While dates are staple part of the diet for people in countries across the world, they become more popular and significant in the UAE during the holy month of Ramadan.
According to experts, the nutritious fruit is a part of the Iftar meals for many worshippers along with used in several traditional desserts prepared during the holy month.
Importance of date as Ramadan food
The UAE produces around 160 varieties of the date fruit alone. Along with its increased consumption, the fruit emulates the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Dr Nisar Ahmed Bathoolunnisa, manager of dietetics at the Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), explained that dates were one of Prophet Muhammad’s favourite and most desired food items.
"It is customary in many countries for Muslims to break their fast at the time of iftar by consuming dates as it is [considered to be a] blessed practice based on the [example] of Prophet Muhammad," Dr Nisar added.
It has become a highly preferred practice during the start of Iftar as Prophet Muhammad would reportedly also start his iftar with three dates and water.
There are many nutritional benefits of consuming dates.
Dr Bathoolunnisa explained that dates contain protein, vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, when consumed in moderation, these fruits provide essential nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, iron and manganese.
"They are also high in polyphenols, which are antioxidant compounds that protect the body from inflammation; dates contain more polyphenols that most other fruits and vegetables,” the professional added.
The fruit can be consumed as a healthy substitute for empty-calorie sweets. Therefore, dates works as an excellent natural sugar replacement in desserts.
Dr Bathoolunnisa underlined that dates can satisfy a person’s sweet tooth while providing essential nutrients, such as vitamin B-6 and iron. They are also good source of fibre, helping the stomach full for longer durations.
While there are a wide variety of dates availabe in the Middle East regin, it is recommended to consume the raw and dried forms as they are the healthiest. Instead of using dates preserved in sugar, dates stuffed with nuts and other fillings, chocolate-coated dates, date pastes, date balls and date-based desserts, experts advise to increase the consumption of dried dates.
The fruit can be eaten by people of all ages, varying from babies aged seven to eight months old to senior citizens.
Portions for diabetics
When consumed in moderation, dates are safe for diabetics as well. According to Bathoolunnisa, people with diabetes are required to be caregful in their overall sugar intake when consuming dates. However, eating dates in moderation is unlikely to spike the blood sugar for the individual.
As per a study published in the Nutrition Journal in 2011 by researchers at the UAE University, dates are reported to have low glycemic index, indicating that the fruit do not result in unnecessary increase in blood sugar in people with or without diabetes.
“People with diabetes can likely eat a serving of two to three natural dates at a time but it also recommended to seek the advice of a dietitian. On the other hand, a 100-gram serving, or a handful of dates per day, is the optimal intake for people who do not have diabetes,” the doctor advised.
Experts confirm three unsweetened dates contain about 70 calories, and are equivalent to one portion of fruit.
Furthermore, noting its myriad benefits, the fruit can be consumed by all people, and not just the fasting Muslim. Dates are also safe and healthy during pregnancy, and are highly recommended for the elderly as they prevent constipation, anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies.
“Muslims rub softened dates on the lips of a newborn, as demonstrated by Prophet Muhammad, and this has been shown to help prevent hypoglycaemia and pain," Dr Bathoolunnisa said.
Meanwhile, the dietitian has called on residents to limit their consumption of sweet foods during the holy month as they are less beneficial for their wellbeing.
"People should generally refrain from overeating, and avoid an increased intake of sweets, as that can lead to serious health problems,” she added.
SOURCE: Gulf News