Some foods are obviously healthy, offering a large range of benefits and few risks. Other foods are much more controversial, including coconut oil and soybeans. Sometimes it’s not even clear whether the food is something you should be eating or not.
This second pattern is true for dried fruit. You’ll even see some blogs claiming that dried fruit is simply amazing. Others suggest that it is nature’s candy and is something you should eat sparingly. So, is dried fruit good for you or not?
Not surprisingly, there are plenty of benefits to be found, including the antioxidants and nutrients. Some types of dried fruit even provide nutrients that we’re often not getting enough of. Yet, there are issues too, including the fact that dried fruit are high in sugar and calories.
There are also differences between types of fruit to consider. For example, dried cranberries, dried figs, raisins, and dates don’t look or taste the same at all. It’s hardly surprising that they are different nutritionally too.
Is Dried Fruit Good For Your Health?
- How Is Dried Fruit Made?
- The Benefits Of Dried Fruit
- The Problems With Dried Fruit
- What’s A Good Serving Of Dried Fruit?
- Does Dried Fruit Cause Weight Gain?
- Differences Between Dried Fruits
- Final Thoughts
How Is Dried Fruit Made?
Dried fruit is simply regular fruit that has had the water removed, sometimes by drying it in the sun and sometimes by using a dehydrator instead. Removing the water concentrates the sugar and nutrients in the fruit. The process often intensifies the flavor as well.
The lack of water means that dried fruit weighs less than fresh fruit, so you get much more of everything in a 100 gram serving of dried fruit compared to fresh fruit.
Preservatives are sometimes used too. These help the dried fruit to last longer by reducing microbial growth, but they’re not ideal. Some products even add other ingredients, like sugar or artificial colors. Focusing on organic products and reading the backs of packages carefully can help you to avoid many such concerning ingredients.
The Benefits Of Dried Fruit
A Good Source Of Fiber
Fiber is always worth talking about. It’s boring, true, but this macronutrient also keeps our entire digestive system functioning well.
Get too little fiber in your diet and you’ll find that you feel bloated more often and that you’re regularly constipated. You might be low in energy too, be dealing with blood sugar spikes and crashes, and have high cholesterol levels.
Some of those side effects can lead to serious health problems in the long term, like making heart disease more likely or leading to type 2 diabetes.
Fruit is always an excellent way to increase your fiber intake. Dried fruit is particularly potent because you’re getting more fiber per 100 grams than with fresh fruit.
Not surprisingly, the fiber content does vary depending on the type of fruit you choose. Half a cup of dried apricots, for example, gives around 4.7 grams of fiber. The same serving of dates contains close to 6 grams instead, while prunes have a little more again.
Figs are easily the most powerful ones, giving you more than 7 grams of fiber in a half cup serving. Why not try chopping dried figs into pieces and adding them to a stew? The flavor of the figs is an excellent contrast to the rest of the dish.
Provides Plenty Of Antioxidants
Dried fruit is more processed than fresh fruit, so it should be lower in antioxidants, right? This is true to a degree, as some antioxidants are water soluble and can be lost when the fruit is dried (vitamin C is the classic example here).
However, we now realize that the most potent antioxidants are phytochemicals instead. Because these antioxidants don’t get lost in the drying process, dried fruit ends up being an excellent source of them.
Figs are particularly interesting and may provide more antioxidants than most other dried fruits.
Why does this matter? Well, antioxidants aren’t just the next trending thing. They perform vital roles, by protecting our bodies from damage caused by free radicals. Doing so could have many long-term health benefits, perhaps even reducing our risk of disease.
Contains Nutrients As Well
Dried fruit also contains most of the nutrients found in fresh fruit, including potassium, vitamin K, vitamin A, iron, and even calcium. Their low water content even makes dried fruit is a concentrated source of nutrients. Pretty impressive, right?
Nutrient dense foods are important, as they’re a fast way to increase your nutrient intake. Dried fruit are also more appealing than other nutrient dense foods as they taste so good.
The nutrient composition varies depending on the type of fruit you choose. For example, prunes are one of your best choices for iron, while raisins are excellent for potassium.
If you’re short on a particular vitamin or mineral, you’ll need to do a little research to work out the best type of dried fruit to help.
They Can Help Relieve Constipation
The fiber in dried fruit is essential for keeping your bowel movements regular, an effect that decreases your risk of constipation.
Prunes are particularly relevant here, as they contain a sugar alcohol called sorbitol. The laxative effect of sorbitol is so strong that sorbitol is actually used in some laxative medications. No wonder prunes work so well for constipation.
May Reduce The Risk Of Some Diseases
The combination of antioxidants, fiber, and nutrients in dried fruit could be relevant to your overall health and disease risk. These components all help your body to function optimally, keeping you fit and well.
Dates may be particularly relevant, as they have a relatively low GI and contain a considerable amount of antioxidants. Some studies have also linked date eating to specific benefits, like a reduction in the need for induced labor among pregnant women.
While there’s plenty still to be learned, it’s already clear that eating dried fruit regularly tends to promote good outcomes, not bad ones.
Lasts Longer Than Fresh Fruit
Drying fruit helps to preserve it, giving it a much longer shelf life than it would have otherwise.
Take apricots as an example. They only last a few days after they have been picked. You can keep them in the fridge for around a week, but that’s about it. On the other hand, dried apricots will easily last for 6 months in your pantry and even longer if you store them in the fridge.
Different types of dried fruit vary in how to best preserve them and how long they last, but they’ll always stay good for longer than their fresh counterparts.
It’s easy to see why this matters. After all, it gets frustrating to have a week, at most, to use your fruit. Doing so means that you need to plan well and may need to focus on in-season fruit.
Dried fruit gives you much more flexibility. It means that you always have a fallback source of antioxidants and nutrients. This is fantastic at the end of the week when you don’t have any fresh fruit left and it isn’t grocery day yet.
Dried fruit is particularly good when you’re camping, hiking, or doing any other type of outdoor activity – as it is more resilient than fresh fruit, lasts much longer, and weighs less.
A Fast Release Source Of Energy
Because dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugar, it can give you a sudden rush of energy. While this sounds like a bad thing, it can be helpful in the right situation, like before, during, or after a workout. Plus, dried fruit is much less processed than many of the pre- and post-workout products on the market.
People practicing nature sports may rely on dried fruit too, as it is one of the most practical and convenient sources of fast energy.
The Problems With Dried Fruit
The Sugar Content
Dried fruit gets called nature’s candy for a reason – it’s pretty high in sugar. The amount varies depending on the type of fruit you choose. For example, dates contain more than 60% sugar, raisins come in at 59%, while prunes are much lower at 38%.
That’s just the natural sugar.
Some companies add extra sugar to make their products even sweeter. Because of this, you should check the ingredients label for any product. Make sure that it relies on dried fruit and nothing else.
It’s easy to assume that the natural sugar isn’t a problem because it comes from real fruit. It hasn’t been added in. However, you can overdo it with natural sugar just like you can with refined sugar and doing so leads to most of the same health issues.
It’s Very Easy To Overdo It
Dried fruit is a lot like candy. It’s far too easy to keep reaching for more, especially if you have the bag nearby.
The idea that dried fruit is healthy works against us here, as the health benefits are an easy justification to eat more dried fruit.
Thankfully, the problem is easily avoided by portioning out your dried fruit first. Keep the portion you plan to eat near you and put the rest away. This way, you won’t be tempted to keep going when it’s time to stop.
Can Be Contaminated
Dried fruit isn’t always safe. It can sometimes be contaminated with aflatoxins, bacteria, or concerning compounds, ones that can easily cause harm.
This contamination is difficult, if not impossible, to spot by just looking at the dried fruit. To protect yourself, it’s best to focus on fruit from reliable companies, ones that go to whatever lengths are needed to produce a safe and reliable product every time.
Often High In Oxalates
Oxalates occur naturally, but they’re far from harmless. Consuming too many oxalates puts you at increased risk for kidney stones (which isn’t an experience anyone wants).
This risk is increased even further if you’ve had a kidney stone previously or aren’t drinking enough water.
While fresh fruit contains some oxalates, the amounts are generally low enough that you don’t need to be too concerned. The equation changes with dried fruit, as everything becomes more concentrated, including the oxalates.
Some of the worst choices are dried pineapple, figs, and prunes, all of which are high in oxalates, even if your portion size is tiny.
Some Are High In FODMAPs
FODMAPs are a particular type of carb that can ferment in your digestive system. Most of us can consume FODMAPs without any issue at all.
However, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and some other digestive issues may get considerable side effects from FODMAPs, including cramps, diarrhea, and more. Following a low FODMAP diet sometimes helps to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
In general, the FODMAP content of dried fruit closely matches the fresh version.
Fresh apricots, for example, contain decent amounts of fructans and sorbitol, making them a high FODMAP food. Dried apricots can be even worse, as dried fruit means that everything is more concentrated, including FODMAPs. The sorbitol found in prunes is a FODMAP too, making it another fruit to avoid.
On the other hand, strawberries contain barely any FODMAPs, so the dried version should be safe. You’ll still be cautious with your serving size though, as too much fructose at a time can trigger IBS symptoms as well.
Sulfides Are Sometimes Used
Sulfur dioxide is a food preservative and a type of sulfite. We get sulfites here and there in our diet, but some dried fruits and wine are particularly high in them.
The chemicals aren’t a big deal for most of us, especially if our intakes are small. However, some people are sensitive to them and might get side effects from high sulfite foods, including allergy-like symptoms and perhaps migraines. People with asthma need to be particularly careful, as they’re more likely to develop a sulfite allergy.
Thankfully, sulfites aren’t always used. You can avoid them by focusing on organic dried fruits instead or by drying your own. Such products won’t last as long as those that rely on sulfites, but they should still have a decent shelf life.
High In Carbs
Not surprisingly, dried fruit is high in carbohydrates (or carbs, for short). For example, just 5 prunes contain a whopping 30.5 grams of carbs – and only 3.4 grams of those carbs come from fiber.
Carbs are incredibly controversial these days, partly because of how they influence your blood sugar levels. Carb rich foods tend to rapidly increase your blood sugar levels. This increase doesn’t last though and you’ll often feel an energy slump sometime later.
Your blood sugar ping-ponging like this is never a good thing and could even put your health at risk. It’s also hard to perform optimally when your blood sugar is sometimes too high and other times too low.
While dried fruit is relatively unprocessed and contains natural sugars rather than refined sugar, this blood sugar effect is still concerning.
If you are going to eat dried fruit, try pairing it with a source of protein to decrease the blood sugar effect. Eating fruit as part of a healthy trail mix is an excellent way to do this.
What’s A Good Serving For Dried Fruit?
The best serving of dried fruit is going to depend on the rest of your diet. Most of the time, though, you probably want no more than quarter of a cup of dried fruit. Eating more than that risks providing you with too much sugar.
Using dried fruit as an ingredient can help keep your portion sizes balanced, like including the fruit in trail mix or granola. Try not to have an open bag of dried fruit in front of you, though, as it’s very easy to eat more than you intend to.
Does Dried Fruit Cause Weight Gain?
Dried fruit is often thought to make you gain weight. That’s not too surprising, given that it is high in calories and sugar. Plus, you can go far over a healthy serving without much effort at all.
Still, just because dried fruit can cause weight gain, that doesn’t mean that it will.
The effect it has is going to depend on your serving size and the rest of your diet. For example, if you’re having small amounts of dried fruit every so often instead of other sweet foods (like candy), then the dried fruit isn’t going to harm you at all. But, if you’re having large servings of dried fruit on top of a sugar rich diet, then yes, you’ll probably gain weight.
As always, it’s all about balance and focusing on the bigger picture.
Differences Between Dried Fruits
Fruits vary in their nutrients, antioxidants, calories, sugar, and fiber. The same is true for dried fruits. As a result, your benefits will vary depending on the type of dried fruit that you choose.
Here are few types, along with their features.
Dried figs are often seen as one of the healthiest dried fruits. A 100 gram serving of the figs provides 10 grams of fiber, along with a decent amount of potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
The calcium is particularly interesting, as this nutrient is rarely found in fruit.
Prunes are simply dried plums. They’re famous for their ability to naturally relieve constipation. That’s not just marketing either – prunes really can help, due to their combination of fiber and sorbitol.
Banana chips can be tricky, as many products aren’t just dried bananas. They’ve often been fried in some type of fat and may have added sugar. Such additions give you a sugary snack that’s surprisingly high in saturated fat.
Some products buck the trend and offer pure dried bananas instead. These are healthier, but they’re still not powerful. Like fresh bananas, banana chips tend to contain plenty of sugar and minimal fiber.
Dried pineapple is another option that’s relatively low in fiber.
The fruit stands out, though, because it contain an enzyme mixture known as bromelain. Bromelain is found in fresh pineapple too, but other fruits don’t offer it. The bromelain may offer a variety of benefits, including helping to decrease inflammation.
The catch is that most dried pineapple products contain added sugar. You may need to hunt around until you find ones without anything added.
Dried fruit retains many of the nutrients and antioxidants that you find in fresh fruit. As such, it should offer most of the same benefits.
Is dried fruit as good as fresh? Probably not. Some nutrients will always be lost when food is processed.
Still, dried fruit is nutrient-dense, easy to transport, and has a long shelf-life. These features mean that in the right situation dried fruit much actually be better than fresh fruit.
Despite these positive features, dried fruit is still high in sugar, carbs, and calories. To get benefits from it, you’ll need to stick with reasonable portions and make sure you’re not consuming too much sugar.