Dates, those odd-looking, deliciously chewy and sweet little brown nuggets, have been a dietary staple of many traditional cultures for centuries and often play a significant role in their medical practices as well.
And for good reason! Dates are nutritional powerhouses jam packed with no less than 15 different minerals and at least 23 different amino acids and contain 7g of dietary fibre per serving! Traditionally, dates have been attributed with helping alleviate a variety of health complaints, from constipation to heart conditions to cancer!
This mighty little fruit is also well known in fertility circles, with much folklore and many an old wives’ tale trumpeting it’s mystical powers. Research in more recent years has begun backing up many of these tales with real results! I was committed to doing whatever I could to ensure a safe, healthy, natural birth for both myself and Little Miss, and I firmly believe that dates played a role in that.
Researcher has found that women who ate six dates per day for the four weeks leading up to their estimated delivery date dialated faster and easier, had a 23% lower incidence of spontaneous membrane rupture, an 18% greater incidence of going into labour spontaneously, and a 21% lower use of labour augmentation. To top it off, the women who ate the dates had a latent phase of labour of a little more than half of that of the women who didn’t consume dates (510 minutes vs. 905 minutes). I don’t know if the dates deserve all the credit, but I went into labour spontaneously, had a very fast labour with no interventions or augmentations, and my membranes did not rupture until half an hour before Little Miss was born!
And if shorter labours with fewer interventions weren’t enough, research has also shown dates to be more effective than oxitocin at preventing postpartum hemorrhage in otherwise normal deliveries. Following placental delivery, 50g of Deglet Noor dates was administered to one group of women and 10 units of IM oxitocin was administered to the second group. The group who was given the dates lost approximately 30% less blood than the oxitocin group in the first hour following delivery and approximately 26% less blood over all. I had been planning on eating 50g of dates immediately postpartum to avoid a “managed” third phase of labour with synthetic oxitocin, but because we arrived at the hospital via ambulance, I did not have them with me. To further complicate matters, I had a small placental abruption develop during delivery due to how fast and forceful it was. Since my delivery was not exactly “normal”, I was not able to evaluate whether or not dates would have worked to control my postpartum bleeding. Next time!
The biggest catch with all this date goodness is fructose. Dates are very high in fructose and too much fructose consumption can lead to a host of issues, such as obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and increased cancer risk. But before you go sharpening your pitchforks against fructose, these concerns result from excessively high fructose consumption (>50g/day). Low to moderate fructose consumption (10-20g/day) can actually be beneficial, helping to reduce blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity!
So how do you take advantage of the benefits of dates while minimizing the effects of their fructose content?
- Choose wisely as not all dates are created equal. The two most common types of dates available in Canada are Medjool and Deglet Noor. Deglet Noor dates are smaller and contain only 2.5g of fructose and are just as effective as Medjool dates which contain 7g of fructose.
- Eat your dates solo. Consuming glucose and fructose together accelerates the absorption of fructose, which you don’t want.
- Take some extra vitamin D. Excess fructose has been shown to have a neutralizing effect on vitamin D. If you supplement with extra vitamin D while your fructose consumption is higher, it should help to compensate for any neutralizing effect. Studies have shown that it is not only safe but beneficial for pregnant women to take 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
- Finally, consuming higher levels of fructose for a short amount of time (like four weeks leading up to your estimated delivery date) is not likely to have a significant long-term impact. For me, the pros far outweighed the cons!
Wondering how to get those dates in? Here are a few of my favourite recipes (because stuffing your face with plain dates gets old fast):
- Orange-Carob Bliss Balls
- Bacon-Wrapped Dates
- Pate-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Prunes (but use dates instead of prunes)
- Bacon-Date Crusted Salmon
Have you ever used dates to help with labour and delivery or post partum?
Please note that I am not a doctor or a trained health care professional of any kind. This post is based on my own personal research and experience only and the suggestions contained herein may or may not work for others and are not intended to replace medical advice.