Is Dried Fruit Healthy?

Is Dried Fruit Healthy?

In a word, maybe. Or even probably. But it depends on the context.

Dried fruit is healthier than an ultra-processed Twinkie, but it can contain similar amounts — if not more — sugar than the cloying snack foods many of us crave. Here’s that context caveat: Half a bag of dried mango without added sugars contains about 120 calories and 20 grams of sugar; compare that with the cream-filled spongecake with a seemingly endless shelf life at 150 calories and 19 grams of sugar per Twinkie (remember that there are two cakes per package). But, the dried mango contains 2 grams of fiber, phytonutrients, and vitamins C and A; the Twinkies contain negligible amounts of nutrients, save for 20 mg of calcium.

For a mango-to-mango comparison, how does dried stack up to fresh? If you’re focused on sugar consumption — and who isn’t these days — one cup of sliced mango contains 23 grams of sugar, versus 20 grams for half a bag in our dried mango example above. But, keep in mind that dried fruit is devoid of the water contained in fresh fruit. Water hydrates, of course, but it also helps make fresh fruit more filling than dried. It’s far easier to eat several servings of dried fruit (versus fresh) without realizing it.

Recent buzz about added sugar has us wondering: Are we eating too much? And should we pump the brakes on noshing trail mix spiked with dried papaya and pineapple, or trade that familiar box of raisins for something else in our kids’ lunch boxes? Dried fruit, because of its (naturally) high sugar content, doesn’t escape scrutiny.

Known fondly as nature’s candy, fruit is acidic and naturally high in sugar, which lends itself to sun drying. Some varieties of dried fruits contain added sugar, possibly because it has antimicrobial properties that allow us to store our fresh fruit through the winter months in dried form, or as jams, jellies, or fruit preserves.

Dried Fruit vs. Fresh Fruit: 5 Things to Know

1. Dried fruit can be as sweet (or even sweeter!) than candy.

Drying concentrates natural sugars within fruit, and sometimes sweeteners are mixed in during this process. When this happens, you could stumble into Candy Land without realizing it. Sweetened dried mango (80 percent of calories from sugar) surpasses licorice sticks (45 percent of calories from sugar) in sugar content, and a mere puddle of the Candy Land melted milk chocolate (66 percent of calories from sugar) swamp tops Lord Licorice’s candy cape. To cut down on added sugar, go for unsweetened varieties of dried fruit.

2. Dried fruit triggers fructose fears.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a common sweetener made from corn starch, was widely controversial over half a decade ago — and still is today. HFCS and fructose, a.k.a. fruit sugar, by association are blamed for the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and globally (note: Clinical trials have yet to identify fructose as a cause of obesity). Fructose is found naturally in fruit and honey. Its presence may make some approach dried fruit with caution. But, don’t get swept up in fearing fructose. It’s a sugar and, like all sugar, should be enjoyed in moderation… which brings us to the next point.

3. Portion distortion is easy with dried fruit.

Drying fruit removes moisture and reduces the fruit’s volume. Think of it this way: It’s far easier to pop 10 dried pineapple rings than 10 fresh ones. According to the American Heart Association, a typical serving of fruit is 1/2 cup of fresh fruit or 1/4 cup of dried fruit. In other words, don’t mindlessly snack on dried fruit — portion it out in advance. Beachbody recommends subbing 1 yellow Portion Fix container for 1/4 cup of dried fruit no more than three times a week.

4. Dried fruit can contain sulfites.

Sulfites and its chemical cousins (think: potassium sulfite, sulfur dioxide, etc.) are often used as preservatives in dried fruits. Sulfites can trigger allergic reactions, so if you or someone you love has an allergy or sensitivity to sulfites, always check the ingredient list on dried fruits.

5. Not all drying methods are equal.

Processing fresh fruit into dried fruit usually results in the loss of heat-sensitive vitamins and minerals that are present in fresh fruits. These heat-sensitive nutrients include vitamins A and C, and thiamin. Virtually all fruit drying methods use heat except for freeze drying, regarded as the best method of removing water while preserving the highest quality.

So, Are Dried Fruits Healthy?

Enjoy dried fruit as a sweet snack in moderation. It’s a healthy addition to your diet, and can supply valuable nutrients and fiber when you need a sweet fix. As with any other food, watch your portion sizes, and read labels.