By Barbara Krooss –
Admit it. Dried fruits aren’t sexy menu items. People mislabel them as being not that healthy and expensive on an ounce-for-ounce basis compared with fresh fruit. But none other than the Centers for Disease Control has come to their reputational rescue by reporting dried fruit can help the seven out of eight adult Americans who aren’t getting their daily recommended 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit-equivalents hit these targets.
Raisins, dates, prunes, berries and such also provide lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. If that’s not enough, most are fat-free, and they can help support immune function and prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers.
Despite all their benefits, dried fruits are not as popular as their fresh alternatives. The average American eats about one pound of dried fruit annually, a decline of more than 50 percent in recent years. This level of consumption is minuscule compared to the more than 110 pounds of fresh fruit gobbled up on average by Americans each year, Statista.com reports.
No knock against the benefits of fresh fruit, but dried berries, prunes, and dates should be more popular. Health benefits aside, they are more portable and available than fresh fruits.
“They are available year-round, are relatively consistent in quality, and can be stored far longer than fresh. Many are also less expensive per serving than their fresh counterparts,” Dr. Kristina Petersen from the University of Pennsylvania reported.
According to her research, eating dried alternatives may also help keep people leaner and healthier.
The Penn State study involving more than 5,500 participants found that those who ate dried fruit daily had healthier diets, better overall health and lower body mass index, waist circumference and systolic blood pressure. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that raisin munchers had lower body mass indexes and overall higher-quality diets than people who skipped them.
Nonetheless, dried fruit remains unglamorous, lacking fresh fruit’s iconic association with abundance, youth, vitality, fertility, earthly pleasures and temptation.
There are other concerns as well, many unfounded. Worries include fear of weight gain from eating dried fruit, loss of nutrients in processing, additives and high sugar and fiber content. Many believe dried fruit is more costly than fresh alternatives.
Lots of these worries are invalid, overblown or remedied by portion control and careful reading of nutritional labels.
Does dried fruit cause weight gain? Portion control’s key. Consider apples to apples. One fresh apple–a one-cup serving—has 65 calories and 13 grams of sugar. Its water content makes it both filling and hydrating.
In contrast, a dried apple serving is only ¼ cup and has 20 percent fewer calories (52) and one less gram of sugar (12). The danger lies in its low volume and lack of portion size. It temps people to grab just one more handful, which in turn starts ratcheting up the calories and sugar.
Drying is another concern, leading to assumptions that the process undercuts the nutritional value of dried fruits. Well, picked fruits lose vitamin C, minerals and antioxidants. Quick dehydration can help preserve essential fatty acids, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants and most vitamins. How much is lost and retained depends on how soon drying begins and whether it involves air, sun, oven, microwave or freezing. Lower temperatures help preserve heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamins A, B and C; freeze drying’s best, according to SmartLifebites.com.
In terms of sugar content, it is a mixed bag. Even though half of the fruit’s natural sugar is fructose, dried fruit’s sugar may still be problematic, especially for people with diabetes, MedicalNewsToday.com reports.
“Dried fruit can be a great choice for a nutritious snack, but consumers might want to be sure they’re choosing unsweetened versions without added sugar,” Penn State’s Dr. Valerie Sullivan added.
Sullivan’s research hailed the benefits of dried fruit. She warns while raisins, dates, figs and apricots don’t always come loaded with extra sugar, pineapple and papaya, mangoes, pineapples, cranberries, bananas, and apples may.
Allergy sufferers may also want to double-check what may be hiding in dried fruit, since additives such as food coloring, sulfur dioxide and other sulfites may be in certain fruits, like apricots, to enhance their look.
What may be most surprising of all is that dried fruit is cheaper per serving than fresh. Drying also saves fruit spoilage and the risk of spreading food poisoning due to mold, yeast and bacteria.
What’s the bottom line? Seven-eighths of all Americans need more fruit for good health. Fresh fruit is good for the soul and body, but it’s a high-maintenance, expensive option. Dried fruit may be unfashionable, but it is reliable, manageable and pretty damn healthy.