People have eaten dates, the fruit of the date palm tree, for over 6,000 years.

Today, many individuals commonly enjoy these sweet fruits in their dried form. They are a good source of carbohydrates and contain many vitamins and minerals.

However, due to the natural sweetness and high carbohydrate content of dates, people with diabetes may wonder if they are safe to consume. In this article, we investigate the effects of dates on blood sugar levels.

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People with diabetes can likely eat a serving of 2–3 dates at a time. However, a person should speak with their doctor to confirm this is safe.

Those with this condition need to limit their carbohydrate intake to keep their blood sugar levels stable.

One study shows that people with diabetes did not experience blood sugar spikes after eating an equivalent of 7–10 dates. However, the researchers noted that these fruits are rich in calories, with 100 grams (g) of date flesh providing approximately 314 calories.

It is also important to note that dates can come in different sizes. For example, Medjool dates can be about twice as large as other varieties. A person may wish to consider their portion sizes accordingly.

One dried, pitted Medjool date weighing 24 g contains:

  • 66.5 calories
  • 18 g carbohydrates
  • 16 g sugar
  • 1.61 g fiber

The fiber in the dates may help the body absorb carbohydrates slowly, which may reduce the risk of blood sugar spikes. Pairing dates with a source of protein and fat, such as almonds, may further slow down digestion and help manage blood sugar levels.

Glycemic index and glycemic load

The glycemic index (GI) is another factor to take into account when considering if dates are suitable for those with diabetes. A food’s GI reflects its effects on blood sugar levels.

Foods that cause faster and greater spikes in blood sugar levels have higher GI values. In contrast, foods with a lower GI will cause lower blood sugar spikes. Healthcare providers consider foods with a GI value below 55 to be low-GI foods.

According to research from multiple studies, the average GI of dates is 42. This classifies them as a low GI food and safe for those with diabetes when eaten in moderation.

However, what does “in moderation” mean when it comes to dates? We need to consider a food’s glycemic load (GL) to answer this. The GL considers the serving size of a certain food when calculating its effects on blood sugar.

To determine a food’s GL, multiply its GI by the amount of carbohydrates it contains and divide it by 100. Therefore, two dried dates (48 g) contain 36 g of carbs, giving them a GL of 17, which constitutes a medium GL.

Dates are rich in a variety of nutrients, including magnesium and potassium. They are also a good source of fiber, carbohydrates, and antioxidants. Many studies have investigated their medicinal and nutritional effects.

Several nutrients and compounds in dates may benefit people with diabetes and insulin resistance.

Fiber

Dietary fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, thereby helping prevent blood sugar spikes.

Studies have found that the incidence of diabetes is lower among people who consume more fiber in their diets.

Dietary fiber also helps feed a person’s beneficial gut bacteria, an important part of a person’s health.

Magnesium

Two pitted Medjool dates contain 26 milligrams (mg) of magnesium. This equates to 8% of an adult female’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) and 6% of a male’s, based on the RDAs from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Magnesium may be beneficial for those with diabetes because it plays a role in blood sugar control.

Research indicates that people with type 2 diabetes often have low levels of magnesium in the body. Magnesium intake may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It also plays a role in blood pressure regulation, which is important for those with diabetes. This is because those with the condition have a higher risk of high blood pressure.

Potassium

Each serving of two dates contains 334 mg of potassium. This equates to almost 10% of an adult male’s RDA and almost 13% of a female’s.

Studies have found that people with low levels of potassium tend to have high levels of insulin and glucose in those with no other health issues. These are markers of diabetes.

Additionally, potassium is an important nutrient for blood pressure regulation.

Antioxidants

Dates contain potent antioxidants that may benefit those with diabetes. They are high in polyphenols, which can reduce inflammation in the body.

Inflammation may play a role in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes and associated metabolic disorders, such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances that may have similar effects in the body to the hormone estrogen. Dried dates have the second-highest phytoestrogen content of any fruit.

New evidence indicates that dietary phytoestrogens may be beneficial for those with diabetes and obesity by helping increase blood sugar control and decrease insulin resistance.

Researchers do not know how the phytoestrogens in dates may affect people, but one upcoming study will aim to investigate this.

Dates are a low GI food, with 2 servings constituting a medium GL. Therefore, they should not cause dramatic blood sugar spikes when people eat them in moderation.

A small 2011 study supports this, finding that people with diabetes did not experience significant blood sugar fluctuations after eating about 7–10 dates.

Similarly, a small 2018 study investigated the effects of four types of dried fruits, including dates, on blood sugar levels.

The researchers reported that white bread, which has a higher GI than dates, caused greater spikes in blood sugar levels than the dried fruits.

Moreover, 2015 research studying 15 people with diabetes reported that consuming 15 g of carbohydrates from dates, raisins, or sugar did not affect blood sugar levels 30, 60, or 120 minutes after eating.

However, the researchers noted that dates and raisins are more nutritious than plain sugar, making them a more appropriate snack choice.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the best fruit choices those that are fresh, frozen, or canned. When choosing canned fruit, always try to pick one that comes packed with juice and no added sugar.

The ADA further advise that dried fruit and fruit juice are suitable choices, but people must adhere to the recommended small portion sizes to avoid blood sugar spikes. For this reason, these foods may be less filling.

The following servings of fruit contain approximately 15 g of carbohydrates:

  • 1 small piece of whole fruit
  • 3/4–1 cup of fresh berries or melon
  • 1/3–1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup frozen or canned fruit
  • 2 tablespoons of dried fruit, such as raisins

Moderate amounts of fruit are a healthy option for most people, including those with diabetes and prediabetes. The same nutrients that benefit those with diabetes can be beneficial for those with prediabetes.

For example, some research indicates that a diet rich in magnesium can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Other studies show that taking the substance can improve blood sugar status in people with prediabetes and low magnesium levels.

Those with prediabetes should carefully monitor their carbohydrate intake to avoid the blood sugar fluctuations that may lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Dates may be an enjoyable and safe treat for many people with diabetes and prediabetes.

The fruit consists of a low GI, meaning it does not cause significant blood sugar spikes when people eat it in moderation. They also contain an array of important nutrients for those with diabetes, including fiber, magnesium, and potassium.

A person can eat dates as a snack or as a sweetener in oatmeal, desserts, and more.