When cold and flu season is upon us, many of us automatically reach for orange juice, zinc supplements, and other immune-supporting items to help keep the sickness at bay.
But among the sea of foods, drinks, pills, and potions that are available to us, did you know that the humble date may be one of the best things you can eat to support your immune health and help manage chronic inflammation?
Along with known immune-supporting practices like getting adequate sleep, eating vitamin D-rich foods, and limiting alcohol intake, believe it or not, but including dates in your healthy lifestyle may help you keep the sniffles away.
What are Dates?
Dates are a fruit that is grown in warmer climates and is a part of many traditional cuisines. They are sweet and slightly caramel-like, but with no added sugars. And although they taste super-sweet, they are not a high glycemic index food like traditional caramels or candies, and therefore can support healthy blood sugar levels. There are many varieties of dates, including Medjool and deglet noor. Each type offers a slight variation in flavor, but are all sweet and nutrient-dense.
Dates can be sold either fresh or dried. Fresh dates have a smoother skin, while dried varieties are more wrinkled. Both fresh and dried varieties have long shelf lives, making them great additions to long road trips and office snacking.
Why Dates Are Great For Immune HealthDates are known for being a naturally sweet fruit that is grown on those gorgeous palm trees in places like sunny California and the Middle East. And they are a fantastic addition to recipes like energy bites, granola bars, and smoothies.
Noshing on this fruit not only gives you a caramel-like naturally sweet taste, but it may also give your immune system some TLC and help it stay in fighting shape when you start feeling that cold coming on.
Why are dates such a fantastic addition to an immune-supporting diet? Read on to learn all about how dates can help keep your immune health in tip-top shape in a natural way!
Dates Contain Important Vitamins and Minerals
Like most fruits, dates are a powerhouse when it comes to containing natural vitamins and minerals. And many of these micronutrients play a key role in supporting immune health in a very impactful way. From magnesium to copper to the selenium antioxidant, these tiny fruits are bursting with immune-enhancing factors that your body needs in order to be able to activate that important immune response.
And when it comes to iron, a mineral that can have a profound effect on immune health, dates are a natural and convenient source. Since data shows that iron depletion may negatively affect the ability of certain cells to respond to illness, ensuring healthy iron levels is essential if you want your body to remain healthy.
Another shining star nutrient of the immune-supporting world is vitamin B6. As a nutrient that is responsible for producing white blood cells and T cells, including enough of this nutrient is incredibly important for immune support purposes. And, as you probably have already guessed, dates are a natural source of this key B vitamin.
Calcium is another noteworthy nutrient that is naturally found in dates. As a key player in the activation of the immune response, healthy levels of this mineral will only help you when cold and flu season arrives.
Of course, when discussing micronutrients and immune health, we would be remiss if the famous vitamin C is not mentioned. Some dates contain a small amount of vitamin C – a nutrient that supports immune defenses. While you will be hard-pressed to eat enough dates to meet all of your vitamin C needs, including them in an overall balanced diet can help you reach your quota of this vitamin for the day.
Dates aren’t top of mind when people think about immune-supporting foods – but they should be. Packed with immune-supporting vitamins and minerals, these delicious treats make for a perfect food to include in your healthy eating plan.
Dates Support Gut Health
Dates contain both soluble and insoluble fiber that can help support gut health. And a healthy gut may mean a healthy gut microbiota, or a healthy balance of live and beneficial organisms living in your gut.
Certain fibers act as prebiotics, or indigestible starches that act as fuel for beneficial organisms, like probiotics. And since dates contain prebiotic fiber, eating them can help keep your microbiota composition thriving.
70% of our immune system is in our gut. So naturally, having a healthy and diverse microbiome helps support that important factor. A 3.5 ounce serving of dates provides a whopping 7 grams of fiber, which can help support the gut and, in turn, support immune health too.
Dates Contain Polyphenol Antioxidants
Along with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber, dates are also a natural source of phenolic acid, a compound with high antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, dates are one of the richest sources of polyphenol antioxidants compared to other fruit, containing 616 mg of polyphenol antioxidants per 100 mg of fruit. Comparatively, 100 mg of a peach contains only 163 mg of polyphenols and 100 mg of table grapes only contain 160 mg of these antioxidants.
Inflammation is one of our body’s important defense mechanisms against factors like illness. And while acute inflammation can be helpful in helping keep the body healthy, systemic chronic inflammation, or being in a state of inflammation that doesn’t seem to go away, can result in some unsavory health outcomes.
Specifically, systemic chronic inflammation can negatively affect immune health and can increase the likelihood of a person getting sick from an infection as well as experiencing a poor response to vaccines.
Along with incorporating other anti-inflammatory habits in your life like quitting smoking, avoiding fried foods, and managing stress, including foods that naturally contain phenolic acid, like dates, may help you manage chronic inflammation, and therefore help support your immune system as a result.
Dates Are Naturally A No Sugar Added Sweet Treat
Including a small amount of sugar in your diet is a-ok – everything in moderation, right? But eating too many foods with added sugar all of the time can contribute to chronic inflammation, which does not help matters when supporting immune health.
Dates are a naturally sweet food with no added sugars. And as mentioned before, a compound in this food has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a great sweet option when you are trying to support your immune health by limiting added sugars and other sweets.
Eating Dates During Cold and Flu Season
When the weather starts to dip and people start to slowly feel under the weather, knowing how to support your health naturally can be a true lifesaver. The simple act of eating dates as part of your healthy and balanced diet may be the small addition that your body needs to stay healthy during cold and flu season. From the minerals it contains to the anti-inflammatory properties it offers, dates are a perfect choice when it comes to ingredients for your snacks, smoothies, baked goods, and more.
Some simple ways to sneak more dates in your diet include:
- stuffing a pitted date with almond butter and topping it with some chocolate chips 🍫
- adding them in your smoothie recipe for some sweetness 🥰
- topping oatmeal or salad with chopped dates for an interesting zing 🥗
- Enjoying dates simply on their own 🌴
Immune-Boosting Smoothie Recipe
Want to eat more dates during cold and flu season but you don’t know where to start? Try this citrus date smoothie on for size. Just toss all ingredients in a blender and you will be left with a nutrient-rich delicious concoction with no added sugars.
Combining nutrient-rich Medjool dates with protein-packed almond butter and vitamin C-rich orange juice makes this smoothie one of the best immune-supporting recipes out there. Feel free to swap out the dairy milk and yogurt for a non-dairy alternative, if desired.
2 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons almond butter, walnut butter, or peanut butter
8 pitted Joolies Organic Medjool dates
½ cup fresh orange juice
4 ounces vanilla Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cup ice
Optional: additional nutmeg to sprinkle on top of smoothie as garnish.
Combine all ingredients except for optional nutmeg in a blender and blend until smooth. Sprinkle top of smoothie with additional ½ teaspoon of nutmeg, if desired. Tip: Freeze leftovers in a popsicle mold for an icy treat to enjoy later in the week.
Written by: Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT
Registered Dietician, Nutritionist, Women's Health Expert and Freelance Writer