Sweetened with Dates: How Healthy Is It Really?

Photo by Mona Mok on Unsplash

Q.  I watch my sugar intake and I’ve been searching for a healthy granola bar. Finally, I found Larabars at my grocery store: Only three ingredients and no added sugar. Awesome! My only concern is that the sugar content, while derived completely from dates, is very high.  If I’m limiting my added sugar intake, should I also pay attention to sugars from natural sources? Thank you for your advice!

A. You have to be impressed by a processed food with only three ingredients!  But I’m glad you didn’t let the glare of that health halo blind you to the high sugar content.

In terms of “added sugars,” the Larabars squeak through on a technicality.  Added sugars usually refers to refined sugar and other concentrated sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. (Yup, even though they’re natural, they’re considered added sugars!)  The naturally-occurring sugars in whole fruit and dairy products are usually given an exemption.

By the usual definition, the dates in your granola bar wouldn’t be considered added sugar. But, frankly, dates are about as close as you can get to sugar and still call yourself a fruit.  (For that matter, I guess sugar cane could technically be considered a whole grain!)

How Nutritious are Dates?

An ounce of medjool dates contains 19 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber. An ounce of honey provides 23 grams of sugar and 0 grams of fiber. Neither one is a significant source of vitamins or minerals. (Click the links to see the complete nutrition facts.)

Aside from a gram or two of fiber, a bar sweetened with dates is really not that much different from a bar sweetened with honey.  Ask yourself this: If the bar were sweetened with honey instead of dates, would it be more sugar than you’d be willing to eat?   Although I’m all for whole foods and short ingredient lists, I agree with you that a bar with less sugar might be a better choice.

See also:How much fruit is good for you?

5 thoughts on “Sweetened with Dates: How Healthy Is It Really?

  1. My favorite snack bar is called Gnu (or Flavor and Fiber), and like Larabars they have no added sugar but are sweetened by fruit juice. They have 12 grams of fiber per bar and about 10-12 grams of sugar depending on the flavor (each bar is also 130-140 calories). Are these better/worse/the same health-wise as Larabars?

    1. Lizzy, that’s much lower in sugar than the Larabars. As I discuss in my new book (chapter 3), when looking at processed foods, I like to see at least as much fiber as sugar…and it sounds like these bars are in line with that!

  2. When comparing amounts of sugar in dates why do you talk in 2 different measurements? eg. 1 ounce of date contains 23 grams of sugar. Unless you are familiar with both imperial and metric and can convert the numbers the figures donot give a proper comparison. If you had said that 28 grams of dates contain 19 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fibre (note the spelling, English ) an easier comparison can be made.

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