Great Source of Fiber, But High in Sugar

Key Takeaways

  • Dried fruits make up 3.7% of the total fruits that Americans eat.
  • People who eat more dried fruit have higher intakes of heart-healthy fiber and potassium.
  • If you add more dried fruit to your diet, watch your portion size. About 1/4 cup is considered a “one serving” of dried fruit. 

If you grab a handful of raisins as a snack, you may wonder if you are making a smart choice. New research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that dried fruit consumption is associated with higher diet quality.

“Since dried fruits lose water and volume during the drying process, their overall nutrient content becomes more concentrated than fresh fruit,” says Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant.

Consider that a cup of grapes has 62 calories, while a cup of raisins (dried grapes) has 494 calories. While a whole cup of fresh fruit counts as a serving, just 1/4 cup dried fruit is the recommended serving size.

Fruit is under-consumed by most Americans. Research shows that 76% of women and 86% of men in the US do not meet the recommendations for daily fruit intake, which is two cups per day. Dried fruit makes up just 3.7% of the fruit in an average American diet.

What Was Studied?

In the study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers set out to compare the diet quality and heart health in people who eat dried fruit and assess nutrient intakes on days when dried fruits were or were not consumed.

The research looked at the overall dried fruit intake of Americans. Data was collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys between 2007 and 2016, which included questions about dried fruit intake.

Heart health was assessed by gathering data on body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol levels.

What Did the Study Find?

Dried fruit makes up a very small proportion of the total fruit in the average American’s diet. About 7% of adults ate at least 1/4 cup of dried fruit on the survey recall days.

The mean consumption of dried fruit per day was 0.2 cups, which is just 10% of the recommended daily recommendation for fruit. Most dried fruits are eaten at breakfast or as a snack. They are usually ingredients in other foods such as cereals, nut mixes, and baked goods. These foods may also contribute sugar and sodium to the diet, so eating dried fruit on its own is likely a better choice. 

Interestingly, total diet quality was significantly higher in people who ate dried fruit versus those who didn’t. Dried fruit consumers had a lower BMI, waist circumference and blood pressure level compared to non-consumers.

Dried fruit eaters also had higher intakes of important nutrients, such as fiber and potassium. But intake was also higher for polyunsaturated fats, carbohydrates, and calories, likely from eating dried fruit as part of bread or baked goods.

Calorie intakes were about 200 calories higher on days when participants ate dried fruit, but this did not associate with weight gain, since dried fruits were eaten so infrequently. 

Dried Fruits in Your Diet

Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, an adjunct professor of nutrition at NYU and a nutritionist in private practice, says she recommends dried fruits to clients who love them, but treats dried fruit as dessert. “Enjoy in moderation and watch your portions,” says Young.

“Dried fruit is a way to get more fruit in the diet, but like juice, it is not the best way,” explains Young.

Lisa Young, PhD, RDN

Fresh fruit still is the best option. It’s far too easy to eat too much dried fruit.

— Lisa Young, PhD, RDN

Although dried fruits are not large contributors to fruit intake, encouraging consumption could increase intakes of important under-consumed nutrients. But following small portion sizes is important.

“Some of the beneficial nutrients that are most notable in dried fruit include fiber, potassium, and iron, however sometimes dried fruit also contains added sugar and fat,” Stark notes.

Stark also says that eating 1/4 cup of dried fruit is an easy way to boost your daily fruit intake, plus dried fruit is conveniently shelf-stable, and an easy on-the-go snack. She recommends adding dried fruit to trail mix, oatmeal, yogurt, or salads.

Buying Dried Fruit

If you plan to buy dried fruits, Stark suggests options without added sugars or fats, such as raisins, dates, apricots, prunes, and figs.

Beth Stark, RDN, LDN

Be thorough when reading labels for dried mango, cranberries, banana chips, or pineapple, which may be candied, fried, or sweetened with added sugars.

— Beth Stark, RDN, LDN

Young adds caution for people who are sensitive to sulfites, which are often added to dried fruit to preserve color and make them look more appealing.

“This may cause adverse effects like a rash or stomach cramps in people who are sensitive,” says Young. “It’s important to read labels.”

What This Means For You

Since dried fruits lose water and volume during the drying process, their overall nutrient content becomes more concentrated than fresh fruit. Dried fruits increase total fruit intake and contribute to higher diet quality and nutrient intake, but also increase calories. Watch portion size and calorie intake if you choose to eat dried fruit.

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