugar levels  when they’re eaten. This makes them great for diabetics and anyone who has a sugar craving but wants a healthier sweet treat.

Dates are loaded with fibre, which is important for the health of our digestive system as well as helping to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease and colon cancer. The main fibre in dates is the insoluble kind, which binds to fat and cholesterol and helps to carry it out of the body. This fibre is also beneficial if you suffer from constipation, which is why dates are categorised as a laxative. Simply soak the dates overnight before eating and this will help promote a healthy bowel movement and more comfortable passage of food through your digestive tract.

Research has shown that dates may lower triglycerides – a type of fat in our blood – by as much as 15 per cent. When you eat, your body converts any calories not burnt into triglycerides, which are then stored in your fat cells and released for energy when we need them – like in between meals. But, too many triglycerides in the blood can put you at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Dates are also packed with B vitamins, especially B6 which  helps us form red blood cells, as well as metabolise carbohydrate. Another key function of B6 is in the production of the messenger molecules, known as neurotransmitters, that we need in our nervous system and brain.

The neurotransmitters in question are GABA, dopamine and serotonin. People lacking in B6 may be more prone to mood disorders such as depression, so dates are a great addition to the diet.

One little-known fact about dates is that they contain organic sulphur, a trace element that is not very common in foods and yet has been shown to help reduce allergic reactions in seasonal allergies such as hayfever.

Dates also contain some important minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc, making them a great post-exercise snack to boost muscle repair and recovery.

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