The date fruit is a traditional delicacy appreciated for its nutritional and medicinal value, a fact that is well documented in the Quran.
The Islamic tradition of breaking a fast with dates during the holy month of Ramadan is observed in all Arab and Islamic countries.
The fruit is mentioned more than 20 times in the Quran and it is normal to break the daily fast with dates during Ramadan.
Moreover, it has a special social status among Bahrainis and Arabs in general, as dates and date-based foods are served during every auspicious occasion and event – such as weddings, births, family gatherings and religious holidays.
Dates are rich in sugar, but have a low glycaemic index and are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals.
They contain many nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, amino acids, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous and selenium.
In particular, the low glycaemic index of dates can be attributed to the presence of high amounts of fructose and dietary fibre, particularly insoluble fibre.
Depending on date varieties, there are different levels and patterns of bioactive non-nutrient phytochemicals, including carotenoids and polyphenols.
Recent studies have shown that these constituents of dates act as potent antioxidant, with anti-glycemic and anti-inflammatory effects, providing suitable nutritional therapy for different diseases such as cancer prevention, diabetes control and dyslipidemia.
Dates, due to their high fibre and phenolic content, can play a potent role in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes.
Preliminary data suggests that date fruit supplementation in 60 geriatric patients with borderline-high cholesterol (130 to 159 mg/dl) revealed significant reduction upon intake of 20-35gm of dates for six months.
In addition to these benefits, polyphenolic compounds from three to four dates daily are able to decrease postprandial hyperglycemia in type two diabetes mellitus by inhibiting carbohydrate-hydrolysing enzymes.
Furthermore, a recent study provided evidence to conclude that date consumption in a low to moderate quantity (three to four daily) had no association with the prevalence of diabetes in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Another study at Bahrain University confirms the overall quality of life of patients with diabetes supplemented with three dates daily improved significantly, without affecting glycaemia levels.
At the same time, a lack of date consumption in the control group affected the quality of life index.
Dr Simone Perna is Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, College of Science, at Bahrain University