The Glycemic Index (GI) and Dates
Is date syrup good for diabetics? What is the glycemic index of dates?
The answers to these types of questions aren’t as easy as a simple yes or no. Buckle up, although we can’t give you medical advice, we’ll do our best to wade through some of the facts on GI, diabetes, and dates.
Often, only the glycemic index (GI) is taken into consideration for how healthy a food is for someone with diabetes, but that only gives a part of the picture and impact on the body. The GI of a food indicates how much the blood sugar will rise from eating that food, while the glycemic load (GL) tells a longer story about how much and how fast the blood sugar will rise by considering the carbohydrate count as well as the portion size (1). A food may have a high glycemic index but a low glycemic load, which means it won’t actually impact the blood sugar levels dramatically when consumed in a moderate amount (1).
Dates, Fructose and Glucose
Blood sugar levels are impacted differently depending on which type of sugar is consumed. The two main types of sugars are glucose and fructose. These sugars are processed by the body in different ways, so they have different effects on the body’s sugar levels (2). The two are made up of the same molecules and share the same number of calories but are actually quite different (2).
Glucose gets absorbed in the intestines pretty directly and quickly, which causes the blood sugar to rise faster, while fructose must be converted in the liver to either a usable energy (glucose) or it gets converted into fat (2). This conversion process takes longer than glucose, so it has a lesser impact on the blood sugar level (2). Fructose has a lower impact on sugar levels than glucose and does not need insulin for the body to process, however, it can have more long-term negative health effects and does not satisfy hunger or craving as much, which is why it can be more beneficial to have a sweetener that contains both fructose and glucose (3) so the body is not working as hard to process all the fructose but it is also not getting the major hit to blood sugar with it all being directly absorbed as glucose (4).
This makes the GL a more beneficial factor to look at when considering sweetener types. Dates and date syrup may seem like they would raise blood sugar levels too much if you only consider the GI, but if you look at the bigger picture with these options, they have a lower GL and contain more benefits and nutrients than other sugars (3).
Diabetics must be aware of everything they consume and how it will impact their body and glucose levels to remain at a healthy level. Dates are high in fructose and fiber, which likely contributes to their low GI (3). Fructose has a lower impact on sugar levels than glucose and it does not need insulin for the body to process, making it make sense as a good sweetener type for diabetics (2). However, too much fructose can be hard on the body for long-term effects due to the way it must be processed by the liver and converted to either glucose or fat (2). Glucose has a higher GI and requires insulin for the body to process but is directly absorbed and does not need to be converted to anything else (2).
Dates are Packed with Nutrients
Not all sugars are equal. Some sugars and sugar alternatives are sweeteners alone and provide no nutritional value—giving only the appealing sweetness and the impact on glucose levels. Dates contain protein, minerals, and nutrients making them a great alternative to other sweeteners because they provide these things while also acting as a sweetener (4). Eating straight sugar would have the biggest impact on glucose levels with its GI being the highest at 100 (2) and it doesn’t have any vitamins or minerals to offer with that. On average dates have a GI of 42 (5). The dates in Date Lady date syrup contain over ten different vitamins and minerals plus antioxidants (5).
The Glycemic Index and Agave Syrup
Agave syrup has been recommended or suggested in the past as a healthier sweetener alternative, due to its low GI, however, it has such a high fructose content that it makes it less ideal for long-term effects (6). The fructose levels in agave have been found to be over 80% and around 10% glucose (6). Dates have more of an equal percentage of fructose to glucose (4), which gives them another advantage over other options.
If you’re eating the fruits themselves then you’re getting a less concentrated form of fructose, glucose, etc; so if agave syrup is condensed down to make it an effective sweetener that means the body is working harder to process it than it would be to have it in its more natural form. Our date syrup is made directly from dates with no additives and dates are more around 30-40% fructose and glucose vs the 80% fructose in agave (4, 6).
Sweets in Moderation
As with most things in life, everything in moderation. Most people aren’t out here eating straight sugar, so we wouldn’t suggest you drink a bottle of date syrup on its own either! We’re here to offer a delicious, nutrient-dense option to replace the sugar in your coffee, yogurt, or anywhere you use it in your daily routine. If you want to check out some ways we recommend using our syrups and sugars, we’ve got some great recipes: date-sweetened fennel slaw, this deliciously crunch granola recipe or these "can't stop" cashews.
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