Hi Folks! So holiday time is upon us, a time of merry-making, eating, and drinking – especially foods that are no good for us ☺ But I came across a few tips recently that can help us make our holidays a bit easier on our systems.

The main tip I’d like to share with you is that dates seem to be quite good for us, and surprisingly that’s true even for diabetics. How can that be so, you might wonder, considering how sweet they are and so loaded with carbs? Aren’t they like 80% sugar? I think this is a great example of how a simplistic anti-carb approach can lead us to radically false conclusions. Not all high-carb foods are the same, nor do they have identical effects on the body.

To see how healthy a real food from nature is for us, we actually need to check, not make assumptions. So let’s look at some of the studies on dates and how they affect blood sugar levels.

This study compared a healthy group to a group of diabetics, and found that eating dates did not significantly raise blood sugar in either group:

“Each subject was tested on eight separate days with 50 g of glucose… equivalent of available carbohydrates from the 5 varieties of date… Capillary glucose was measured in the healthy subjects at 0, 15, 30, 45, 60, 90 and 120 min and for the diabetics at 0, 30, 60, 90, 120, 150 and 180 min. The glycemic indices were determined… There were no statistically significant differences in the GIs between the control and the diabetic groups for the five types of dates…The results show low glycemic indices for the five types of dates included in the study and that their consumption by diabetic individuals does not result in significant postprandial glucose excursions. These findings point to the potential benefits of dates for diabetic subjects when used in a healthy balanced diet.”

This next study found similar results, and that eating dates in combination with other foods such as yogurt also reduced their glycemic index (note that table sugar’s GI is about 100):

“Results: Mean glycaemic indexes of the dates were 47.2, 45.3, 35.5, 37.3, 28.9 for rutab, traditionally stored, commercial, rutab/yoghurt and commercial tamer/yoghurt preparations, respectively… Conclusions: Khalas dates, when eaten alone or in mixed meals with plain yoghurt have low glycaemic indexes. The consumption of dates may be of benefit in glycaemic and lipid control of diabetic patients. The consumption of dates in mixed meals with yoghurt appears to have, at most, a minimal effect on the glycaemic index.”

But the good news about dates doesn’t stop there. It also turns out that dates lower levels of triglycerides in the blood – helping to decrease risk of heart attacks -and if that wasn’t enough, they appear to have significant antioxidant activity:

“Most important, fasting serum glucose and triacylglycerol levels were not increased after consumption of either date variety, and serum triacylglycerol levels even significantly (p < 0.05) decreased, by 8 or 15% after Medjool or Hallawi date consumption, respectively. Basal serum oxidative status was significantly (p < 0.01) decreased by 33%, as compared to the levels observed before consumption, after Hallawi (but not Medjool) date consumption…it is concluded that date consumption (and mainly the Hallawi variety) by healthy subjects, despite their high sugar content, demonstrates beneficial effects on serum triacylglycerol and oxidative stress and does not worsen serum glucose and lipid/lipoprotein patterns, and thus can be considered an antiatherogenic nutrient."

And one specific variety of date lowers levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), in addition to actually lowering blood sugar:

“The effect of dates on blood glucose showed that only the variety Tamesrit had a significative decrease on blood glucose (p <0.01). Concerning lipid profile, we noted that Ghars variety induced no significant variation of different lipid parameters while the variety Tamesrit reduced the LDLc level (bad cholesterol), thus improving the lipid profile."

And again, here’s more evidence that dates have a high concentration of antioxidants, which provide a wealth of health benefits: “These results suggest that all date varieties serve as a good source of natural antioxidants and could potentially be considered as a functional food…”

Here’s a video from Dr. Gregor on the subject, along with one comparing date sugar to other sweeteners.

As long as we’re on the subject of good news about sweeteners, let’s look at which artificial sweetener not only isn’t so bad for you, but appears to actually be helpful.

So using date sugar and erythritol may be a way to make this holiday season a bit sweeter for you and your family, especially for those with diabetes. See my recipe below for Faux Pecan Pie, a delicious way of using dates and coconut with no added sugar.

As always, see the disclaimer at the top of the page: please check with your appropriately licensed health care professional before making any changes to your diet.

Now what about when we do wind up eating some of the less healthy sweetened treats? Well it turns out that there’s some evidence that by having your treat with a couple of cups of green tea, you can blunt the blood sugar spike and subsequent drop:

“Mice fed an antioxidant found in green tea — epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG — and corn starch had a significant reduction in increase in their blood sugar… levels compared to mice that were not fed the compound…”The spike in blood glucose level is about 50 percent lower than the increase in the blood glucose level of mice that were not fed EGCG,”…The dose of EGCG fed to the mice was equivalent to about one and a half cups of green tea for a human… EGCG was most effective when the compound was fed to the mice simultaneously with corn starch. For humans, this may mean that green tea could help them control the typical blood sugar increases that are brought on when they eat starchy foods, like breads and bagels that are often a part of typical breakfasts.”

Of course, this study was conducted on rats, not humans, but it is suggestive.

Faux Pecan Pie

The original version of this recipe I found here, but I’ve replaced the nuts for those who are allergic.

Preparation: take two cups of dates and soak in two cups of water for 3 hours; save the soaking water. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crust: use a prepared crust if you’re pressed for time, otherwise combine 1 cup shredded coconut with one cup of rolled oats in your blender and blend well. Dump out into a bowl. Then add 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 2 dates, and 1 teaspoon vanilla into the blender and mix until well combined. Add to the oat-coconut combination and mix until you have a moldable crust, and press into your pie pan.

Filling: put the dates and the soaking water into the blender with 1/2 cup coconut oil, 2 tablespoons vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend well and pour into pie crust.

Topping: combine 1 cup of rolled oats with enough melted coconut oil and erythritol and/or date sugar so that they’re coated, and sprinkle on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes; if the topping isn’t sufficiently brown, broil it for a couple of minutes until it is (watch it so it doesn’t burn!).

Enjoy a delicious pie that has a multitude of health benefits and is gluten free, dairy free, etc.

I hope you and yours have a healthy and happy holiday season!

Questions, comments, or suggestions? I’d love to hear from you (especially if you try the pie) so don’t be shy!

Edit: I made this recipe over the holidays, and the oat topping really wasn’t tasty at all; a bit too many oats. I’d use something else, like shredded coconut, (or pecans or almonds if you can eat nuts).

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