Ask Keri: Is dried fruit healthy, and how do freeze dried and dehydrated fruit compare?
Keri Says: Fruit, in its most basic form—whole and fresh—is like a gift from nature. It’s super sweet (yum!) but the natural sugar is balanced out with tons of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (like my favorite, antioxidants!), fiber, and water.
However, dried fruit comes in handy as a snack, since it’s super portable and lasts a long time. You can throw it in a baggie in your purse and not worry about peach juice soaking your wallet. And if you forget you have it, you can still eat it a few days later.
But is it as healthy as fresh fruit? And how do the many types now found at the grocery store differ? Here’s what you need to know.
The Process: Drying vs. Freeze Dried vs. Dehydrated
Despite differences in terminology and small differences in technique, all three of these preservation processes are pretty similar. Essentially, drying, freeze drying, and dehydrating are just three ways of saying: the water has been removed from the fruit.
Dried fruit can be dried in an oven or the sun but is generally dried in commercial dehydrators if you’re buying it at the store. So if you invested in a dehydrator recently, those apple slices you’ve been putting in it are not going to be very different from “dried.” Freeze drying is similar but the temperature is lowered below freezing before slowly rising, causing moisture in the fruit to evaporate.
Fruits labeled dehydrated or dried are generally going to be tough, chewy, and dense, while freeze dried fruits tend to be a lighter, airier texture. So, it may be about preference.
Is Dried Fruit Healthy? The Nutrition Facts
Fruits contain a lot of water. So, when you remove that H2O via any of these processes, all of the same nutrients that were in the original fruit are essentially concentrated into a smaller package. For that reason, if you compare things like raisins and grapes ounce for ounce, raisins are going to have more important nutrients like vitamins and fiber.
Some research shows certain nutrients may degrade in the drying process, notably vitamin C. Antioxidants can also be affected, with levels of some increasing and others decreasing. These changes are all pretty negligible, though. As I mentioned, you’re still getting lots of important nutrients in significant amounts.
But that “concentrated” effect essentially means you’re eating more of the fruit. Think about what 20 raisins looks like (not that much) compared to 20 grapes (a whole bowl). So, the fruits’ sugar, and therefore calories, are also condensed. It’s still natural sugar, but you’re getting more of it quickly, so suddenly that becomes something you have to watch a little more closely.
Finally, some companies that sell dried, dehydrated, and freeze dried fruits then add extra sugar to make the snack even sweeter. So, my advice is to watch your portion sizes when it comes to preserved fruits and to check the nutrition label and skip bags that include sugar as an ingredient. There’s enough already—you don’t need more.
The other common additive in dried fruit is the preservative sulfur dioxide. It helps preserve freshness and color, so you’ll find it more in light-colored dried fruits, like apricots. Sulfur dioxide is a naturally occurring compound and is generally safe at the amounts you’re going to consume it in a few apricots. However, a small portion of the population has sulfite sensitivity. Most of those people are asthmatics, and reactions to ingesting sulfur dioxide can range—from respiratory to GI symptoms. If you have asthma, it may be better to skip dried fruits that list this ingredient.
A final suggestion: If you like kitchen projects (if you don’t, I get it, that’s okay, too!), get yourself a dehydrator and start drying out your fruit at home.