If you avoid eating dried fruit with added sugar, you're making a smart choice because you'll avoid the excess calories from all that fructose. Still, you may wonder whether dried fruit is really a healthy choice at all. In fact, it is; high in fiber and carbohydrates but low in fat and sodium, dried fruit is a smart alternative to other sweet snacks. Nonetheless, you should watch how much of it you eat, and stick to fresh fruit whenever possible.
Drying fruit requires exposure to high temperatures for extended time periods, which destroys some nutrients. Vitamin C is one nutrient lost in the process. One quarter cup of sun-dried tomatoes, for example, contains 7 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake, 6 percent of iron and 8 percent of vitamin C. A serving of fresh tomato provides 32 percent of your recommended vitamin C intake. It is possible to pretreat fruit with citrus juice to add more vitamin C, but this process may also add sugar. Overall, dried fruits are still an excellent source of fiber, carbohydrates and some nutrients.
In 2005, the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" published a study comparing antioxidant activity in dried and fresh fruits. Researchers found that figs and dried plums were both high in nutrient value and antioxidant levels. Figs produced a significant improvement in blood plasma's antioxidant capacity for four hours after consumption. This antioxidant capacity effectively cancels out the oxidation produced by drinking a soft drink that contains high fructose corn syrup. The researchers recommended that Americans should eat more dried fruits for their antioxidant benefits, among others.
As Cornell University nutritionist Christina Stark told the New York Times, drying fruit takes out the water, concentrating both nutrients and calories. In fruits, much of the calories come from sugar. "Go Ask Alice," a health advice column produced by Columbia University, labels dried fruit as a sugary snack, but notes that it is a healthier choice than most. Even without added sweeteners, dried fruits are indeed high in sugar: 1/4 cup of raisins, for example, contains 31 g of sugar.
Overall, dried fruits are a healthy choice. The main drawback is that they can be highly caloric, even without added sugar. A good rule of thumb is to eat about half as much dried fruit as you would eat fresh fruit, according to the CDC.
Many dried fruits are treated with sulfur dioxide, which functions as a preservative. However, the World Health Organization warns that sulfites can be dangerous to your health. In particular, sulfites can affect enzyme function in your digestive system and could possibly cause anaphylaxis. However, this reaction is unlikely unless you have an existing allergy or consume sulfites at very high levels.
- Centers for Disease Control - Fruit and Vegetable of the Month: Fruit of the Month - Dried Fruit
- "Journal of the American College of Nutrition"; Dried Fruits - Excellent in vitro and in vivo Antioxidants; JA Vinson, et al.; February 2005
- "The New York Times"; Fruit, Cut and Dried; CC Ray; July 2008
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice - Nutrition of Dried vs. Fresh Fruit; January 2007
- California Department of Public Health; Harvest of the Month; December 2007
- World Health Organization; Food Additives - Sulfur Dioxide and Sulfites; 1999