x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Food for Thought: The tradition of dates

Dates are the traditional religious way to break a fast during Ramadan and are important in preparing the body to digest the iftar meal.

Dates have many health benefits, including the ability to prepare the body for digestion after fasting. Andrew Henderson / The National
Dates have many health benefits, including the ability to prepare the body for digestion after fasting. Andrew Henderson / The National

In this Holy Month of Ramadan, Muslims traditionally break their fast with dates to emulate the Prophet. Like many traditions, there is meaning and purpose that we can all learn and benefit from, and this is certainly true when we delve deeper into the nutritional value of this religious tradition.

Dates have been cultivated for more than 7,000 years and are considered sacred throughout ancient civilisations, so it is no surprise that they take centre stage during Ramadan.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, dates are incredibly rich in iron, which is excellent for building the quality and strength of the blood. They are also a good source of magnesium and potassium which makes dates excellent for remineralisation and they provide a good amount of folic acid for pregnant women, too.

Dates are also rich in vitamin B6 which, together with their magnesium content, makes them very helpful for women with PMS and fertility concerns, as documented by Ayurvedic medicine.

Dates are also excellent for cleansing the gastrointestinal tract, proving very helpful in this sandy environment. We often feel irritation in our throats and develop a cough, but dates can help alleviate this, and for an upset stomach or dysentery, dates are definitely food medicine.

On the other hand, they are high in natural sugars, which means that we should only consume them in small quantities, a tip especially true for diabetics. But for breaking your fast they are a perfect food since they soothe and prepare your digestive system, and at a time when your body is in need of quick efficient energy, dates provide just that while helping your system to deal with your iftar, providing you don't over-indulge, that is.

Laura Holland is a well-being consultant and nutritional therapist. For more information, go to www.BeUtifulYou.co.uk.