RIYADH: Fasting in Ramadan can be exhausting accompanied by headaches, low blood sugar levels, lethargy, hypertension and fatigue. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to break his fast by eating one to three dates at sunset. It has been scientifically proven that the best way to break a fast is with dates as they are rich in carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, magnesium and potassium.
Dates raise blood sugar levels almost immediately. Their high carbohydrate content slows down the digestion process leaving you fuller for longer. It is advised to have soup or salad right after the dates to give your body some room to get started, and it is also best to wait for 20 minutes before having your meal.
Referring to the nutritional and medicinal values of dates, Dr. Hassan Mehdi, a physician at Arfan Clinic, said dates have the much-needed minerals and energy to help you stay fit and healthy. Date palm is now grown extensively for its edible fruits under warmer climates across all the continents.
There are many varieties of date palm cultivated. Amir Haj, Saidy, Khadrawy and Medjool are some of the important varieties popular for their rich taste, flavor and superior quality.
Wonderfully delicious, dates are one of the most popular fruits packed with an impressive list of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are required for normal growth, development and overall well-being. Fresh dates are composed of soft, easily digestible flesh and simple sugars like fructose and dextrose.
Additionally, the fiber works as a bulk laxative. It thus helps protect the colon mucous membrane from cancer-causing chemicals binding to it in the colon.
Dates also offer protection against age-related macular degeneration, especially in elderly populations. Dates are an excellent source of iron, and carry 0.90 mg/100 g of fruits (about 11 percent of RDI). Iron, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. They are an excellent source of potassium. 100 g contains 696 mg or 16 percent of daily-recommended levels of this electrolyte.
Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure. They offer protection against strokes and coronary heart diseases. Date fruits are also rich in minerals like calcium, manganese, copper and magnesium. Calcium is an important mineral that is an essential constituent of bone and teeth, and required by the body for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve impulse conduction. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Copper is required for the production of red blood cells. Magnesium is essential for bone growth.
The fruit has moderate levels of B-complex group of vitamins as well as vitamin K. It contains very good amounts of pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. These vitamins, acting as cofactors, help the body metabolize carbohydrates, protein and fats. Vitamin K is essential for many coagulant factors in the blood as well as in bone metabolism.
But in order to preserve the dates’ nutritional and medicinal values, there is always a need to process and store them properly. Dates can be readily available in grocery stores all year around. Some varieties of fresh, soft, good-quality fruits, however, are only found from September through December. In certain dry regions of Africa, dates are gathered while just reaching maturity and allowed to ripen inside jars.
“On research front, the Kingdom and its institutions have been working to boost quality production of dates and to introduce new technology in its processing system,” said Haleem Ali Shah, a date merchant, who has been exporting dates to Pakistan for years.
It is important to note that Saudi date palm researchers recently visited Malaysia to review adaptable oil palm technology. Date palm is the most important fruit in Saudi Arabian culture, being a staple food with historical and religious significance.
The Kingdom is currently the second largest producer of date palm in the world with 23 million trees across 172,000 ha, producing 1.3 million tons. Most of the production is for domestic consumption as the country is the largest consumer of dates worldwide.