Date syrup and the glycaemic index

When Southwark PCT invited me to attend a MEND programme reunion for 80 of its graduates and their parents, I offered to host a potted version of the “healthy shopping MOT” which had been such a hit at The Big Treat in July.

It goes beyond the scope of this particular post to share with you all my observations from the event and what I learned about what stops people from adopting healthier shopping, cooking + eating behaviours, but one ingredient from the “cupboard” that caught many people’s eye was a jar of date syrup.

I use this sometimes as an alternative sweetener when making flapjack- type treats and have also used it as a marinade or salad dressing mixed with tahini, spices and olive oil.

For those of you reading this who are yet to be converted to this natural sweetener, here goes.

Date syrup is high in vitamins A, B and D as well as calcium, magnesium and potassium, and has a low GI. You can use it as a sweetener in the same way to honey, and I think it is particularly useful for binding ingredients together in a recipe.

I cannot find date syrup in any of the GI data bases, but because it’s made from pure fruit (which is a source of fructose which is low GI) and dates are low GI, date syrup is bound to be low GI too.

Not a very scientific approach I agree, but I hope that you follow my train of thought.

The glycaemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.

Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health.

Seesawing bloodsugar levels affect your energy levels, behaviour, concentration and IQ (and not in a good way!). And a diet high in sugar is probably the biggest cause of obesity and overweight in children. Fast releasing high GI carbohydrates – on other words refined starchy foods and sugar – cause dramatic rises in blood sugar levels and this excess sugar is then stored as fat.

Back to our dates which is what prompted this blog post in the first place!

There’s been some debate about dates being low GI, or not, between scientists.

Campbell J. Miller and his associates at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the United Arab Emirates University (dates are one of the UAE’s main exports) reported on the glycemic index of 3 varieties of dates.

One type of date, the bahri variety, is readily available and is smaller, sweeter and a bit firmer and darker than medjool dates. Dr. Miller and his associates determined that they have a GI of 50.

Jennie Brand-Miller (no relative of the other Miller!) and her associates at the University of Sydney in Australia were the ones who originally determined that the GI of dates was 103.

So when asked about this new study she replied:

“I always had my doubts about the high value we got when we tested them. It never made sense for dates to be so high when they contain a lot of fibre as well as sugars in the form of fructose and sucrose as well as glucose. I even wondered if those dates had been steeped in glucose syrup.

“I have a feeling that the values (in the new study) may be correct because they say they tested the carbohydrate content themselves. When we tested them, we relied on the information on the package label. If the product had dried out considerably since packaging, then we would have overestimated the amount need to provide the 50 g carbohydrate portion. Hence we might have fed twice the weight really needed and therefore 100 g instead of 50 g of carbohydrate. Problems such as this come up now and again with GI testing but it is not common.”

So, dates (bahri, deglet noor, medjool and hayani) can have their place in a low GI diet which is good news.

I have always been keen on them, fresh ones still on the stalk in particular which are plentiful right now in Turkish food shops. Avoid the sticky ones, drenched in glucose, which are abundant at Christmas time, in rectangular boxes with a plastic ersatz “stalk”!

The (raw) chef Russell James writes about making date sugar on his blog.

Worth having a go?

Or try your hand at the date, walnut + sesame bars – the recipe for which I posted yesterday. Really easy, child’s play, and a nutritious treat!



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