Dates for Prebiotics

Should you eat dates for prebiotics?They reportedly have antioxidant, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory, antihyperlipidemic, antibacterial, and antifungal activities, but what about prebiotic potential?

Dates are the fruits from the palm tree, and there are over 450 different cultivars grown in Saudi Arabia alone.  In the US, medjool dates are popular, and there are many different types of medjool.

One pitted medjool date contains an average of 18 g of total carbohydrates with 1.6 g of that in fiber. The dominant sugar in the fruit is glucose, with fructose a close second. Noteworthy nutrients are calcium at 15 g, magnesium at 13 g, potassium at 167 g, folate at 3.6 micrograms, and beta-carotene at 21 g.

Can You Eat Dates for Prebiotics?

One pitted medjool date contains an average of 18 g of total carbohydrates with 1.6 g of that in fiber. Other date varieties, particularly the smaller ones,  contain more fiber. For example, the Ajwa variety are reported to contain 11% fiber.

Dates are very sweet, however, so you should not overindulge.  The dominant sugar in the fruit is glucose, with fructose a close second. Noteworthy nutrients are calcium at 15 g, magnesium at 13 g, potassium at 167 g, folate at 3.6 micrograms, and beta-carotene at 21 g.

The dominant fiber is insoluble, but there is also soluble fiber.  One-and-a-half grams of fiber may not seem like much until you realize that one medjool date has about 6% of your minimum daily fiber requirements, and that you can eat dates for prebiotics from the fiber.

Basic nutrients don’t tell the whole story of why to choose date for prebiotics, however, because the secrets to dates go beyond the basic numbers like fiber. The next section summarizes studies that help divulge the secrets.

Studies Related to Dates for Prebiotics

Fiber is an awesome nutrient for beneficial gut microbes, but there are other compounds in dates for prebiotics that may be even more important: the polyphenols. Dates contain significant amounts of polyphenols, and in fact, it could be that the polyphenols are the main effect for evidence as dates for prebiotics. Polyphenols have beneficial effects on the gut microbiome.

Polyphenol levels may vary depending on the cultivar type and degree of ripening with classifications such as these: kimri (unripe), khalal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft) and the final tamr stage (ripe, reduced moisture).

Here are what some studies showed about the benefits of dates, including some studies showing the potential of dates for prebiotics and probiotics:

An in vitro study showed that 29 different Saudi Arabia fruit cultivar extracts had strong lipid peroxidation and anti-inflammatory properties. Water and methanolic extracts at 100 lg/mL inhibited lipid peroxidation by 50–67% and 58–82%, respectively. In an anti-inflammatory assay using cyclooxygenase enzymes 1 and 2, (COX-1 and -2), the same extracts showed COX-1 enzyme inhibition by 26–36% and 33–41%, and COX-2
by 45–48% and 48–52%, respectively. The dates investigated included Barni Al Madinah, Hulwa, Khashram, Khodry, Khalas, Deglet Noor, Dekhaini, Rabeaa, Rushodia, Ruthana, Ruthana Al Sharag, Sabaka, Sukkari Al Qassim, Sullaj, Shalabi, Shaishee, Safawi, Sefri, Segae, Ajwa, Anbara, Luban, Mabroom, Majhool, Mutwah, Meneifi, Nabtat Ali, Naboot Seif and Hilali.

Another in vitro study mimicking the last part of the human colon showed beneficial effects of dates for prebiotics. The Ajwa date extract and its polyphenol-rich extract significantly and selectively increased the growth of Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides. Increasing Bifidobacterium in the colon is a good thing, and this study showed how well dates for prebiotics can be. Whole fruit extracts led to significant increases in short-chain fatty acid concentration, increased polyphenols, and strongly inhibited the proliferation of colon cancer cells.  

Dried dates were added to goat's milk to determine growth levels of probiotic bacteria when the milk was fermented. Ripe dried dates at 10 or 15% concentration resulted in Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium levels greater than 1 million CFU/g.

Probiotic bacteria may even be sourced from fermented dates. A Lactobacillus paraplantarum with in vitro antifungal, probiotic and antioxidant properties was isolated from fermented dates in Saudi Arabia. The probiotic strain showed the ability to survive under conditions similar to those found in the gastrointestinal tract (low pH, bile salts, and antimicrobial susceptibility), and it had high levels of extracellular enzyme activities. It also displayed antioxidant activities.

Date extracts may be useful for male sexual impairment and infertility. Ajwa date water extract had a powerful protective effect and and reduced induced testicular damage in rats.

Ajwa date extract may also help with kidney function. A study in mice showed that Ajwa extract protected mice from diclofenac sodium-induced kidney toxicity.

In humans, a randomized, controlled, cross-over intervention study  in 22 healthy adults showed that consumption of seven Ajwa dates for 21 days resulted in significant increases in bowel movements and stool frequency and significant reductions in stool ammonia concentration and genotoxicity in fecal water (both good things for colon cancer risk reduction) relative to baseline. Probiotic bacteria levels were not significantly altered, presumably due to the lower levels of polyphenols and fiber in the seven dates compared to those levels in other foods consumed by healthy adults. The study authors speculated that the results may be different in sick populations.

In fact, even date palm pits contain abundant antioxidants and polyphenols. A 2020 study using date pit as preservatives in beef burgers showed that the date pit’s antioxidants and phytonutrients stabilized the color, fat oxidation, and microbial growth of the burgers during storage.

Date pit powder from the Khalas variety was investigated in rats. Feeding for 13 weeks of  three date seed powder diets, DSP1, DSP2 and DSP3, prepared by using 2 g/kg, 4 g/kg and 8 g/kg DSP in the diet, respectively, increased the antioxidant system in the blood and organs, and decreased protein and fat oxidation markers.

Final Thoughts on Dates for Prebiotics

While medjool may be readily accessible and popular, the smaller dates, like the expensive Ajwa, may be even more beneficial due to their higher fiber and polyphenol content.

Dates do have beneficial compounds beyond fiber, such as numerous polyphenols, and people in many countries around the world regularly consume dates as part of their daily diets. However, dates are also very high in sugars, so rather than using dates for prebiotics to enhance your gut microbiome, consider them as treats with potential benefits. The sugars could feed pathogenic and opportunistic bacteria, yeasts, and parasites instead of the beneficial microbes you hope to influence.

Be careful when biting into dates because not all dates you buy have the pits removed!


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