Trying to find information about dried fruit can be a challenge. Some claim that is a healthy, nutritious snack, while others say it is the same as candy. With conflicting information out there, it is difficult to determine just what the nutritional value of dried fruit is.
Many people believe that dried fruit is high in sugar and loaded with calories, and while that may technically be true, it doesn't necessarily damage its nutritional value. Dried fruit is fruit that has had the majority of its water content removed via drying methods. The process causes the fruit to shrink and leaves a small, energy-dense dried alternative. This means that the natural sugars are more concentrated, which isn't a cause for concern for most people. And for athletes, it can make them a great source of quick fuel.
But, if you are watching your sugar, calorie, or carb intake, dried fruit can be an issue. U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest that for a general, healthy diet, you should consume two cups of fruit each day, and a half-cup of dried fruit equals one cup of fresh fruit.
The most common types of dried fruit are raisins, prunes, dates, apricots, and figs. But, what makes things so confusing is that their other varieties in candied form (which means coated in added sugar), including bananas, apples, mangoes, cranberries, and pineapples.
Candied fruits are completely different from dried fruits in that dried fruits are full of natural sugar. The drying process concentrates all of the fruit's natural sugar (glucose and fructose) and calories into a smaller package.
Eating too much fructose can result in negative health effects like weight gain, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. And with dried fruit being so sweet and energy-dense, it can be easy to eat large amounts in a short time period, which means an excess in sugar and calorie intake.
So, dried fruit can be healthy in small quantities, but the same can't be said about candied fruits. Those you actually want to avoid completely because of the sugar and syrup that is added before the drying process. The added sugar has repeatedly been shown to have negative health effects, including heart disease, obesity, and possibly even cancer.
Because there is such a big difference in the health effects, it is a must to check the nutritional information and ingredients on the packaging.
You can preserve dried fruit much longer than fresh fruit, and it can also be a handy snack when refrigeration isn't an option -- like on long trips. Dried fruit is loaded with fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants, which means it is highly nutritious.
The amount of nutrients are the same for dried fruit compared to fresh fruit, they are just condensed into a smaller package. Dried fruit has more fiber, vitamins, and minerals of its fresh counterpart.
So, just one serving of dried fruit can give you a significant percentage of your daily recommended intake of quite a few different vitamins and minerals, with a few exceptions. One of those is that the vitamin C content in dried fruit is significantly less than fresh fruit.
However, the health benefits associated with dried fruit are many because of the antioxidants that improve blood flow and digestive health, decrease oxidative damage, and reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Studies have also shown that people who eat dried fruit tend to ingest more nutrients and weigh less than those who don't.
Raisins, or dried grapes, are filled with fiber and potassium, and they also have a low glycemic value index and low insulin index -- which means they don't cause blood sugar spikes or a rise in insulin levels after eating.
In fact, studies show that raisins can improve your blood sugar control and also lower blood pressure, decrease blood cholesterol, and help you feel full. All of this means that they contribute to reducing the risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
Prunes, or dried plums, are also highly nutritious because they are rich in fiber, beta-carotene, potassium, and vitamin K. They are also a natural laxative due to the high fiber content and the sorbitol, which is a sugar alcohol naturally found in prunes.
They are filling, do not cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, and have been known to improve stool consistency and frequency. The antioxidants may also inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Of all the dried fruits, dates are the best source of antioxidants, as well as fiber, iron, and potassium. Studies have also shown that this incredibly sweet fruit can help pregnancy and labor if eaten during the final weeks before delivery.
Dates may help facilitate cervical dilation, and they could possibly decrease the need for a doctor to induce labor. There have also been promising results in animal testing as dates being a remedy for male infertility.
Some producers of dried fruit add preservatives called sulfites, which prevents discoloration and makes the fruit more appealing, but some individuals are sensitive to sulfites. Brightly colored fruits like raisins and apricots may have sulfites, and that can lead to stomach cramps, asthma attacks, or skin rashes.
To avoid sulfites, simply choose fruits that are more brown or grayish in color and avoid the more brightly colored options. Also, if dried fruit is improperly stored or handled, it can cause contamination from fungi and aflatoxins.
As with just about anything you eat, there are both good and bad aspects of dried fruits. They can definitely contribute to your daily nutrition, but if you eat them in excess, they can cause problems because of the high sugar and calorie content.
So, simply eat dried fruit in small amounts, and pair them with other nutritious foods like yogurt or oatmeal or mix them with nuts for a healthy trail mix.
It is best to avoid eating them by the handful because it is incredibly easy to eat too much at once. And, if you are on a low-carb, low-calorie, or low-sugar diet, it is best to avoid them altogether.
And finally, candied fruits are not a healthy option for your diet. If you see on the package that sugar has been added, just say no. It's best to remember that dried fruit is not candy, so there is no reason it should taste like it.