Is dried fruit a health food?

Many of us these days try to choose healthier snacks, such as cereal bars, nuts, seeds, raisins and dates. But is dried fruit a health food?

Dentists would probably say that it isn’t as it can get stuck between the teeth and increase the risk of developing cavities…

Also, dried fruit is void of water, so sugar is much more concentrated than in regular fruit. In reality we might eat 2-3 apricots but eating them dried makes us consume way more: smaller volume just doesn’t fill us up, and they do taste nice and sweet. This in turn can spike our blood sugar (and crash it back down…).

Another side that we rarely think of is that sometimes fruit that is chosen for drying may be of the poorest quality – sad looking, damaged, underripe or overripe that is not deemed to be of saleable condition when fresh.

Generally fruit needs to be dried quickly, so often high temperatures are used which may cause many vitamins to be lost and damaging compounds to be created. You need to reach high temperature to kill off any bugs (“bugs” bugs, and “bacteria” bugs) as often the fruit might be already starting to go off.

Sometimes fruit is mixed with other ingredients while drying – you will often find sunflower oil in raisin ingredients, sugar in dried cranberries and cherries, rice flour or dextrose in figs, as well as preservatives, colourings, sulphites which some people can be sensitive to (if you see dried apricots that look nice and orange – they definitely have been treated with sulphites).

While dried fruit is stored, it can be affected by various toxins and mould. As if that’s not enough that many dried fruit such as raisins and prunes (aka grapes and plums) are heavily sprayed with health-harming pesticides (if not organic)!

So knowing all that, do I eat and do I recommend eating dried fruit?

Sometimes.

Prunes, for instance, have been known to alleviate constipation (better than fresh plums). Figs are a good source of calcium. Dried apricots – of iron. And they still contain good amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidants. For example, it would be quite difficult to get fresh goji or acai berries as they are very perishable. It’s probably not a perfect food for us (what is these days!) but it can still be used in a healthy diet.

So when considering dried fruit:

  • Please, buy organic when you can. Read the ingredient list and check there is no sugar and nothing nasty added.
  • Look for sun dried, slowly dried (or freeze dried!) fruit or dry them yourself. Look for fruit that doesn’t need much drying – dates, figs.
  • Try to get them as fresh as possible and eat them soon. Store them in airtight containers, and ideally in the fridge.
  • Before eating, definitely wash them, and ideally soak.
  • Look after your teeth – rinse after eating dried fruit, floss etc.
  • Limit portions – try to imagine how many pieces of the fresh fruit you would be happy to eat. Mix them with other foods, such as nuts or grains to lower GI/GL.
  • Use them instead of sugar, not on top of it.

Obviously, if you have any health conditions (e.g. diabetes) or concerns before making any changes in your diet speak to a qualified healthcare practitioner.

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