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Dried fruit is to trail mix as chocolate chips are to cookies. One doesn’t taste as good without the other, but is dried fruit healthy? In a 2005 study comparing the quality of antioxidants in fresh versus dried fruits, scientists found that dried fruit wins hands down. “Compared with vitamins C and E, dried fruits have superior quality antioxidants with figs and dried plums being the best.” That said, the dried variety is also higher in calories and sugar than the same amount of fresh fruit.
Is Dried Fruit Healthy?
Yes, says Laura Hartung, a registered dietitian nutritionist and corporate wellness educator. In its most natural form, dried fruit is fresh fruit with all the water sucked out. The dehydration process results in a somewhat unappealing, wrinkly-looking fruit with a high concentration of nutrients. “Dried fruit is chock full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Plus, it’s non-perishable, palatable, and great for eating on the run,” she says. Below are a few of the benefits garnered from eating dried fruit:
- Ups your nutrient intake. Dried fruit is nutrient dense, meaning a small dried version of the larger fresh fruit will pack a much more powerful punch in terms of essential vitamins like potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and calcium, as well as the antioxidants mentioned earlier.
- Boosts colon health. “Dried fruits may also aid in colon health due to their prebiotic fiber compounds which feed healthy bacteria that maintains digestive health,” says Hartung.
- Improves diet. Those who eat dried fruit consume more nutrients and less fats, alcohol and added sugars than those who don’t, found a study of over 13,000 people.
- Encourages weight loss. The same study mentioned above found that those who ate dried fruits weighed less than those who didn’t.
- Reduces the risk of diseases. A study published in the Journal of Food Science claims that eating raisins may lower cholesterol and reduce blood sugar. The result: a reduced risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Not bad for a wrinkly little grape. Dates are also low on the glycemic index, which can help with glycemic and lipid control for diabetics, found scientists from the UAE.
- Lowers blood pressure. Researchers from the University of Kentucky found that eating raisins (as opposed to a processed snack) lowered systolic blood pressure. The result: reduced risk of cardiovascular issues and glycemia.
- Keeps you satiated. University of Toronto scientists found that children who ate a snack of raisins before a meal consumed less food than those who had grapes as a pre-meal treat. In other words, eating raisins may prevent you from going whole hog at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
- Relieves constipation. Eating prunes is more effective than taking psyllium for improving stool frequency and consistency, say English researchers.
- Improves bone health.“Eat more prunes,” says Hartung. A study published in Ageing Research Reviews found that eating prunes (a.k.a. dried plums) can both prevent and restore bone loss in animals. While more research is needed, the results are promising.
The Downside of Dried Fruit
PRACTICE PORTION CONTROL
Good things come to those who can control how much they eat (e.g. lowered risk of diseases, weight loss and strong bones). Pre-package your snacks in ¼ cup so you won’t overeat when you grab something on-the-go. Choose organic varieties with no other ingredients on the label and avoid those which contain added sugar and sulphur dioxide, says Hartung.
Now for the bad news. Dried fruit is calorically dense, which means it can knock us out with calories and sugar. One cup of grapes contains 104 calories and 23 g of sugar, for instance, while a cup of raisins has a whopping 434 calories and 108 g sugar. The sugar we’re talking about here is naturally occurring sugar (i.e. fructose), which isn’t bad for those who have healthy diets and no risk of diabetes. Once you factor in the fact that some dried fruits are artificially sweetened (especially tart varieties such as cranberries), however, the number will go up even further, as does the risk of diabetes, weight gain and heart disease.
Another downside of dried fruit? It contains less vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, than its fresh cousin. Dried fruit can also be made with sulphites, preservatives that can trigger asthma and allergies, among other health issues.
Can You Lose Weight Eating Dried Fruit?
Yes, says Hartung, if you enjoy it in moderation. As mentioned earlier, dried fruit is high in calories and sugar, so you should limit your servings to no more than ¼ cup. Avoid eating it by the handful which makes it harder to limit.
Is Dried Fruit Healthy as Fresh Fruit?
“Both fresh and dried fruit can be worked into a healthy eating plan,” says Hartung. “With fresh fruits, you get more vitamin C and some of the B vitamins like thiamin, versus dried fruits.” Another bonus: fresh fruit contains water, making it more hydrating and filling than dried varieties, adds Suzanne Farrell, MS RDN and owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition, Inc.
Fresh fruit also boasts less sugar and calories than dried fruit. That said, “dried fruit can sometimes offer an easy option for getting in fruit servings in certain situations such as hiking, camping, traveling and on-the-go [conditions],” Farrell says. Want to feel fuller after eating dried fruits? Drink water while you enjoy them, suggests Hartung.
When is The Best Time to Eat Dried Fruit?
Have you ever wondered, “is dried fruit healthy to eat during the summer?” It is, but consuming dried fruits during the cold winter months may be more practical. Fresh fruit is less available during this time, making dried fruit a healthy alternative. “Most dried fruit has comparable nutrients to fresh fruit (except it’s lower in vitamins C and some of the Bs),” Hartung explains.
Is Dried Fruit Healthy for Diabetics?
While diabetics can eat dried fruit, they should avoid those made with added sugar, says Hartung. Practicing portion control is also a must to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Farrell suggests consuming two to three tablespoon servings and says it’s helpful to combine them with a source of protein such as nuts to help control blood sugar levels.
What’s the best dried fruit option for diabetics? Prunes, says Hartung. “Prunes are a good choice for diabetics because eating them helps slow the postprandial glycemic response. They’re also good for colon health and can relieve constipation and prevent colon cancer.”
Sources & Resources
For related reading, please visit these posts:
- Sugar Content in Fruit: Is it Damaging to Your Health and Waistline?
- How Many Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Do You Really Need?
Improve Your Cholesterol Numbers with Citrus Fruits
- Is Watermelon Bad for You? The Lowdown on Your Favorite Summer Fruit