Healthy Eating

4 Delicious Ways to Use Dates as a Sugar Alternative

Plus, why dates make such a healthy sugar alternative.

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

While this sweet delight is nothing new, dates are currently trending, and having a much-deserved moment in the spotlight. Between their natural sweetness, their jam-packed nutrient profile, and their versatility, it is understandable why these fruits are so popular. And according to the Whole Foods 2023 Food Trend predictions, dates are expected to be a top-trending sugar replacement this year. 

Yes, you heard that right. People can use dates instead of sugar in a slew of recipes! Plus, store-bought brands are jumping on board. From ketchup and hot sauce to overnight oats and cookies, expect to find dates in everything!  

If you’re wondering how dates make their way into some unexpected recipes, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn about four different ways to include these sweet tiny nutritional powerhouses into your favorite dishes.

Why Dates Are A Healthy Sugar Replacement

Dates are a nutrient-packed fruit that is grown on trees in warmer climates. Known as “‘nature’s candy,” these delicious fruits are nothing new! You can stuff them with nut butter or chocolate, add them to your dessert, or bite into them plain. And if you’re a big appetizer fan, you probably know they’re famously enjoyed wrapped in a piece of bacon alongside a slice of artisan cheese. While all of these recipes are delicious, there are many nutritious ways to enjoy dates as well! And good news — more and more people are starting to take advantage of the natural sweetness of these fruits to elevate their recipes in a healthier way. 

So, Why Dates?

Unlike table sugar, dates have a low glycemic index, meaning that eating this fruit won’t spike blood sugar (like what can happen when people eat white bread, sugar, and other items with a high glycemic index). 

Also, unlike table sugar, dates contain key nutrients like fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. And these little caramel-tasting bursts are also loaded with antioxidants too!

How To Use Dates As A Sugar Alternative

With so many benefits, it is not hard to be convinced to try and include more dates in your dishes. And thankfully, there are a wide variety of ways to do just that — and all are equally delicious and simple to do.

To get you started on hopping on the date trend, here are four ways these fruits can be added to dishes that can elevate your food in both the nutrition and taste department. 

#1 Add Dates To Smoothies

Instead of adding high-sugar ingredients to your smoothie (that are lacking when it comes to nutrition), consider tossing in some dates! You’ll get the perfect punch of all-natural sweetness along with a boost of nutrients.

For something simple and delicious, try this FitOn Vanilla Cinnamon Date Shake! It tastes like a vanilla milkshake, except it’s dairy-free, naturally sweetened with dates and banana, and full of hidden veggies like cauliflower.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 3 dates, pitted
  • 1 cup frozen cauliflower florets

Directions:

Step #1: Add all ingredients to the blender. Blend until smooth.

Step #2: Enjoy! 

#2 Use Date Syrup In Sauces

Sweeter sauces, like BBQ and teriyaki, oftentimes require added sugars to achieve the unique taste that many of us know and love. But it’s not just a small sprinkle. Unfortunately, many recipes and brands pile on the sugar. Think: ketchup, pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, and more!

So, rather than using sugar, try using a natural alternative like date syrup instead. A ratio of ⅔ cup of date syrup for every 1 cup of sugar can typically do the trick. 

While you can opt for a store-bought brand, it’s easy to make your own! 

Here’s how to make DIY date syrup:

Step #1: In a medium pot, add ½ pound of pitted Medjool dates with 2 cups of water.

Step #2: Simmer for 30 minutes. Cool, blend in a blender, strain, and then enjoy! 

#3 Lean On Date Paste As A Binder

If you are making a granola bar, a cookie, or another treat that requires a sticky binder, date paste can be just what your recipes need. While every recipe is different, date paste can be used in place of maple syrup, honey, nut butter, or even sugar! 

The best part? You can make your own with ease. 

Here’s how to make date paste:

Step #1: Simmer 12 ounces of pitted dates in water for 15 minutes. 

Step #2: Drain the dates, reserving 1 cup of the liquid.

Step #3: Blend the dates and the 1 cup of the reserved liquid until a paste is formed. 

#4 Stuffed Dates

When we need a sweet treat, many of us immediately turn to chocolates and candies to satisfy that craving. But one go-to that has no added sugar and takes advantage of the amazing taste that dates can offer is stuffed dates!

To make stuffed dates, simply remove the pit and fill the center with your favorite mixings. Nut butter, nuts and seeds, fruit, chocolate chips, and dairy-free cheese are all tasty options! Plus, stuffing a pitted date with nut butter can offer a similar vibe that classic treats like a candy bar can offer (trust us on this!).

Dates For Healthy Cooking

Dates are known for their satisfying taste and their ooey-gooey consistency. And while they are a great snack choice to eat on their own, they can also be used in a slew of recipes like baked goods, smoothies, and sauces. Swapping out sugar for dates can add low glycemic sweetness to many dishes while also giving recipes a boost of antioxidants and micronutrients. So, try your hand at making your favorite muffin, sweet dipping sauce, or breakfast bar using dates, date syrup, or date paste in your recipes. You won’t be sorry you did. 

And be on the lookout for the yummy date-filled food items expected to hit the shelves this year!