Many people are tempted to grab a handful of dried fruit for a snack. It has the word “fruit” right in it, so it sounds like a healthy option. But as is often the case, too much of a good thing may be unhealthy. Dried fruit contains fiber, vitamins, and nutrients just like fresh fruit. Because it’s dried, however, everything is concentrated, which means you’re eating more sugar than your body may be able to process efficiently. There are pros and cons to eating dried fruit, so it’s important to understand them and find a good balance.
Pro: Increased Iron
For some fruits, the dried equivalents have health benefits over fresh ones. The drying process increases the iron in dried apricots, for instance. These little orange gems have more than twice as much iron as fresh apricots. Raisins, prunes, and figs are also good sources of iron. Most iron-rich foods are animal products, so dried fruit makes a great alternative for anyone who doesn’t eat meat.
Pro: Increased Fiber
Most dried fruits have the same amount of fiber, or more, as fresh fruit. The right amount of fiber keeps the digestive tract healthy but too much may cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Prunes are a great source of easily digestible fiber. Dried apricots and figs are also known for their high fiber content. They make a great addition to meat or cheese dishes, to aid digestion of these sometimes problematic foods.
Pro: Increased Antioxidants
Figs and dried plums, or prunes, are powerhouses when it comes to antioxidants, even compared to their fresh equivalents. Dates and dried berries are also high in antioxidants, which can improve digestive health and blood flow, and reduce the risk of some illnesses. A handful of dried blueberries mixed into oatmeal or yogurt is a great way to start the morning with a healthy boost.
Con: Decreased Vitamin C
Most fruits and vegetables are known for their high levels of vitamin C. However, vitamin C is heat-sensitive, so the dehydration process greatly reduces this nutrient in dried fruits. It’s a tasty treat and, especially in winter when fresh fruit isn’t as available or appetizing, dried fruit can be a tempting snack, but don’t rely on it for your vitamin C intake. Seek out some fresh fruit or other C-rich foods to help reduce the risk of catching a cold.
Con: Concentrated Sugar
Removing all the water from fresh fruit to dehydrate it doesn’t alter the sugar content but it does concentrate it. As such, dried fruit has a lot more sugar than fresh, by weight. Whereas a serving of fresh fruit is generally a half cup or one cup, a serving of dried fruit is usually a quarter cup or less. It’s easy to eat more than one serving and tax the digestive system with too much sugar.
Con: Added Sugar
Some dried fruits, like pineapple and mango, are candied, which requires adding sugar. Others, like cranberries, are naturally very tart, so manufacturers add sugar to make them more palatable. A quarter cup of sweetened dried cranberries has 29 grams of sugar, while the same amount of unsweetened dried cranberries has only three grams. Check nutrition labels for sugar amounts to make smart choices about how much to eat.
Sulfites are often added to dried fruit to help preserve the color and make them look more appetizing. People with asthma and certain allergies may react negatively to these additives, experiencing stomach cramps, skin rashes, and asthma attacks. Raisins, dried apricots, and prunes tend to be high in sulfites. It is possible to find dried fruit without sulfites but, again, it’s important to read ingredient labels carefully.
Pro/Con: More Calories and Carbohydrates
Due to the concentration that occurs when removing the water, one cup of dried fruit is much higher in calories than one cup of the same fresh fruit. Depending on the fruit, a quarter cup or half cup of dried is an equivalent serving of one cup of fresh. This density of carbohydrates can be a good thing, however. Endurance athletes who need an easily-digestible source of carbs during a workout or competition often turn to raisins and other dried fruits.
Drying is a simple method of preservation that has been practiced for hundreds of years; the practice makes it easy to enjoy fruits out of season or in an area they do not grow naturally. Dried fruit can last for months on the shelf, so it’s a great item to buy in bulk, to have on hand for baking and healthy snacks for school children and busy adults.
Dried fruit is less messy than fresh fruit, with no peels, cores, or seeds. Forgetting it in purses and backpacks, desk drawers, or the car doesn’t result in a smelly situation, and it’s ready to go for an emergency snack. This simple food is great to take along on outdoor activities for an energy boost. Since dried fruit is sold everywhere in snack-sized packages, it’s easy to make a healthy choice any time, as long as you’re mindful of overindulging.