The Benefits and Pitfalls of Dried Fruit

Dr. Christopher McGowan
December 16, 2020

The phrase “more than meets the eye” was never more true than when it comes to dried fruit. The shriveled up, shelf-stable versions of your favorite fruits can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how you look at them. Dried fruit, after all, is still fruit and comes with nearly all the nutrients, and the calories, of the version that came off the tree. 

What is Dried Fruit?

It seems we are always being told to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. Everywhere you look  there is evidence of the nutritional value packed into plant-based foods. Good things don’t always come easy, though, and fresh fruit can certainly be in that category. 

Depending on where you live and how busy your lifestyle is, buying, transporting, storing, and preparing fruit can sometimes seem like more trouble than it is worth. Ask anyone who has ever gone on a hike with a banana bouncing around in the bottom of their backpack. Despite its nutritional value, fruit can seem like more of a nuisance than a nutritional must-have. 

Thankfully, it turns out taking the water out of fruit can solve a host of problems. Properly dehydrated fruit can be stored for much longer periods, and at a much wider range of temperatures, than fresh fruit. It can also be cheaper to purchase, as it is far less expensive to transport and store. 

Many kinds of fruit can be dried effectively, though some fare better than others. Apricots, cranberries, bananas, blueberries, and raisins are among the most popular fruits that respond well to the drying process. 

What are the Health Benefits of Dried Fruit?

There are many reasons to get excited about the nutritional benefits of fruit. Dried or fresh, getting an appropriate amount of fruit in your diet can have positive effects on your overall wellness by helping to regulate blood pressure, keep your cholesterol in check, and provide you with antioxidants and essential nutrients like potassium and calcium.

The most important thing to remember is that, just like the nutritional punch, the sugar content of dried fruit remains largely unchanged. For this reason, keeping a handle on your portion size is very important. Eating too much dried fruit can be the point where a healthy snack becomes unhealthy. 

Even with the chance of overdoing it, there is ample reason to consider putting dried fruit in your diet. The range of vitamins and minerals that are available in fruit is extensive. Though not every kind has the full set, many fruit varieties contain amounts of the following essential nutrients:

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin K
  • polyphenols
  • magnesium
  • antioxidants
  • calcium
  • potassium

Can Dried Fruit be Bad for You?

With nearly everything in the world of food, too much of a good thing can be bad. If you have ever made the mistake of absentmindedly snacking your way through an entire bag of dried apricots, you know well that their potent laxative effect in helping fight constipation loses little of its punch in the drying process. This is a good indicator of how fruit, which is good for you in moderation, can be bad if taken to excess. With dried fruit, keeping track of how much you have eaten can be harder, as it can be easier to eat more than you would if the water content was higher. 

Getting cleaned out by eating too many prunes or dried apricots is far from the only effect eating too much dried fruit can have on you. The calories in some fruits come almost exclusively from sugar, and pounding down a pile of dried fruit can mean you end up eating more sugar and more calories than you might think. Knowing how sugar affects weight gain can help you understand why this might be a problem. 

The kind of sugar found in fruit is also important to keep track of. Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol found in prunes (which are dried plums) has an osmotic effect when digested, which means water is drawn out of your body and into your intestines to aid in digestion. This is what causes the softening of your stool when you eat prunes. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how taking this too far could have dramatic consequences. 

Many dried fruits contain fructose, and this is where the potential downside of eating too much fruit can begin. While fructose is a natural sugar and has a low glycemic index, which means it does not contribute significantly to a high spike in blood sugar after eating it, consuming too much fructose can contribute to increased risk of weight gain. Excess body weight, in turn, can be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

The reason dried fruit is considered to have a higher potential to cause negative effects related to sugar consumption can be attributed to how much of it you can eat at once. A tiny one-ounce portion of seemingly innocuous raisins can have as many as 84 calories, nearly all of which are coming from sugars. 

One other potential downside of dried fruit can come from the addition of sulfites in the drying process. Some fruits are not visually appealing when dried, so to keep intact the bright colors people associate with tasty foods, preservatives such as sulfites can be added. Some people have significant sensitivities to ingesting sulfites, including asthma attacks, stomach cramps, and rashes on the skin. If you are in this category, simply choose your dried fruit wisely. Though they may not look as appealing, dull-colored dried fruits often do not contain sulfites and may still be safe for you to eat. 

Is Dried Fruit Without Added Sugar Healthy?

Fruit that has been put through a drying process that does not involve added sugar typically has nearly the same nutritional value as fresh fruit of the same variety. There are exceptions, of course. Vitamin C, for example, does not typically survive drying well, and fruits high in this vitamin will not have the same nutritional value when dried.

Despite a few exceptions, eating an appropriate amount of dried fruit can generally have similar nutritional benefits and risks of fresh fruit. If you are concerned about your sugar intake, you should, however, avoid candied fruits such as mangoes, bananas, or apples that have had sugar added before they are dried. 

Which Dried Fruit is the Healthiest?

There may not be one dried fruit that is the absolute healthiest, but there are several varieties that pack a significant nutritional punch. Dates are one serious candidate for the title of healthiest dried fruit, with high levels of iron, fiber, potassium, antioxidants, and more. Dates also have a low glycemic index, so they do not typically contribute to a spike in blood sugar. 

Dried Fruit and Weight Loss

One area where there can be both benefits and dangers of dried fruit is for those who have had bariatric surgery or a weight loss procedure to help achieve a healthy weight. The smaller size of dried fruit would seem like a natural win for those whose stomach size has been reduced. This high nutritional density can also be part of the challenge. Your body will still need good nutrients after the available size of your stomach has been reduced, and the caloric density of tiny dried fruits can help. However, the higher caloric density, especially from sugar, can allow you to sneak around the lower calorie barrier set by your smaller stomach to help you lose weight. 

What is more, the laxative effects of eating too much dried fruit like apricots or prunes can lead to dangerous dehydration. With your smaller stomach, it is already harder to get enough liquid in your diet after a weight loss procedure, and losing excess water into your stool can put you in a precarious position. 

One of the most important things to remember in weight loss is that small changes can make big differences over time. If you are counting the calories and watching your carbs, being careful to keep close watch on your portion control when it comes to dried fruit can be very important. This is one reason it is crucial to have the right people on your team as you work to find the freedom from excess body weight. 

If you are in an ongoing struggle against obesity, getting the help of a nutritionist, or even more comprehensive medical advice, may be the next step in helping you understand how dried fruits, and everything else you eat, is affecting your health. That is one reason our medical nutrition therapy program is an integral part of the work we do at True You Weight Loss. Whether or not you are a candidate for a weight loss procedure, building an understanding of how your diet and lifestyle are affecting your body weight, and what can be done to make changes, will be a powerful part of finding your way to the freedom of living at a healthy weight for your body.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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