Dates are one of the best foods that have ever been discovered by man. Dates impart good health to us as they are packed with a plethora of nutrients. Some of the health benefits from dates include remedy for gastrointestinal disturbances like ulcers, protection of liver, promotion of dental health, nourishment in fevers, remedy for dysentery and their natural laxative property. Due to their instant energy restoring property, they are generally taken during breakfast
Introducing dates in baby food can be a very good idea due to the very reasons given above. They not only provide instant energy, but they also contain essential vitamins and minerals which are much needed for child growth.
History of dates
Dates are considered as one of the earliest known fruits to be cultivated in Mesopotamia, now in Iraq, for over 5000 years. In ancient times, date palms were grown in the Middle East and northern Africa. Date palms have been of particular interest in the Middle East and Africa because few other plants can grow in that harsh, desert environment.
For a very long time, date palms have provided not only with fruits but the whole tree has also been used extensively for various purposes. These included ornament, shelter, fiber and fuel purposes of ancient people. Date palms are also used for various religious purposes as well. Now, dates have spread from the Middle East to other places around the world. Now, date palms can be found in most tropical and subtropical countries in the world. In the Unites States, dates are grown mainly in southern states ranging from Florida to California. Today, dates are of commercial value because of their exotic nature and due to a whole range of health benefits that they offer. Saudi Arabia tops as the highest producer of dates in the world, at 1350 metric tonnes for the year 2009. (Hodel, Johnson, Imported and American Varieties of Dates).
Can dates be introduced in the diet of infants?
Yes, dates can be introduced in baby’s food, once they are about 6 months old or solid or semi-solid food has already started. The nutritional value found in dates is of significant importance for baby’s development. By introducing dates in baby’s fruit, you can make sure that your baby gets the best nutrition.
You can start adding dates one at a time, along with other fruits. You can either mash the fruit or better steam it along with other fruits. The sweet taste of dates will complement other fruits well and your baby will like it.
Health benefits of dates for Infants
Let us examine the benefits of introducing dates into baby food.
Nutrient rich food: As mentioned earlier, dates have high amounts of vitamins and minerals which are essential for your baby’s growth. Some of which include calcium and magnesium are indispensible for bone health. As dates are high in calcium and magnesium, they are ideal for babies and toddlers whose bones are still developing. Potassium is another mineral which is found in dates and is important for baby’s growth and brain development. (Office of Dietary Supplements)
Remedy for intestinal disturbances: Dates have been noted to be good remedy for intestinal disturbances. They help in eliminating parasitic organisms and help in establishing colonies of friendly bacteria in intestines. (HK Bakhru, Foods That Heal, pp 37)
Liver protection: In infants and children particularly, liver gets affected easily by bacterial and viral infections. Typhoid, hepatitis, jaundice are some of the very common diseases which are found in infants and children. During such times, apart from seeking medical help, you can include dates in your baby’s diet. Studies show that dates have significant liver protective properties. (Vyawahare et al, 2009)
Remedy for gastric ulcers: Children and toddlers can also suffer from acidity, acid reflux and ulcers in some cases. In such conditions, dates can be given to the baby in addition to regular treatment. Research shows that dates can reduce ulcers significantly. Ask your paediatrician for contraindications of the medicine and dates. If it is okay, then you can include dates in your baby’s food. (Vyawahare et al, 2009).
Dates for stronger teeth: Teething infants can be given ripened dates for better dental development. Chewing dates can strengthen their gums and their teeth can grow quicker and stronger. (Nadeem et al, 2011.)
Nourishing during fevers and smallpox: Dates infused in milk is very nourishing to toddlers and children. This infusion can be particularly given when your baby is recovering from fevers and smallpox. Rich in nutrients, dates promote speedy recovery. This can also be used for adults.
Remedy for dysentery: Toddlers can also suffer dysentery. Bacterial infection in the large intestine generally causes dysentery. The sweet pulp of dates is good for controlling dysentery.
Relieves from constipation: Date fruit contains high amount of dietary fiber. This is essential for adding bulk to the stool and promotes water absorption in the stool. This results in smooth bowel movement.
Measures to be taken while adding dates to your child’s diet
- Unripe dates contain tannins which may cause adverse reactions in toddlers and children. Hence, opt for only ripened dates.
- A better age for introducing dates to your child’s diet can be after 6 months or after you have started feeding solid or semi-solid foods.
- In the beginning, add one date at a time to your child. Make sure that the fruit is steamed not boiled, as boiling can wash away all the necessary ingredients. Mash this steamed date to make sure that is easily chewable for infants with no teeth. Don’t forget to remove the seed. Seedless dates are better choice.
- Date can be added as a complementary fruit to other fruit mash ups that you are giving to your child, if any. In such a case, you make sure to give the date without adding it with any fruit, initially. So, you give dates as evening snack. In this way, you can note any allergic reactions, if any. If there are no reactions, then you can add dates in the regular diet.
- As your baby grows older, you can slowly introduce raw dates, when your baby is teething.