If you have a sweet tooth or rely on easy, portable snacks when you’re out and about, dried fruit (like raisins, apricots and prunes, for example) is probably pretty appealing to you.
Is dried fruit healthy? The truth is depending on how it’s made, dried fruit can either be a good addition to your diet in small amounts or a so-called “health food” you should never eat.
Here’s the good news: A 2020 cross-sectional analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that adults who included dehydrated fruits in their diets benefited from “higher diet quality and greater intakes of under-consumed nutrients.”
Results from the analysis showed that participants’ fiber, potassium and polyunsaturated fat intakes were greater on days when dried fruits were consumed versus when they weren’t — although more calories were consumed, too.
What Is Dried Fruit?
Dried fruit is another name for dehydrated fruit, which fruit that has had water removed. This results in a product with less volume and intensified sweetness — plus it lasts longer and doesn’t spoil very easily.
Do dried fruits count toward your daily fruit needs? Yes, they can — assuming you choose the right types.
A little over 1/3 cup serving of dried fruit is about equivalent to one one-cup serving of fresh fruit. In other words, 1/3 cup of raisins can provide a similar amount of nutrients as one medium apple.
Which Dry Fruit Is Healthiest?
Assuming you choose kinds that have zero added sugar or oils, healthy dried fruits include:
- All types/colors of raisins
- Dried berries, including blueberries, strawberries, mulberries, goji, etc.
- Apple rings
- Pineapple rings
- Orange slices
- Banana chips
Which dried fruit is lowest in sugar? First and foremost, always choose types that aren’t made with added sugar or other sweetness (like fructose, sucrose, syrups, juice, etc.). Among the lowest-sugar types include goji, mulberries, raisins, apricots and prunes.
How It Stacks Up vs. Fresh Fruit
Compared to fresh fruit, is dried fruit worse for you?
The biggest difference between dried and fresh fruits is that dehydrated fruit has a smaller volume, meaning it’s less filling and easier to overeat. If you ate an equal portion of both types, meaning one 1/2 cup serving, you’d consume a lot more calories and sugar from dried fruit compared to fresh fruit.
Does fresh fruit have more nutrients? Most likely it does. That’s because some delicate antioxidants and other beneficial compounds found within fruit can be destroyed if it’s heated too much or stored for too long.
Still, studies show dried fruit does contain some antioxidants — especially dried berries and cherries, for example — plus nutrients including iron; potassium; vitamins E, C and A; and others.
1. High in Fiber
It’s easy to meet your daily fiber needs when you consume concentrated sources of fiber, one of which is dried fruits. You’ll get about four to five grams of fiber from every small serving of dried fruit, which is nearly 20% of your daily needs.
Fiber has many important roles, including helping support gut and digestive functions, reduce constipation, control your appetite, and even maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
For example, a 2019 randomized controlled trial found that adults who struggled with infrequent stool habits (constipation) and low fiber intake experienced significantly increased stool weight and frequency when they added prunes to their daily diets over the course of four weeks.
Diets that include plenty of fiber are also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and other common health issues.
2. Good Source of Antioxidants and Nutrients
This helps explain why data from a 2020 systematic review suggests that “higher intake of raisins and other dried fruits may be important in the prevention of cancers of the digestive system.” People who consumed three to five or more servings of dried fruits per week had between a 24% and 65% lower risk of developing some types of cancer.
Additionally, figs, prunes, dried berries, raisins, etc., are full of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin K and more.
These essential nutrients are associated with health benefits such as lower blood pressure, protection against bone loss, help with muscle and nerve functions, and more.
Apricots are rich in beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, and vitamin E, both of which support normal vision/eye health as well as heart and arterial function. Dried mango, strawberries and blueberries all contain vitamin C, which support a healthy immune system and skin health.
3. Can Be Used to Naturally Sweeten Recipes
Adding things like raisins or dried cherries and berries to granola, baked goods, yogurt or oats can help decrease the need for added sugar. Dried fruits add a a natural pop of sweetness to many different recipes, even salads and roasted veggies, which enhances the taste without adding “empty calories.”
4. Portable and Shelf-Stable
Dehydrated fruit has its water/moisture removed, preventing it from spoiling easily and making it a highly convenient snack to pack when you’re on the go. You can take them to the gym to snack on before a workout, pack them in your children’s lunch for school or bring them with you when you’re traveling to prevent unhealthy snacking.
Downsides (Risks and Side Effects)
When buying dried fruit in grocery stores or online, look for 100% natural products made without added sugar, oils or sulphur dioxide (E220), which is added as a preservative.
Sulfur dioxide/sulfites help maintain fruit’s color and appearance, but this additive may contribute to negative reactions among some people, including allergies. Always read ingredients label to be sure you choose brands that don’t use chemicals or additives.
As mentioned above, another potential drawback to eating dehydrated fruit is that it’s relatively high in sugar and calories based on volume, meaning it’s important to stick to a small serving size (unless you’re looking to gain weight).
Studies suggest that although dried fruits can contribute nutrients to people’s diets, they don’t appear to displace other calories on days when consumed, meaning you want to prevent yourself from overeating them. You should also continue to eat fresh fruit if possible and not exclusively dried fruit, since research shows fresh fruit may have even more benefits for weight control and heart health.
How to Eat It
Because dried fruit may not be very filling on its own, it’s best to combine it with a source of protein and healthy fats. For example, you can make homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and raisins, or top plain yogurt or unsweetened oats with some chopped figs, cranberries, dried berries, etc.
Overall, for the most benefits try pairing fruit of any kind (whether dehydrated or fresh) with protein-rich foods and fats to make it more satisfying and to help keep blood sugar levels in check.
Try your favorite dried fruits in these healthy recipes:
- Dried fruit is fruit that has been preserved by having most of its water content removed. This makes it more shelf-stable and smaller in volume, while also concentrating its sweetness.
- Is dried fruit even healthy? If you choose types that have no added sugar or oils and you stick to small portions, it can be a good addition to your diet.
- Raisins, apricots, prunes, digs, dried berries, etc., are rich in fiber and contain nutrients, including antioxidants like polyphenols, potassium, iron, vitamin K and B vitamins.
- Eating about 1/3 cup of unsweetened dried fruit is roughly equivalent to one cup of fresh fruit, so it counts toward your daily goal of consuming two to three servings of fruit.