While many consumers try to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables to help improve health outcomes, a new study is focusing on the health benefits associated with eating dried fruits.
According to researchers from Penn State, consuming more dried fruits is linked with better overall health and diet quality. However, many dried fruits contain high amounts of sugar, which means it’s important for consumers to carefully read labels and choose the healthiest options.
“Dried fruit can be a great choice for a nutritious snack, but consumers might want to be sure they’re choosing unsweetened versions without adding sugar,” said researcher Valerie Sullivan. “Portion sizes can also be tricky, because a serving of dried fruit is smaller than a serving of fresh since the water has been taken out. But the positive is that dried fruit can help people potentially consume more fruit because it’s portable, it’s shelf-stable, and can even be cheaper.”
Dried fruit can boost healthy habits
To understand the benefits associated with eating more dried fruit, the researchers analyzed over 25,000 responses to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The participants’ health vitals were taken at the start of the study, and they also reported on their diets within a 24-hour period.
The biggest takeaway from the study was that higher dried fruit consumption was associated with healthier diets overall and better health outcomes. Participants who ate the most dried fruit had lower blood pressure and lower body mass indices (BMIs). However, the researchers also learned that eating more dried fruit was linked with eating more total calories throughout the day. To reap the most benefits from dried fruit, the researchers recommend that consumers pay more attention to the other foods they’re eating.
“In our study, people who consumed dried fruits had a higher calorie intake but a lower BMI and waist circumference, which suggests they were more physically active,” said researcher Penny Kris-Etherton. “So, when incorporating dried fruits, pay attention to calories and be sure to substitute out calories from low-nutrient foods for dried fruits to get the greatest benefit of eating dried fruits.”
The researchers also learned that dried fruit consumption affected the participants’ other food choices, both positively and negatively.
“What I also found interesting was that people tended to eat more total fruit on the days they ate dried fruit than on the days they didn’t,” said Sullivan. “On days when dried fruit was not eaten, however, fresh fruit intake was not higher. So dried fruit could be a way to boost overall fruit intake in people that aren’t eating the recommended amounts.”
While fresh fruits come in and out of season, dried fruits are always available to consumers. These findings confirm some of the health benefits associated with eating them, and the researchers encourage consumers to incorporate dried fruit into their diets.
“Minimally processed forms of fruit, including frozen, canned, and dried, have some advantages over fresh fruits,” said researcher Kristina Petersen. “They are available year round, are relatively consistent in quality, and can be stored for far longer than fresh. Many are also less expensive per serving than their fresh counterparts.”