Microdose #008: Swap Added Sugar for Dates
Replace the worst thing in your diet with this nutritional powerhouse.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
There is a proven, direct correlation between the quantity of added sugar in your diet and your likelihood of developing obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic inflammation. By swapping extremely nutritious dates in place of harmful sugar additives, you can significantly reduce your risk for the most common causes of premature death, while still enjoying many of the same sweet treats.
See The Plan below for details on date swaps, basic recipes, and tips on sourcing high quality dates.
There’s a lot of confusion around sugar. Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is completely fine, and consuming whole plant foods has been found to be particularly beneficial, as they contain high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants.
The problem is with added sugar, which shows up a wide variety of processed foods. These refined sugars (isolated from their original whole food sources, with all the beneficial elements removed) lead to increases in heart disease, diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and fatty liver disease.
Avoiding added sugar can be very difficult in a typical western diet. While there exist several artificial sweeteners on the market, it is unclear if these are actually beneficial. A proven healthful whole food replacement is needed.
The facts about added sugar:
- In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar. "Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease," says Dr. Hu. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar
- Added sugar consumption has been linked to weight gain across multiple controlled studies: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23321486/
- Sugar is believed to be the sole cause of dental cavities: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26261186/
The facts about dates:
- Despite being comprised of 80% sugar, dates do not raise blood sugar or lead to weight gain, in fact, they have a positive impact on triglyceride levels and antioxidant stress levels: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19681613/
- “In many ways, dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12850886/
- Analyze your diet and identify sources of added sugar (most nutrition labels now differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars).
- Eliminate processed foods with high quantities of added sugar (soda and sugary drinks are a prime offender. A single can of soda contains more added sugar than the American Heart Association recommends as a daily limit.)
- Identify areas where dates can be used to replace sugar or sugary foods.
- Source and properly store high quality dates.
Whole Dates (pitted) - Eaten whole, dates are an excellent snack, can be added to a salad, or blended into a smoothie for sweetness. Medjool dates are particularly good for this purpose, as they are large and particularly sweet (though if you can find them, Barhi dates make for a special caramel-like treat).
Date Syrup - Great for sweetening hot beverages, like coffee and tea, making marinades, and replacing maple syrup, honey, and chocolate sauce. Can be purchased (look for products that contain only dates) or homemade: https://www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/date-syrup/
Date Sugar/Date Paste - Can be used as a 1:1 replacement in most recipes that call for granulated sugar. Simply grind dates to a sugar-like texture in a food processor (or purchase pre-made date sugar, which will have a drier consistency). We like to use Deglets for this purpose. Note that homemade date sugar will be more paste-like.
There are tons of varieties of dates, which come in different sizes, flavor profiles, and textures, ranging from dry and crystalized to wet and caramel-like. The two most commonly found types of dates in the US are deglets (smaller and drier) and medjools (larger and more moist). For most uses we suggest buying whole (not pitted) organic Medjools, from the most local source you can find. Many natural food stores will sell dates in bulk.
For a special treat, you can look for more exotic date varieties. Some of our favorites are Barhi, Honey Dates, and Halawi. If possible, consider buying direct from a farm. We personally buy from The Date People: http://www.datepeople.net
Storing and Handling Dates:
Though you will often see them stored at room temperature, for maximum freshness, dates should be stored in the refrigerator (where they will last for 6 months), or frozen (where they will last one year).
Dates should be gently washed before consumption. When you cut open a date to remove the pit, check that there are no black spots on the inside. Dates with black spots should be discarded.
Alex - We make large batches of what we call “Date Time”, which is Medjool dates, cut in half and filled with unsweetened peanut butter, topped with roasted hazelnuts, drizzled with melted dark chocolate, and finished with a light dusting of Maldon’s salt. These are stored in the freezer, and should be partially thawed for 5 minutes at room temperature before being eaten. These have completely replaced candy bars for us.
Frank - I find that using date syrup in my morning latte (made with oat milk) results in a richer and more complex taste. Since switching, I find that conventionally sweetened coffee now tastes very artificial to me.