Beverley has a degree in Science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.
Dates and prunes have been important food sources for a long time. A very long time. These little dried fruits are not only delicious, they’re nutrient-dense with compounds like antioxidants, vitamins A, B-complex, K; minerals iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, and dietary fiber. Additionally, they’re low fat and cholesterol-free. No wonder they have potential health benefits in common. Dates and prunes also share a high sugar content.
Date Palm Harvesting by Shaking Machine - Packing Dates Modern Argricultural Technology
Description of Dates and Prunes
Dates can be light red, brown, to yellow, almond-shaped, wrinkly, sticky, chewy, sweet as candy and pitted, depending on variety. Two of the most common dates are Deglet Noor and Medjool.
Prunes are black, almond-shaped, wrinkly, meaty, chewy, sweet as candy and usually pitted.
Uses of Dates and Prunes
Both dates and prunes are globally-popular and can be used in just about the same ways or similar recipes: as a fresh snack, energy bar, natural sweetener, syrup, stuffed, in jams, jellies, juices, smoothies, breads, muffins, cookies, other baked goods, salads and other savory dishes (see Sources).
History of Dates and Prunes
The scientific name for the date palm is Phoenix dactylifera. It’s a member of the Arecaceae palm family. Data on the world’s three major religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - mention the importance of dates in sacred life. When discovered in the Middle East, there were already more than 3,000 varieties. The Deglet Noor and Medjool were imported to the United States (U.S.) in the early 20th century by American agriculturist Walter Swingle. Today dates are grown mostly in the Coachella Valley of California.
According to a National Geographic article, the popularity of dates in the U.S. is primarily due to marketing. It began with stereotypical characters portrayed by Caucasians in various art forms and geographic stunts. The current marketing vehicle is health. As researchers began to analyze the date fruit, they discovered its many nutrients, including a cache of bioactive plant compounds (see Sources).
The scientific name for plums from which prunes (dried plums) derive is Prunus domestica. The plant is a member of the Rosaceae family. European plums were discovered some 2,000 years ago in the region of the Caspian Sea, located between Europe and Asia. In fact, the inhabitants of the region were the first to make prunes. In those ancient times, there were more than 300 varieties of European plums. While European plums were introduced to the United States (U.S.) by explorers and colonists in the 17th century, Japanese/ Chinese plums, native to China, did not arrive until the late 19th century. California is currently the leading U.S. producer of prunes (see Sources).
Common Nutrients in Dates and Prunes
Dates and prunes have a rich vein of B-vitamins, including B2, B3, B6, vitamins A, C, K; minerals potassium, iron, calcium, manganese, copper, magnesium, boron, phosphorus, zinc; dietary fiber; antioxidant phytochemicals phenols, carotenoids, anthocyanins, flavonoids; proteins; and simple sugars- mainly fructose, glucose and sucrose. Like most dried fruits, they also contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol (see Sources).
Prunes for Osteoporosis
Healthy Oatmeal Breakfast Bar Recipe
Health Benefits Dates and Prunes Have in Common
Plant phytochemicals such as anthocyanins and flavonoids have been used in Ayurvedic medicine - one of the oldest forms of healing disciplines practiced in India - to treat inflammation, a known initiator of cancer. Modern research suggest that their antioxidant properties enable them to fight cancers such as colon and leukemia. These properties also seem to protect cell DNA from free radical damage (see Sources).
Scientists also believe that the dietary fiber content in dates and prunes may help lower human cancer risk. Insoluble fiber bulks up the waste material (stool), which contain dangerous substances like bile acids, and facilitates an easy exit from the body (see Sources).
The antioxidant phenols in dates and prunes have been shown to reduce or inhibit inflammation buildup in our arterial walls and inhibit oxidative stress. This helps prevent cardiovascular disease and keeps the heart healthy.
Ten subjects were part of a 2009 study to determine the effect of consuming two types of dates. It showed that the “bad” LDL cholesterol content in the subjects’ blood did not increase. In fact, the opposite occurred. Additionally, the phenolic compounds seemed to stimulate the function of the “good” HDL cholesterol hormone. Subjects’ arteries were also free of plaque buildup and oxidative stress (see Sources).
Another nutrient which seem to support heart health is dietary fiber. A study on obese mice showed a decrease in their atherosclerotic lesions after they were fed dried plum/ prunes powder. Hardened, plaque-clogged arteries cannot carry adequate blood to the heart muscle. Another study on “stroke-prone” mice showed that the powder significantly lowered the systolic blood pressure (see Sources).
Minerals magnesium and potassium may also contribute in stroke prevention (see Sources).
It’s been estimated that more than 50% of Americans who are 50 and older suffer from osteoporosis or insufficient bone mass. Studies indicate that the phenols and minerals boron, calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium help strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. One study in which subjects were given prunes, showed that the plant phenols stimulate bone cell production. Another date fruit study cited on the Organic Facts website heralds the osteoporosis properties of these minerals (see Sources).
The dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble) in dates and prunes helps food pass through the digestive tract faster with the aid of certain amino acids. The results are good bowel movements and a healthy colon. And as previously noted, the insoluble fiber bulks the body’s waste, making excretion easier. Both types of fibers also help treat digestive issues such as diverticulitis, gastroesophageal disease/ GERD and hemorrhoids.
The busy insoluble fiber also feeds our healthy gut bacteria. This makes them flourish and dominate our gut’s microbiome, keeping the population of the unfriendly gut bacteria and the risk of disease low (see Sources).
Vision/ Eye Health
Vitamin A deficiency is generally associated with night blindness, dry eyes and increased risk of infection, according to the Organic Facts article. The vitamin A in dates and prunes support healthy vision. The carotenoids which are precursors of vitamin A, have been shown to prevent these eye issues (see Sources).
Dates VS Prunes
Possible Side Effects of Consuming Dates and Prunes
Although dates and prunes are relatively safe to consume, the sorbitol they contain can cause diarrhea. Also, individuals may be allergic to either or both fruits. The high glycemic index of dates (43 – 55) may be risky for diabetics. And overconsumption of both fruits could encourage obesity and heart disease (see Sources).
Date Brownies- Healthier Alternative - No Sugar, Only Dates
In biblical times, people saw or perhaps felt the benefits of the nutrients in dates. Prunes were discovered a bit later, but no doubt individuals who consumed them were similarly affected. Today studies show that both fruits have nutrient profiles that are rich and varied enough to treat and perhaps prevent several human diseases.
Keep in mind more research may be needed to absolutely confirm some of health benefits dates and prunes have in common. And as with any other food, there may be allergies and other health problems from overconsumption. Overall adding dates and/ or prunes to one’s diet can support great health.
This article was written for information purposes only. It’s not intended or suggesting you consume dates and/ or prunes to treat or cure any disease or medical condition. Always consult your healthcare provider before consumption.
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Kayal Michele, “Dates: The Sticky History of a Sweet Fruit,” https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/food/the-plate/2015/06/18/dates-the-sticky-history-of-a-sweet-fruit/#close, June18, 2015
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Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis Maria. “Dried Plums and Their Products: Composition and Health Effects – An Updated Review,” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257347735_Dried_Plums_and_Their_Products_Composition_and_Health_Effects-An_Updated_Review, October, 2013
Rahmani Arshad H, Aly Salah M, et al. “Therapeutic effects of date fruits (Phoenix dactylifera) in the prevention of diseases via modulation of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-tumour activity,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992385/, March 15, 2014
Rock Wasseem, Rosenblatt Mira, et al. “Date Consumption (and mainly the Hallawi variety) by healthy subjects, despite their high sugar content, demonstrates beneficial effects on serum triacylglycerol and oxidative stress and does not worsen serum glucose…” https://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/date-consumption-and-mainly-hallawi-variety-healthy-subjects-despite-their-hig, September 9, 2009
“Prunes vs Dates – Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts, Side Effects, Differences,” https://www.yourhealthremedy.com/medicinal-plants/prunes-vs-dates/, August 3, 2019
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Nagdeve Meenakshi. “13 Proven Health Benefits of Dates,” https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-dates.html, February 28, 2020
Attaluri A, Donahoe R, et al. “Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21323688, April, 2011
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This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Beverley Byer