Although dried fruits are highly nutritious and included in the dietary recommended guidelines in some countries, many others have not formally made that step. Internationally known researchers have stated that food policy makers should consider dried fruits on an even plane with fresh fruit when issuing dietary recommendations.
One problem that arises when comparing dried fruit with fresh regarding nutrition is equating them on a weight-for-weight basis. Dried fruits are conceived to have more sugar than fresh fruit. However, when water content and portion size are accounted for, natural fruit sugars and calories are equal for dried and fresh fruits.
A new study has suggested that traditional dried fruits such as dried apricots, dried apples, dates, dried figs, raisins and sultanas, and prunes should be included in dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake around the world. "Dried fruits are great sources of total and soluble fiber in the diet," said Dr. Daniel D. Gallaher of the University of Minnesota. "Just as fresh fruit, they have low glycemic index values and can play an important role in preventing different aspects of metabolic diseases."
In addition to providing fiber, dried fruits rank among the top potassium sources in diets around the world, according to Dr. Arianna Carughi, Health and Nutrition Research Coordinator for the California Dried Fruit Coalition. Dried fruits also contain a range of increasingly important bioactive phenolic compounds, as well as specific vitamins and minerals, unique to each fruit, she said.
"There is little doubt that plant polyphenols protect from heart disease. The health effects are complex and they appear to work in many different ways, not just simply as antioxidants," said Dr. Gary Williamson of the University of Leeds. "Some fruits including dried fruits contain high levels of a variety of polyphenols and we are just starting to understand their health protective effect," he added.
Dehydrating Your Own Fruits
Food drying, also called food dehydration, is the process of removing water from food, thus inhibiting the growth of microorganisms (enzymes) and bacteria by the circulation of hot, dry air through the food. Removing water from food is the easiest, cheapest, and the most appropriate method of food preservation.
Does Drying Affect The Nutritional Value of Foods?
Dehydration only minimally affects the nutritional value of foods, especially when the process takes place in your own home. Most research on the nutritional value of dried foods has been conducted on foods that are commercially dried. When you dry foods at home under gentle conditions (correct temperature and a reasonable amount of drying time), you produce a high-quality product. Compared with canning and freezing, both of which involve extreme temperatures, food drying is the least damaging form of food preservation.
Here are some specifics:
- Vitamin A is retained during the drying process. Because vitamin A is light sensitive, foods that contain it-like carrots, bell peppers, mangoes-should be stored in a dark place.
- Some vitamin C is lost during the drying process because vitamin C is an air-soluble nutrient and food drying is an air-based process. When a food is sliced and its cells are cut, the surfaces that are exposed to air lose some vitamin C content.
- The caloric value of a fresh food stays the same when it is dried, although some dried foods, fruits for example, taste sweeter because the water has been removed and the sugar is concentrated.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and carbohydrates, neither of which is affected by drying.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. Minerals available in certain fresh fruits-such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, and so on-are also not altered when the fruit is dried.
Some dried fruits have adopted the status of super food simply by virtue of their astounding properties which can even help in preventing cancer. These dried fruits are rich in antioxidants. For example, dried blueberries are known to contain anthocyanin, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps in preventing free radical damage in the body; thereby enabling it to fight away many health issues, such as varicose veins, hemorrhoids, glaucoma, peptic ulcers, cataracts, heart disease also as cancer. Dried dates and berries are also used in traditional Chinese medicines. In India, dried gooseberries are powdered and used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine, which is a well known branch of traditional medicine.
Scientific studies have shown that dried black raspberries prevent development of cancer, dried cranberries can fight infections and combat the aging process; dried prunes are rich in antioxidants that enhance blood flow and dried plums slow down the development of atherosclerosis.
Dried and dehydrated fruits offers an affordable and inexpensive method to maintain the nutritional value of stored foods for longer periods. In the age of convenience, we can't beat that!