Article by Casey Thaler, NASM-CPT, FNS
Casey is one of the most highly-regarded voices in the paleo and keto communities. He is pursuing his Ph.D in nutritional biochemistry (hopefully from Harvard University), and has written over 200 articles on health, science, nutrition, and fitness. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist, he has also helped thousands of people lose weight, look younger, and live their healthiest lives. He is the author of the best-selling title, The Essential Instant Pot Keto Cookbook.
Can I Eat Dates On a Keto Diet?
When you first switch to a keto approach, you will likely have many questions about which foods you can, and cannot eat. Since a ketogenic approach is often as low as 50 grams of net carbohydrates per day – high carb foods are generally not a regular keto staple. However, there are some exceptions. Fruit, for example – is not a regular carbohydrate.
While consuming too much sugar, and too many carbs – is certainly not ideal for a keto diet – fruit can be a perfectly good choice, in moderation. Which brings us to dates. Not just a ‘normal’ food - dates are sweet, golden – and packed with numerous, science-backed, nutritional benefits.
Since one of the defining characteristics of the keto diet is its highly concentrated fat content – most of fattier foods are more readily associated with optimal ketogenic choices. But since the ketogenic diet was originally designed to reduce and control seizures, there is still room for some sugar. WebMD reminds us that “by reducing the number of carbohydrates a person eats, the body is forced to burn fat for energy, a process called "ketosis". This ketosis is the same process that kicks in when someone is fasting - on purpose, or because of starvation. Fasting has been a traditional seizure treatment for centuries.”
While a sugar-rich, carb-heavy diet would certainly kick someone out of ketosis – some nutrient-dense, moderate amounts of sugar – will not. Dates are pretty much the best choice in this category. The benefits of dates are numerous - ranging from fiber content, to inflammation reduction, to aiding with anemia, in addition to boosting energy, reducing stroke risk, improving bone health, and more.
In fact, as you can see in our 50+ scientific references at the end of this article – dates have substantial scientific benefits. A diet with regular date consumption can help lower the risk of diseases, by three main preventive pathways – anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-tumor. Originating with a Greek word, dates are one of the oldest cultivated human plants of any kind – dating back more than 5000 years. Most don’t know that there are over 200 different types of dates, grown throughout the world.
As with all foods, organically sourced dates are far superior in nutrition – always opt for organic varieties. If you are looking to buy dates directly – the US is not the biggest grower, surprisingly. In fact, the United States only produces around 10% of dates, worldwide. In addition to our aforementioned three aspects of disease-prevention, dates are also anti-diabetic, a sex hormone modulator, hepato-protective, anti-microbial, and nephron-protective.
In a word – dates are ‘fantastically’ good for your health. As keto dieters can tell you – controlling your blood sugar is crucial for preventing weight gain, and maintaining a healthy metabolism. With 3% of the world population suffering from diabetes, controlling blood sugar is a critical health improvement, that can literally save lives, and also help prevent obesity-related illnesses.
The date palm tree is the origin of date production, and you can find these trees in many tropical regions – after which the dates are dried. Since dates are a dried fruit, they are a more streamlined form of nutrition. Besides exhibiting all the beneficial features mentioned above, dates also contain: vitamin B6, fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, and more.
Figs and raisins (other dried fruits) have similar nutritional profile, but dates excel in their fiber content, specifically. Scientific studies have found that dates directly improve with fiber-related issues, such as constipation and blood sugar control. It is important to also note that dates are a low glycemic index (GI) food – which means your blood sugar does not spike, like when consuming candy or other unhealthy foods.
The low GI content of dates is critically important, not just for the keto diet – but for any healthy diet. As confirmed by scientific research, blood sugar spikes are one of the biggest contributors to weight gain. Essentially, we eat something unhealthy and sugary – which makes us feel great for 30 minutes – then we feel terrible (as blood sugar drops) – and we crave something equally unhealthy. And the cycle goes on.
This simple paradigm of high GI foods, is a huge contributor to obesity, as well as a host of other metabolically-related diseases. Dried plums, figs, raisins, and other fruits also have this benefit (but in my opinion, they don’t taste nearly as good as dates!) In fact, dates also beat out these other fruits in antioxidant content – containing more phenolic acid, flavonoids, and carotenoids (amongst others). These antioxidants are beneficial for eye health, Alzheimer’s prevention, diabetes prevention, and even helping to potentially lower the risk of cancer.
Most interestingly to me, dates seem to have benefits for brain health. Since dates have been scientifically shown to lower inflammation (such as interleukin 6), there seems to be fairly good evidence that dates help protect against inflammation and neurodegenerative related diseases. This includes conditions like Alzheimer’s. Amyloid beta proteins are one of the leading causes of this scary condition, and scientific research has shown that dates help lower the activity of these proteins.
While it is understandable that keto dieters might be wary or hesitant to regularly include dates in their low-carb approach – the truth is, they offer one of the best nutrient profiles for any food that contains natural sugars. The key – as with most things related to health – is moderation. Sugar and carbohydrates on a keto diet are definitely fewer – quantity-wise – than the traditional, high-carb Western diet.
But that doesn’t mean you should completely eliminate both. A small amount of glucose helps the brain function optimally and consuming around 50 grams of carbs still helps provide some important nutritional and physiologic benefits for the body and brain. The best advice I could give you, is that you should prioritize food quality – no matter which dietary approach you are following. Organic, nutritionally-dense – all of your food choices should follow this simple-to-remember paradigm. Dates are – in many ways – one of the most well-rounded nutritional fruits. And they are perfect to eat (in moderation), on a keto diet.
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