Dried Fruit: the Unrefined Sugar Food of the Day
Photo by Rev Stan, from Flickr
I’ve been thinking, and reading, a lot about dried fruit of late, since I’m getting all caught up in the questions about fructose, refined sugars and unrefined sugars. If selected wisely, that is, not in a mass-produced version, especially not with any added sugars, dried fruits can be perfect specimens of unrefined sugar. But are dried fruits really healthy? I recently read a line from a health blog that’s stuck with me lately, which was: “don’t drink your fruit!” In other words, the writer was clearly saying, get your fruit intake from fresh fruit, not from juice, which by nature concentrates the sugars (not to mention all the mainstream brands of juice that have added sugars and/or high fructose corn syrup; keep an eye out for those and avoid them).
Are unrefined sugar dried fruits healthy?
So where does that leave dried fruit? Its sugars are concentrated as well. In fact, even though it’s an unrefined sugar, the dried version of a fruit’s sugars is so dense that the calories multiply substantially when transformed into dry form from to fresh. Imagine eating a handful of fresh grapes, to take one of the most obvious and common examples. Then imagine eating a handful of raisins that take up as much space as the grapes did- we’re talking about a quadrupling or more of calories and sugar. Check it out for yourself: go to nutritiondata.self.com, and put in raisins, and then grapes, red or green, raw. You’ll find that there are almost five times as many calories, and four times as many grams of sugar in a cup of raisins as a cup of grapes.
Unrefined Sugar is still Sugar- Keep your Dried Fruit Intake Modest
So what’s the lesson here so far? Most obviously, it’s don’t overdo it on the dried fruits. More specifically though, the most important lesson is: know your own tendencies, your weaknesses, and your limitations in terms of how consciously or unconsciously you tend to eat sugar-dense snacks, whether from junk food or from unrefined sugar snacks like dried dates, figs or apricots—and what you’re going to feel like later. Dried fruits will fill you up a lot faster than fresh ones, so do your best to bear that in mind, and if you’re at a party or someplace where you tend to eat mindlessly, give yourself a limit and don’t go back for seconds.
So with the caloric part addressed, at least for now, let’s move on to the health part, big picture-wise. Fresh fruit, the logic goes, is the ideal form to eat because all the sugars you’re taking in are being neutralized by all the fibers. Well, raisins and certainly prunes have plenty of fiber, too, don’t they? Yes, of course, but the ratio of sugar to fiber is still much higher in dried fruits than in fresh ones.
But as far as the issue of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, you’re in safe territory. There’s a limited amount of research on the health benefits of dried fruit, but I haven’t seen any findings that declare any of them to be unhealthy. Unless you subscribe to the ‘fructose is bad: period’ school, which I personally still feel is way too premature an argument, especially when it comes to dried fruit, then there are nearly as many healthy nutrients to be taken in from dried as in fresh fruit. Just as with fresh fruit, however, it’s recommended that you keep your daily intake modest. A good tip is to mix your dried fruit with some nuts – walnuts, almonds, pecans or hazelnuts, ideally – to spread the wealth and the health. Bottom line is: it’s hard to find a better form of unrefined sugar than dried fruit- it’s really the ultimate in the niche, if you ask me.