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This article refers to dried fruit with no sugar additives. Any candied fruit belong to the “sugars” category.
The healthiness of dried fruit is not as “black and white” as some sources seem to portray it. It involves taking into consideration a few scenarios:
- Sprinkle your rolled oats and yogurt with an ounce of currants or add 3 or so dried, sliced figs to your salad and you can call dried fruit healthy – rich in nutrients and fiber but not enough sugars to cause any harm.
- Have a handful or two of raisins as a snack and you can call it unhealthy, since there is an overload of calories, and the amount of fructose may overpower the benefits of the nutrients, however nutrient-rich it may be. (1)
Process of drying fruit
Dried fruit are simply fruit with most of the water removed. Drying fruit is an ancient method of preservation that began as early as 12,000 BC. (2)
The process of drying fruit now includes various methods such as using a food dehydrator, sun drying, or oven drying. If done on an industrial scale (as opposed to home methods), the fruit is then pasteurized to destroy any insects and their eggs.
The dried fruits are then conditioned – its water contents are distributed evenly to prevent mold growth. Sulfites may be added to extend the shelf life, protect them from microbes and prevent discolorations. (3, 4)
The sun-drying process enhances the antioxidants’ activity in raisins, but has also been shown to decrease other compound concentrations (e.g. vitamin C). (5)
List of dried fruit
The most common dried fruits are: raisins, dates, figs, apricots and plums (prunes).
Other dried fruits available include: apples, blueberries, jackfruit, mango, pears, shredded coconut, pineapple, goji berries, bananas and strawberries.
Recommended serving of dried fruit
The official standard serving size of dried fruit is between 1 – 2 ounces, depending on the sources:
- 1 oz. (28g) is a standard serving according to the University of North Dakota (6)
- ~ 1.5 oz. (¼ cup; 42g) as a standard serving size according to ChooseMyPlate
- ~2oz (56g) as a standard serving according to the Sydney University’s Glycemic Index database database
The actual consumption of dried fruit varies greatly from none to excessive amounts.
Why are dried fruit good for you?
A unit of dried fruit contains approximately as much sugar (including fructose), fiber and minerals as a unit of fresh fruit (e.g. nutrients in 1 dried sultana approximately equal to those in one fresh sultana grape).
Bottom line, dried fruit are:
- A great source of fiber (1) (see other high fiber foods here)
- An important source of vitamins and minerals (although the amount of some vitamins may be reduced due to the heating process). (9)
- A great source of phenol antioxidants (especially dates and figs). Dates have the highest concentration of polyphenols of all dried fruit. (1)
These antioxidants are associated with anti-inflammatory and blood pressure reducing properties. They are also known to kill or reduce the growth of micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoans and have an overall effect on reducing the risk of various diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers. (10, 11)
- Some observational studies show that people who eat dried fruit have a better nutrient intake, an overall better diet and tend to be slimmer. However, this may be related to the overall trend of health conscious people eating more nutrient rich foods.
Dried fruit is a great substitute for junk food snacks and choosing dried fruit over junk food certainly has weight loss benefits. (12)
- The best choice of dried fruit is organic, with no added sugar. Most of the dried fruit varieties can be found in organic form.
When are dried fruit unhealthy?
Dried fruit may be unhealthy in certain circumstances:
- Dried fruit are easy to overeat.
Dried fruits are of a small size (smaller than fresh, whole fruits), taste sweet and are popularly considered as healthy, which makes them easy to overeat. If eaten in excessive amounts, dried fruit add high amounts of extra calories and fructose to the diet.
- Dried fruit contain a high amount of fructose.
Micro-nutrients are not the only nutrients occurring in high concentrations in dried fruit. Fructose contents in some dried fruit are also high. Since high amounts of fructose intake from sweetened beverages, fruit juices and from using excessive amounts of sugar sweeteners is associated with metabolic syndrome and many related health issues, fructose intake from other sources is still controversial and needs more research.
Although fructose contents of fresh, whole fruit are not associated with negative health effects (read more..), fructose repercussions from eating high amounts of dried fruit are not yet well studied. A diet high in dried fruit contributes an unusually high amount of fructose.
- Non-organic dried fruit usually contains sulfites.
Sulfites may be present in some dried fruit (e.g. dried apricots or vine fruit such as Thompson Seedless raisins). They may cause an adverse reaction in some sulfite-sensitive individuals, especially asthmatics. (13, 14)
- Dried fruit can be contaminated.
If not processed, handled and stored correctly, dried fruit can be contaminated with mold, yeast, fungi and carcinogenic toxins produced by some types of mold and fungi such as aflatoxins, OTA, kojic acid and patulin. (15, 16)
The most common dried fruit contaminations of aflatoxins occur in dried figs. When contaminated, they appear fluorescent bright green/yellow under ultraviolet light. OTA contamination is common in dried vine fruit (raisins, sultanas and currants), dried figs, apricots, prunes, dates and quince.
- Some dried fruit may raise blood sugar level.
Glycemic Load varies from low (e.g. apricots) to high (e.g. raisins) depending on the type of dried fruit and the serving size, as shown in the table above.
A serving with a low Glycemic Load has an insignificant effect on blood sugar levels, while a serving with a high Glycemic Load causes sudden, high spikes in blood glucose leading to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. (17)
Note: Glycemic Load varies not only between different dried fruits, but also between varieties within the same type.
Example 1: for the same serving size (e.g. of 2oz), raisins have a Glycemic Load of 28, while prunes only 10.
Example 2: some varieties of dried dates have a Glycemic Load of 22, which is considered high, while others are only 14, which is considered medium.
How does the Glycemic Load of dried fruit compare to fresh fruit? See the example below of raisins vs grapes.
Glycemic index of raisins and grapes
Food type Glycemic index Serving (g) Glycemic load Raisins (1) 64 60 28 (high) 30 14 (medium) 15 7 (low) Grapes (2) 49 120 9 (low)
NUTRITION FACTS VS NUTRITION MYTHS
You will find a summary of the most common nutrition myths and evidence-based nutrition facts here.