Tag Archives: sweet

Despite the many benefits of the Paleo Diet® if there’s one sacrifice that followers of the diet struggle with, it is a lack of sweet, baked goodies, and sweets in general. While croissants and danishes are a thing of the past, there are still some delicious ways to please that craving for forbidden foods. The seductively sweet, brown Medjool date tops the list. From lowering blood pressure to increasing metabolism, dates have more value than their caramel-like flavor might lead you to believe.

 

But how beneficial are they really? Let’s dig into dates and understand why they fall into a bit of a gray area, nutritionally speaking.

Dates are generally Paleo: Nature delivers them to us ready to eat without any need for processing. They come in many shapes and sizes, but Medjools are the darlings of the date world with their massive size, sugary flavor, and soft, chewy texture. Despite their sweetness, they are packed with nutrients and low in fat. If you love dates but consider them more of a treat than a healthy snack, you’re not alone. While Medjool dates are an easy Paleo snack, helpful for maintaining a healthy weight and controlling cravings, they have some drawbacks.

 

Pros and Cons of Medjool Dates

A Substitute Sweet Treat

One problem with sticking to a strict Paleo Diet is that the feeling of deprivation can lead to “cheating” or binge eating — especially sugar. Dates are packed with nutrients, minerals, and insoluble fiber, meaning a single serving can leave you feeling full. That feeling can suppress your cravings for sweets, but only if you eat them in moderation. Dates are heavy in fruit sugars, or fructose, which some people have trouble digesting. Poor fructose absorption can result in diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain.

 

Fiber-Filled

Medjool dates outdo most fruits when it comes to dietary fiber. A single serving provides about 25% of your required daily intake. A diet high in fiber helps your digestion run smoothly, which in turn enables you to absorb more nutrients. Dietary fiber lowers cholesterol levels and reduces the formation of fatty deposits in arteries. But a heavy dose of fiber can cause digestive issues if your body isn’t accustomed to it. The fibers in dates can cause gas, constipation, bloating, and cramping.

 

Metabolism-Maintaining

Medjool dates are high in B complex vitamins (niacin, pantothenic acid, and folic acid.) These vitamins help regulate your metabolism and support metabolic functions. Significant levels of copper also help you absorb the iron found in dates, which in turn boosts your energy levels. By offering high, sustained energy, this on-the-go snack can help with athletic recovery and energy. However, dates have a high glycemic index. They can cause blood sugar spikes and can have the same adverse effects of any sugary food if eaten in excess — especially for diabetics.

 

Bone and Brain-Boosting

A 2015 clinical study using mice showed that when the critters ate dates every day, their memories and learning abilities improved. Medjool dates, full of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, offer nutrients essential for growth and development. These same minerals also increase bone density. In other words, these easy, healthy snacks can help make you smarter and stronger. Even so, it would be ridiculous to rely on dates for the majority of these nutrients. This fruit is best viewed as a supplementary source of nutrients rather than a primary one.

 

Rich in Anti-Aging Antioxidants

Antioxidants protect your body from unstable molecules that contribute to aging and disease. This variety of dates contain a greater amount of flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acid than other dried fruits. These antioxidants reduce inflammation and the risk of diabetes. They also promote heart health, support good vision, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, and protect against cancer and heart disease. Again, these are the fringe benefits of eating dates, not the main objective. They are by no means a cure-all.

 

History of Medjool Dates

People have been cultivating this fruit for thousands of years, dating back to the Middle East since around 4000 BC. There are hundreds of varieties of this sticky, sweet fruit, but none so prized as the “king of dates.” Medjool dates come from the Middle East and North Africa but were brought to America from Morocco in the early 1900s.

Growing a true-to-variety tree requires date palms to be cloned, or cultivated with offshoots taken from a “mother’ plant. That means every single Medjool date palm in America is a descendant of the original nine specimens imported to Nevada in the 1900s. Medjool date palms can grow up to one hundred and twenty feet tall and can live one hundred years.

 

Growing Your Own

You’ll often see date palms in residential landscapes. If you have the right climate and a suitable sunny area, you could grow these dates at home, but the flowers often need to be hand-pollinated. The trees are dioecious, meaning you need both a male and female to ensure you get fruit. A single tree in a date plantation can produce hundreds of pounds of dates a year. It’s unlikely your trees will be that prolific, since commercial growers use artificial pollination to maximize yields. Your palms will benefit from having some neighboring plants that attract pollinators. Aloe ferox works well since it attracts pollinating birds and bees and thrives in warmer environments.

Before you run out to buy some Medjool date palms, make sure your yard meets a few criteria. You’ll need a spot that receives full sun for most of the day. Your soil must not be too heavy: date palms prefer well-drained soil and enjoy sandy conditions. They also thrive in hot climates and fruit best when exposed to temperatures above 95 degrees. Mild winters are best for these trees since a freeze of fifteen degrees will damage the leaves. But with a little TLC, your palm can recover.

When planting a Medjool date palm, make sure to water it well for the first few months while it’s getting established. Gardening always requires safety precautions, but you’ll want to exercise extra caution when placing these large, heavy trees in the ground. For very large trees, hire a professional. Fertilize three to four times a year during warm months, and you’ll have a Medjool date factory in your yard in no time.

 

Incorporating Dates into Your Paleo Diet

Natural Snack

On their own, dates make an all-natural snack you can enjoy anywhere. Stuff dates with nuts for a little extra protein, and you’ve got a fitness snack. Three to four dates make up one serving, so it won’t take much to fill you up. Grind them up, mix with seeds and roll them in chopped nuts and you’ve got an all-natural, on-the-go snack.

 

A Dessert Substitute

The sweetness of dates makes them perfect for an alternative, healthier dessert or savory sauce. Their chewy texture makes them a natural fit for no-bake Paleo desserts.

 

Drink Your Dates

Drop a date or two into a smoothie for a sweet, nutritious addition to your pre-workout meal.

 

A Touch of Sweetness

Garnish a savory salad or a tray of roasted vegetables with sliced dates for a flavor sensation.

These are just a few ideas for incorporating Medjool dates into your Paleo Diet. There are many benefits but as with any sugary food, it’s crucial to use a little restraint. Eating dates can contribute positively to your diet, but going overboard will counteract the benefits.

5 Simple Tips to Expand Your Paleo Palate | The Paleo Diet

Have you ever wondered why cilantro tastes like soap to 10% of the population,1 or why pregnant women suffer from food aversions2, or why children are such picky eaters?3 Although seemingly random, all of these are related by the origin of our complex sense of taste.

Taste was a necessary evolutionary tool to prevent our hunter-gatherer ancestors from eating poisonous foods.4 The five basic tastes- bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami (savory) each work through specialized receptors on our taste buds to ensure our survival.5 However, in modern times they may be leading us down the wrong path.

The processed food industry pays close attention to the science behind our taste receptors and uses the information to create products that optimize the “bliss point”, defined as the ideal concentration of flavor to maximize sensory pleasure.6 Through the chemistry of food science, the use of poor quality, inflammatory fats7 and a heavy amount of sugars,8 commercial food producers have preyed on our taste perceptions encouraging individuals to seek out nutritionally inferior foods. This disregard for the origins of our sense of taste is a prime driver of increasing levels of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other related diseases fueled by a diet consisting of too many modern foods.9

Ironically, our hunter-gatherer ancestors couldn’t risk making poor food selections that led to eating low nutrient and energy content foods, or to the potentially lethal ingestion of toxins. However, in modern times, we are being led by food manufacturers to make those empty food choices and are slowly suffering the consequences of choosing foods that aren’t fit to eat.

The impact of these engineered foods start early as taste perceptions begin to form early in life with both amniotic fluid and breastmilk comprising flavors reflected by the foods, spices, and beverages eaten by the mother.10

The Paleo diet, devoid of refined sugars and salt, can help reset our taste buds to be more inline with our genetics and to fully appreciate the variance of fresh foods available to us. It is never too late to become a more adventurous eater and rediscover foods in their unaltered state. The Paleo diet can help you appreciate the sweetness of grapefruit, the bitterness of kale, and the umami of veal stock.

5 Simple Tips to Expand Your Paleo Palate

1. BREATHE IT IN

Focus on the aroma, as taste and smell are closely linked. The smells released through cooking and even chewing can enhance the flavor of food.11 Slowly simmer meats to entice your taste buds before a meal.

2. SPICE IT UP

Wake up your taste buds with a variety of spices. Hunter-gatherers enjoyed varied diets, with diverse and strong flavors. Recreate the experience with well-seasoned food, using spices like chili peppers, turmeric, fennel, and sage.

3. COLOR OUTSIDE THE LINES

Seek out colorful foods as color can influence our perception of flavor. Fill you plate with dark leafy greens, bright orange squash, and ripe red tomatoes.

4. BITTER IS BETTER

Add a little bitterness through arugula, dandelion, and even cocoa. Foragers perceived bitterness a sign of toxicity. Fortunately, we know which bitter foods are safe to eat- they are also high in antioxidants.12

5. FATTEN UP

Enjoy healthy fats. Research suggests the five basic tastes may soon be joined by fat as taste receptors have been detected for fatty acids on the tongue.13

 

REFERENCES

[1] Eriksson, Nicholas, et al. “A genetic variant near olfactory receptor genes influences cilantro preference.” Flavour 1.1 (2012): 22.

[2] Sherman, Paul W., and Samuel M. Flaxman. “Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy in an evolutionary perspective.” American journal of obstetrics and gynecology 186.5 (2002): S190-S197.

[3] Dovey, Terence M., et al. “Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’eating in children: A review.” Appetite 50.2 (2008): 181-193.

[4] Breslin, Paul AS. “An evolutionary perspective on food and human taste.”Current Biology 23.9 (2013): R409-R418.

[5]  Bachmanov AA, Beauchamp GK. Taste receptor genes. Annu Rev Nutr. 2007;27:389-414.

[6] Moss, Michael. Salt, sugar, fat: how the food giants hooked us. Random House, 2013.

[7] Kang, Moon-Hee, and Ki-Sun Yoon. “Elementary school students’ amounts of sugar, sodium, and fats exposure through intake of processed food.” Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition 38.1 (2009): 52-61.

[8] Lustig, Robert H. Fat chance: beating the odds against sugar, processed food, obesity, and disease. Penguin, 2012.

[9] Chakravarthy, Manu V., and Frank W. Booth. “Eating, exercise, and “thrifty” genotypes: connecting the dots toward an evolutionary understanding of modern chronic diseases.” Journal of Applied Physiology 96.1 (2004): 3-10.

[10] Mennella, Julie A., Coren P. Jagnow, and Gary K. Beauchamp. “Prenatal and postnatal flavor learning by human infants.” Pediatrics 107.6 (2001): e88-e88.

[11] Tournier, Carole, et al. “Flavour perception: aroma, taste and texture interactions.” (2007).

[12] Breslin, Paul AS. “An evolutionary perspective on food and human taste.”Current Biology 23.9 (2013): R409-R418.

[13] Cartoni, Cristina, et al. “Taste preference for fatty acids is mediated by GPR40 and GPR120.” The Journal of Neuroscience 30.25 (2010): 8376-8382.

 

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