Encouraging people to eat more dried fruit — without added sugar — could be an effective way to boost their intake of vital nutrients, researchers have concluded.
Low consumption of fruit in the United States and other countries is a major contributor to diet-related disease and disability, according to a recent analysis.
Fruit is a good source of nutrients, such as fiber and potassium, that many people lack in their diet. It also contains bioactive nutrients that provide extra health benefits, including and carotenoids.
Research suggests that eating fruit is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
However, only about 24% of females and 14% of males in the U.S. eat the recommended daily amount of fruit, according to the US National Cancer Institute.
Several factors might contribute to people’s low intake of fresh fruit, including limited availability, high cost, and perishability.
Recommending that people eat more dried fruit could be one solution.
Dried fruit offers several advantages over fresh fruit in terms of cost, availability, and ease of storage and transport. It could also replace more unhealthful snack food that is high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
At the same time, however, there are concerns about overconsumption leading to excess calorie intake because dried fruit is such an “energy dense” form of fruit.
Previous observational studies have found that eating dried fruit is associated with health benefits. However, the evidence is inconclusive because people who eat more dried fruit may tend to have a more healthful diet and lifestyle overall.
The new study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University in University Park aimed to get around this difficulty by comparing days when particular participants reported eating dried fruit with days when they ate none.
They found that people tended to consume more key nutrients on the days they ate dried fruit, including dietary fiber and potassium. However, they also consumed more calories.
“Dried fruit can be a great choice for a nutritious snack, but consumers might want to be sure they’re choosing unsweetened versions without added sugar,” says Valerie Sullivan of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, who was a grad student at Pennsylvania State University when she led the study.
“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.”