When it comes to candy, I have just two words in my vocabulary: “chocolate” and “dates.” I’ve written many times before about dark chocolate, my go-to dessert of choice (beloved in part for the fact that it combines equally well with a starch or a protein meal). And I’ve blogged often about raw cacao, one of my favorite ingredients for making decadent power smoothies and delectable raw desserts. (Click here and here for recipes.)
But as much as I love cacao, I have to admit I’m a fool for fresh dates – often sold as Medjool dates. You know, the big, soft sticky kind that simply ooze sweet lusciousness from every moist fiber in their plump little bodies? Those ones.
So, imagine a place where these exact soft, chewy dates fall from the trees in such abundance that they litter the sidewalks, causing a nuisance for shopkeepers and passersby.
That place exists, and it is Treasure Island. I know this because I’m here for a weekend Reiki intensive that started last night. I’ve never been to this side of Florida before and I’m in love with the deep gulf coast beach. Think acres of clean, silky white sand. Tiny pink seashells the size of your fingerprint. Warm calm waters skimmed at sunrise by glider-winged pelicans, scanning for breakfast. Graceful dolphins swimming parallel to the shoreline, curved backs slicing through the sea like glossy dark serpents. And that was just this morning.
But I digress. I was talking about dates.
Besides being delicious dates are a rich source of nutrition. Dates are very high in minerals. A quarter cup of these succulent jewels supplies eight percent of your daily potassium needs and six percent of manganese requirements, along with zinc and copper, iron, selenium, calcium and magnesium.
Dates are also an excellent source of fiber. They are very low in moisture compared to most other fruits, but although dates seem like a dried fruit, they actually are not! I now know this firsthand, having found and tasted several freshly fallen, “dried” dates this morning on my stroll through town.
You could say that as a tropical fruit, dates are naturally dehydrated by the sun. Being native to hot and desert-like environments has influenced the evolution of dates and caused them to contain high levels of antioxidant polyphenols. In dates, olives and other plant foods, polyphenols protect fruits and seeds from turning bad before they ripen to maturity. Plant polyphenols also act as antioxidants in humans. Date polyphenols have been shown to inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, making them a good choice for heart and blood vessel health. [Hughes JS, Ganthavorn C. Role of Antioxidants in Asian Vegetables and California Dates. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 837:59-64]
Better yet, polyphenols aren't just good for your ticker. In fact, these free radical-quenching compounds help to fight inflammation and slow the aging process throughout the body. And according to the USDA and the California Date Commission, dates are higher in antioxidant polyphenols than any of the most commonly consumed fruits and veggies. Who knew?
Clearly, dates are one of the healthiest natural sweets in the world. So skip the Snickers and enjoy a few Medjool dates as a between meal pick-me-up! Or, eat some dates for dessert. They make an ideal finish to the new standby healthy comfort meal (made famous by Natalia Rose), avocado salad and baked sweet potatoes... or any well-combined starch-based or nut-based meal.
Personally, I love to eat dates with bananas and organic yogurt, or with nuts. Dates are especially tasty when paired with whole raw almonds or walnuts. You may also stuff them with raw almond butter or dip in sesame tahini. Either of these dreamy treats will digest best if eaten after a salad or along with some raw veggies like celery, carrots or romaine lettuce to help escort the dense fruit-nut combo through your body.
Of course, if you live around Treasure Island you can always just take a walk outside your door, do some wild food gathering and make a breakfast out of freshly dropped dates, plain and simple. Back home this time of year, it's leaves that are dropping from trees ablaze with the warm colors of fall foliage but here in Florida, it’s date season and the picking is fine.