I know I’m not alone in admitting I have a sweet tooth. I wish I didn’t crave sugar as much as I do, but after a meal or when I’m wanting a snack, I often want a treat — even if it’s just a bite.
While I know it’s not the best nutritional choice, I’ve also experienced the difficulty of eliminating something from my diet cold turkey. Taking one food away without replacing it with another has often led me to slide or even totally veer away from my nutrition plan.
I have memories of my mother throwing away leftover birthday cake because she didn’t want it around the house. For treats, she’d bring home coconut-covered dates — as a child, I didn’t understand why. Now, I find that brilliant.
Removing processed sugar from your diet can be challenging, but it is doable. Replacing sugar with dates in healthier — and still yummy — dessert recipes is a great place to start.
What Are Dates, Anyway?
Dates are fruits that grow on date palm trees. Chewy and sweet, they can be eaten as a snack or treat on their own, or used as a natural sugar substitute or sweetener in recipes.
They can be consumed fresh or dried, though dried varieties are often most common because of the increased shelf life. Medjool dates tend to be softer, sweeter, and more widely available than other varieties.
Not only do dates taste good, but they’re also loaded with nutritional benefits, and they can help curb sugar cravings. Read on for more about their advantages, as well as some delicious ways to enjoy them.
Benefits of Eating Dates
Consuming dates can support your health in a variety of ways thanks to their nutritional benefits:
- They’re rich in insoluble fiber, which supports bowel health.
- They’re a source of calcium. While calcium is touted for its bone-health benefits, it’s also important for nerve-impulse transmission, blood clotting, and muscle contraction.
- The fruit additionally contains phytonutrients that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune-boosting properties.
- They’re a source of the potassium. Consuming this mineral helps muscles function properly, regulates heartbeat, and supports one’s blood pressure to stay in a healthy range.
- They offer a natural energy boost. When you crave a midafternoon pick-me-up, try reaching for a snack containing dates to get a lift from the naturally occurring sugar in them.
While there’s a lot to enjoy about dates, it’s important to note that they can be easy to overconsume since they are predominantly carbohydrates and high in sugar. Though they can be considered “better for you” than table sugar for baking, they can still cause blood-sugar spikes.
Limit consumption to one or two servings of dates per day (one serving is equivalent to two dates or 31 grams of carbohydrates and 27 grams of sugar). Some experts recommend eating a source of natural fat, such as unsweetened nut butter, along with the dates to moderate the blood-sugar response.
3 Recipes to Try
Makes 12 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Freezer time: 60 minutes
- 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted (about 8 total)
- 3/4 cup cashews
- 1/4 cup cacao powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Add the dates to a food processor and mix until blended. Add in the cashews and continue to blend until you see speckles of cashews; be careful not to blend too much or the mixture will become too oily.
- Add the cacao powder and vanilla extract and blend minimally to combine. This will form a “ball” in the food processor. The mixture will be sticky — that is OK.
- Using a tablespoon to measure, roll the mixture into 12 equal-sized balls. If the mixture feels too sticky, wet your hands before rolling into balls. This will prevent the mixture from sticking to your hands and you will be able to form the balls easier. Alternatively, you can line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, spread the mixture evenly across the pan, and lay an additional piece of parchment paper over the top to smooth out the surface.
- Freeze for one hour. If you used a pan, cut unto 12 equal-sized pieces. Refrigerate until ready to eat, or store in the freezer.
Cocoa Almond Truffles
Makes 12 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
- 1 cup Medjool dates, pitted
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 3 tbs. almond butter
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tbs. cocoa powder, plus 2 tbs. for coating
- Place all ingredients (minus the coating) in a powerful blender or food processor. Blend, scraping down the sides frequently until the mixture forms a coarse purée.
- Spread the cocoa powder for coating on a large plate. Scoop out level tablespoons of the mixture, then roll into 1-inch balls and place on the plate. Roll the balls in the coating until well covered.
- Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one month.
Nut Butter Cookies
Makes 3 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes (optional)
- 1/4 cup nut butter, such as almond or sunflower butter
- 3 Medjool dates, pitted
- 1 serving vanilla Life Time Collagen Peptides protein powder
- 2 tsp. unsweetened almond milk
- Add the nut butter and dates to a food processor and pulse until well blended.
- Mix in the collagen protein powder and one teaspoon of almond milk. Then, add the remaining milk. (You can skip the remaining milk if you prefer a thicker consistency.)
- Use a tablespoon to measure each “cookie” — you should have nine total. Roll into balls and crosshatch with a fork.
- If you prefer a traditional cookie-like texture, bake for five minutes at 350 degrees F. Or, for a chewy consistency, eat uncooked. Store extra cookies in the refrigerator for up to one week.