Should you be eating dried fruit? The truth may surprise you

dried-fruitDried fruit has had all the water removed, so it’s basically a concentration version of the nutrients present in fresh fruit; some hold the opinion dried fruit is healthy, and others say it’s similar to eating candy.

Since most fruits are high in water content, the drying process shrinks fruit down so it ends up extremely energy-dense for its size.

By far the most commonly consumed dried fruit is raisins; other popular choices are prunes, apricots, dates and figs. Some fruits are dried with sugar and labeled as “candied,” such as cranberries, bananas, apples, mangos and pineapples.

Dried fruit keeps for a much longer time than fresh fruit, and makes an excellent portable snack for situations where no refrigeration is available.

Since water is the only thing missing from dried fruit, it carries more than three times as many nutrients for its size than fresh fruit.

For example, the folate content of a single serving of dried fruit provides a hefty percentage of the RDI. (1)

Exceptions include vitamin C content, because some is lost in the drying process. (2) But the fiber is still intact, as well as the polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants that bring a range of health benefits. (3)

Polyphenols have been associated with lower levels of oxidative damage in the body, and may improve digestion and circulation; eating foods high in polyphenol antioxidants decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases. (4)

Every food has pros and cons, so let’s take a look at how eating dried fruit can affect your health.

Dried Fruit Can Help Reduce Health Risks

Observational studies indicate people who regularly eat dried fruit have lower body weights than those who don’t, as well as ingesting a greater amount of nutrients. (5, 6)

Since these weren’t controlled trials, it’s not possible to be certain participants were lighter or healthier because of the dried fruit they ate.

Raisins are the most popular dried fruit; they are fiber-rich and a good source of potassium, and also deliver other plant compounds known to benefit health. Since the glycemic index of raisins is in the low to moderate range, they are not likely to cause blood sugar spikes after a meal. (7)

People who eat raisins regularly may experience higher satiation levels with meals, potentially resulting in fewer calories consumed. Other benefits include: (8, 9)

  • Lower inflammatory markers
  • Decreased cholesterol readings
  • Improvements in blood sugar control
  • Lower blood pressure

Since these markers are associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes, eating raisins could drop the risk of developing these disorders.

Prunes are another dried fruit with notable positive effects on health. Made from plums, prunes are well-known for their laxative effect, and are rich sources of fiber, vitamins A and K, and potassium.

The reason prunes get things moving along inside is more than the fiber content; they are also one of the fruits containing sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, which can stimulate digestion.

A popular remedy for constipation, prunes have been found to improve both consistency and frequency of stools. (10)

Loaded with antioxidants, prunes can also inhibit oxidization of LDL cholesterol in the blood, which may lower the risk of developing cancer and heart disease. (11, 12)

Prunes are also a good source of boron, a mineral shown to be helpful in fighting osteoporosis. (13)

Dates are extremely sweet, but the glycemic rating is low, so blood sugar spikes aren’t an issue. (14)

Dates provide a higher level of antioxidants than most other fruits, along with fiber, iron and potassium. One area of extensive testing is the way dates affect women’s health in relation to pregnancy and labor.

Studies indicate women who eat dates during the last trimester of pregnancy are more likely to experience smooth and efficient dilation. (15)

In one study, only 4% of women eating dates over the last weeks of pregnancy needed to have labor induced, while 21% of those who didn’t eat dates required induction. (16)

Dried Fruit is High in Sugar

Fruits are loaded with natural sugars, and when they’re dried, the sweetness is concentrated into a much smaller package, so it may be easier to ingest more sugar than intended when snacking.

The glucose and sucrose contents of dried fruits tend to run high, which means calorie counts can be significant.

For example, you’ll get 84 calories from a one-ounce serving of raisins, with virtually all calories coming from sugar.

Check out these percentages for sugar content in popular dried fruits: (17)

  • Dates: 64% to 66%
  • Raisins: 59%
  • Apricots: 53%
  • Figs: 48%
  • Prunes: 38%

Between 22% and 51% of the sugar in fruits comes from fructose. Eating large amounts of fructose has been shown to have negative effects on health, including weight gain and higher risks for developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (18)

Read ingredient labels to make sure you don’t buy candied fruit, which has had sugar or syrup added before the drying process. This ups the calorie count even more, and while it’s gauged to increase appeal, it’s certainly overkill, since dried fruit is already quite sweet.

Added sugar in the diet has been fingered as one of the most destructive aspects of the modern diet. Not only does it jack up the risk of obesity, but it increases the chance of developing cancer and heart disease. (19, 20)

Sulfites are often added to dried fruit because they prevent discoloration through acting as a preservative. This is a common strategy for the more brightly colored fruits like apricots or raisins.

People with sulfite sensitivities can experience skin rashes, stomach cramps or asthma attacks after ingesting foods laced with sulfites. (21) Choose fruits that are less colorful, even gray or brownish, to avoid sulfites.

When dried fruit isn’t properly stored, toxic contaminants like fungi can be present, so be cautious about sources. (22)

The Bottom Line

The upside to including dried fruit in your diet is that it’s rich in fiber and important nutrients. The downside is it’s high in sugar and calories.

Summary: Dried fruit is a much healthier snack than chips or other common junk foods, and it can be beneficial as long as you don’t overdo it. Stick with small amounts, because the sweet taste makes it easy to help yourself to another handful, when an ounce or two would have been enough.

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21229417
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12769544
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15670984
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22747081
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21745628
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23789930
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19083424
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23789931
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24393750
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25109788
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11401245
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24090144
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22433045
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12627179
  15. http://jmrh.mums.ac.ir/article_2772_0.html
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21280989/
  17. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20086073
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24493081
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594708
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7426352
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26056470
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