dates on a cutting board dates on a cutting board Dates are a sensible answer to sugar overload. They're also great in recipes. (Photo: Igor Normann/Shutterstock)

Are dates the new low glycemic sugar substitute?

From date silan to date puree, dates in any form can be a stabilizing factor in blood sugar.

Attention, diabetics: It's time to add dates to your shopping list.

These sweet, bite-sized, wrinkly fruits are classified with a low glycemic index, according to a study published in the Nutrition Journal.

For people who need to watch their blood glucose, aka blood sugar, sweet and high-carbohydrate foods can be problematic, especially for those with diabetes. Many of them rely on information about a food’s glycemic index (GI), which measures how much a food will spike blood glucose, to help them make healthy choices. Foods with a high glycemic index, which is ranked from 1 to 100, will make blood sugar rise quickly. Those with a lower glycemic index cause blood sugar to rise at a steadier, safer pace.

Scientists analyzed five common varieties of dates (Fara'd, Lulu, Bo ma'an, Dabbas and Khalas) for their glycemic index and their effects on the blood sugar of healthy subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes.

The consumption of dates by healthy or diabetic individuals, the study concluded, does not result in “significant postprandial glucose excursion,” otherwise known as blood sugar spikes. The varieties of dates tested had a glycemic index of 46 to 55 for the healthy subjects and 43 to 53 for the type 2 diabetic subjects, making them low glycemic index foods.

David Mendosa, lead diabetes writer for HealthCentral.com, says the numbers for low, medium and high are standard. "A GI of 70 or more is high, a GI of 56 to 69 inclusive is medium, and a GI of 55 or less is low," he said.

Diabetic checking blood sugarFruits like dates can be used as a low glycemic sugar substitute for diabetics and for prediabetics who hope to keep their blood sugar in check. (Photo: Image Point Fr/Shutterstock)

Aside from those with diabetes, Mendosa says that those who are pre-diabetic, people whose blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not at diabetes levels yet, should also be paying attention to the glycemic index of foods. "If they avoid high-glycemic foods," he says, "they have a better chance of never getting diabetes."

Eating dates and using them as a sugar substitute may help those with a sweet tooth avoid those high glycemic foods. The Medjool variety of dates, grown primarily in Israel and now other parts of the Mediterranean region, is one of the most popular because of its sweet, honey-like taste and soft texture. Although not part of the scientific study, Mejdools have also been found to have a low glycemic index, one that’s about half of that of sugar or brown sugar. They are great eaten as-is or thrown in a salad, but they can also be turned into a sugar substitute in the form of a date puree that can be used instead of white or brown sugar. The date puree can replace sugar using a 1:1 ratio, or it can be used in combination with a reduced amount of sugar in a recipe.

Dates can be turned into a sugar substitute in the form of a date puree that can be used instead of white or brown sugar.Dates can be turned into a sugar substitute in the form of a date puree that can be used instead of white or brown sugar. (Photo: Swapan Photography/Shutterstock)

Those who want to buy ready-made sweeteners have choices, too, although the glycemic indexes of these date sweeteners were not part of the scientific test.

  • Silan: Date honey, a boiled down date and honey mash. It can be used anywhere regular honey or maple syrup is used and is a staple in Mediterranean cooking.
  • Date sugar: Made from dried dates that have been finely ground, date sugar looks like brown sugar, but it doesn’t melt like sugar. It can give foods a different texture and isn’t recommended to sweeten beverages because it remains grainy.

Dates needn't be just for those with a sweet tooth. Spicy chicken skewers with silan sauce is a perfect recipe for this time of year.

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