It’s easy to love fruits: they’re healthy and a natural way to curb your sweet cravings. Dates in particular are famous for their super-sweet flavour, nutritional health benefits, and they even make the ‘superfruit’ list on occasion. Dates have also become popular as a natural sweetener in all kinds of snacks, from protein bars to baked goods – so you never know where they might pop up.
However, this isn’t without controversy – dates and other supposedly ‘healthy’ snacks are coming under scrutiny for their very high sugar content. If you’re following a keto or low carb diet, you should definitely think twice before you tuck into a handful of dates, whether they’re fresh or dried.
Like most fruits, dates are unfortunately quite high in carbs. The figures can range from 5.3 grams of net carbs to almost 17 grams per date, depending on the variety and size. That’s quite challenging – if not impossible – to fit into a keto eating plan when you’re aiming for 20 to 50 grams of carbs daily. If you’re willing to allocate a huge portion of your daily carb intake to a few pieces of dates, it may be possible to have a small amount. However, it’s not really a sustainable option to include on a keto diet.
There’s no doubt that dates pack a ton of nutritional value – but are the health benefits of dates worth the downsides when you’re eating keto? If you’re unable to eat dates, what can you substitute for dates in keto cooking? This article will answer all the questions you have about dates on keto.
Are Dates Low Carb?
Dates definitely don’t qualify as a low carb food. According to the USDA, the common Deglet Noor date (roughly 7 grams) contains 20 calories, with 5.3 grams of net carbs. 5.3g of net carbs is quite high considering how small dates are – that’s over 75% carbohydrates. Dates also contain almost no fat at all, which makes their macronutrient split far from ideal for keto or low carb diets.
Carbs in Fresh Dates vs Dried Dates
If you’re choosing between fresh or dried dates to sneak into your keto diet, you’re probably better off going with fresh dates. Dried dates have almost twice the amount of calories and carbohydrates compared to fresh dates. They’ll be even harder to fit in a standard keto diet, and you’re more likely to eat them to excess.
Dried fruit can be almost irresistible snackable, and this is a bit of a problem when dried fruit (including dates) have a higher carb density. Just a handful of dried dates can throw out your macro goals for the day, so it may be easier not to buy them at all. Instead, keep the pantry stocked with alternative low-carb snacks for your evening sweet cravings.
How Many Dates Can You Eat on Keto?
This would depend on how you personally split your macronutrients for keto. Dates are definitely difficult to fit into your macros, but if you really want to crunch the numbers, you might be able to make a tiny amount work.
In general, those on keto shouldn’t eat more than 50 grams of carbs, but there are also those that go stricter and limit themselves to 40, 30, or even 20 grams of carbs per day. A common fresh Deglet Noor date has 5.3 grams of net carbs, but there are also larger date varieties like the Medjool date which have up to 16.4 grams of net carbs per date.
Simple math will tell us that you should keep it to a few pieces a day, or you could easily blow your macros in the space of one snack. The only solution is to add up your daily carb totals and make sure you can manage a date or two, depending on your individual carb limit.
Generally, if you really can’t avoid eating dates on keto, keep it to one or two dates maximum. If you’re eating dried dates, you’ll have to be even more careful – so it might be better to avoid dates altogether and choose a lower-carb fruit to enjoy instead.
Is Date Sugar Keto Friendly?
Dates sugar is a sugar alternative that is made from dried and ground dates. It’s become popular in the last few years since it’s less processed than conventional sugars, also containing more beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Date sugar can be homemade or store-bought and is made from a range of date varieties, so the nutritional stats can vary. On average, a serving size of 6 grams (around one and a half teaspoons) contains 6 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fibre, bringing the net carbs to a total of 4 grams with no fats or protein.
Compared to regular sugar, which is 100% carbohydrates, date sugar contains some fibre and is slightly lower in net carbs. However, it’s still too high in carbs to recommend on a keto diet. There are many low carb sweeteners on the market that will give you all the sweetness you’re looking for without the carb count.
Keto Date Substitutes
Nothing tastes exactly like dates, particularly if you’re looking to mimic the flavour and texture of dried dates. The trouble with dried fruit is that it concentrates the carb and sugar content even further, so snacking on dried fruit is not a good idea on keto.
Many people avoid fruit altogether on keto, finding it too high-carb to include in their diet at all. Personally, I prefer to take an individual approach and include small amounts of lower-carb fruits, especially berries. There are a few lower-carb fruits that may work within your meal plan, in limited quantities:
Fresh figs in particular contain only 9.5 grams of carbs per 100 grams. This is far fewer carbs than 100 grams of dates, which contain 75 grams of carbs – far exceeding your daily macro goals on keto.
Fresh cherries only contain 12 grams of carbs per 100 grams, so snacking on a couple of cherries is much more keto-friendly than choosing dates. Dried cherries will taste closer to dates, but also have a similar carbohydrate content, so fresh is always best.
Instead of substituting, it can be easier to look at the recipes you’re using dates in and find a keto-friendly alternative that avoids including dried fruit:
Replace snacking on dried fruit with snacking on low-carb nuts
Replace date-based energy balls with keto fat bombs
Replace date-based snack bars with almond flour berry muffins
If you’re looking for a similar flavour to date sugar in your recipes, a keto-friendly brown sugar sweetener will deliver the caramelised taste you’re after without the carbs or calories.
Which Fruits Are Keto Friendly?
While many fruits are quite challenging to fit in a keto diet due to their high carb content, this doesn’t mean that you have to avoid fruits forever. Here are some fruits that are lower in carbs and easier to fit into your daily macros:
This is probably the best fruit you could reach for if you’re on keto. Typically sold pulped and frozen, 100 grams of Acai berry paste contain only 2 grams of net carbs.
One of the least sugary fruits available is the starfruit, containing around 4.3 grams of net carbs per 100 grams.
Coconut is a popular fruit for those on keto for a very good reason. 100 grams of coconut only has 6 grams of net carbs, with 34 grams of fat. This makes coconut a great food to help you reach your macro goals.
Blackberries only have 4.3g of net carbs for every 100 gram serve. Along with blueberries and raspberries, these healthy treats really can work on a keto diet, along as you eat them in moderation.
If you’re looking for something sweeter than berries, but not as carb-heavy as dates or bananas, plums might be the answer. A single plum has around 6.5 grams of carbs, so you may be able to work the occasional plum into your meal plan.
Why Are Medjool Dates Good For You?
Medjool dates are slightly larger and therefore more carb-heavy than Deglet Noor dates. Both of these date varieties are rich in:
A variety of minerals, particularly copper and magnesium
Fibre to benefit the digestive system
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