The fruit of the date palm: its possible use as the best food for the future?


by Al-Shahib W, Marshall RJ.

London Metropolitan University, Department of Health & Human Sciences, London, UK.
Originally published in the International Journal of Food Science & Nutrition

The fruits (dates) of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) contain a high percentage of carbohydrate (total sugars, 44-88%), fat (0.2-0.5%), 15 salts and minerals, protein (2.3-5.6%), vitamins and a high percentage of dietary fibre (6.4-11.5%). The flesh of dates contains 0.2-0.5% oil, whereas the seed contains 7.7-9.7% oil. The weight of the seed is 5.6-14.2% of the date. The fatty acids occur in both flesh and seed as a range of saturated and unsaturated acids, the seeds containing 14 types of fatty acids, but only eight of these fatty acids occur in very low concentration in the flesh. Unsaturated fatty acids include palmitoleic, oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids. The oleic acid content of the seeds varies from 41.1 to 58.8%, which suggests that the seeds of date could be used as a source of oleic acid. There are at least 15 minerals in dates. The percentage of each mineral in dried dates varies from 0.1 to 916 mg/100 g date depending on the type of mineral. In many varieties, potassium can be found at a concentration as high as 0.9% in the flesh while it is as high as 0.5% in some seeds. Other minerals and salts that are found in various proportions include boron, calcium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorous, sodium and zinc. Additionally, the seeds contain aluminum, cadmium, chloride, lead and sulphur in various proportions. Dates contain elemental fluorine that is useful in protecting teeth against decay. Selenium, another element believed to help prevent cancer and important in immune function, is also found in dates. The protein in dates contains 23 types of amino acids, some of which are not present in the most popular fruits such as oranges, apples and bananas. Dates contain at least six vitamins including a small amount of vitamin C, and vitamins B(1) thiamine, B(2) riboflavin, nicotinic acid (niacin) and vitamin A. The dietary fibre of 14 varieties of dates has been shown to be as high as 6.4-11.5% depending on variety and degree of ripeness. Dates contain 0.5-3.9% pectin, which may have important health benefits. The world production of dates has increased 2.9 times over 40 years, whereas the world population has doubled. The total world export of dates increased by 1.71% over 40 years. In many ways, dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits

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