We all know that fruits are delicious and nutritious foods that we should all include (sparingly) in our diets. But not everyone can buy fresh fruits regularly due to time, costs and other constraints.
Many people turn to dried fruits as a convenient alternative because they are often more affordable, more widely available, and are easy to store and transport.
However, the healthfulness of dried fruits largely depends on the way they are made. Dried fruit has gained a reputation for being loaded with sugar. While some products certainly include added sugar, there are also numerous diet-friendly options available at your local Dis-Chem store.
Some dried fruit products contain a single ingredient, namely the fruit itself. These options offer similar nutritional benefits to fresh fruits but with the added convenience of longer shelf life and smaller portion sizes. These features make them popular additions to lunch boxes and as on-the-go snacks.
Fruits like apricots, berries and grapes can be dried whole, while other fruits are available dried in halves or in slices (think kiwis and mangoes).
Other products are infused with different types of sugar solutions or fruit juice concentrate before drying, while others are soaked in added sugar and treated with artificial preservatives.
When considered as a healthful snack, dried fruits certainly offer a better alternative to sweets, chocolates and other salt-laden convenience foods, provided the product doesn’t contain excessive amounts of added sugar.
READ MORE: 4 Tips For A Healthier Diet
The drying process
The drying process used to create unadulterated dried fruits removes the fruit’s water content. This means bacteria, yeast and mould cannot grow and spoil the food. And because drying removes moisture, dried fruit becomes smaller and lighter in weight.
Drying also slows down the enzyme action that causes foods to ripen, but the process does not inactivate these beneficial compounds.
Drying processes differ and include solar or sun drying, oven drying and dehydrating in a food dehydrator.
Packed with nutrients
These manufacturing processes generally preserves most of the nutrients found naturally in the fruit. This ensures that dried fruits remain a beneficial source of important bioactive and phenolic compounds such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants such as carotenoids and plant sterols, and fibre.
The dietary fibre content and other bioactive compounds that offer prebiotic benefits such as polyphenols make dried fruits great digestive aids.
Some dried fruits such as prunes and apricots also contain high levels of sorbitol, which has laxative properties.
Numerous research studies affirm that eating more dried fruit, provided it doesn’t contain added sugar, is an effective way to boost your intake of vital nutrients and meet your recommended daily fruit intake of five 80g servings a day. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) even classifies traditional dried fruits as “fruit”.
What to look for in dried fruit products:
- Made from natural fresh fruits.
- Minimally processed.
- No or few added preservatives.
Unsurprisingly, traditional dried fruits including dates, prunes, apricots, peaches and figs feature prominently in the “Best Overall Diet” – the Mediterranean diet – for their polyphenol content.
READ MORE: Quality trumps quantity in nutrition matters
Mind the calorie trap
However, you must remain mindful that dried fruits are a concentrated form of their fresh fruit versions. A serving of dried fruit is smaller than a serving of fresh because the water has been extracted.
Consequently, in addition to their higher nutrient density, they also contain more carb-derived energy per gram. As such, portion control is vital when including energy-dense dried fruits in your diet.
A study conducted at Pennsylvania State University affirmed this fact. Researchers found that people tended to derive more key nutrients from their diets on the days they ate dried fruit, including dietary fibre and potassium, but they also consumed more calories.
As already mentioned, dried fruits don’t contain the same water content as fresh fruits. And while some options are packed with fibre, you should accompany any dried fruit snack with water to aid your digestion.
Without sufficient water, your body will need to pull moisture from the digestive tract, which can cause cramping and/or dehydration.
Common dried fruits available include: