New analysis links eating dried fruit to better health

For those who seldom buy fresh fruit because it goes bad before being consumed, a new analysis has an alternative for you: dried fruit.

A 2019 study found that “poor dietary habits are associated with a range of chronic diseases and can potentially be a major contributor to (non-communicable disease) mortality in all countries worldwide.” This included eating very little fruit.

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In its dietary guidelines for 2015 to 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults consumer about two cups of fruit each day. That equates to a large banana and half of a large apple

Only about 24% of females and 14% of males in the United States follow that recommendation, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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The new study, by researchers at Pennsylvania (Penn) State University in University Park, aimed to rectify this by comparing days when participants reported eating dried fruit with days when they ate none.

The researchers found participants ingested more key nutrients — including dietary fiber and potassium — on the days they ate dried fruits. 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,” Valerie Sullivan of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who was a grad student at Penn State when she led the study, told Medical News Today.

“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,” Sullivan said. “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.”

The research appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For their analysis, the Penn State researchers analysed survey responses from 25,590 individuals who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007–2016.

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The respondents provided information about the food they had eaten in the past 24 hours (called “dietary recalls”).

Dried fruit accounted for only 3.7% of all the fruit consumed. However, a total of 1,233 participants reported consuming dried fruit on one out of two dietary recalls, allowing the scientists to compare their intake on these days.

Data were also available on the participants’ health, including their body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and seated resting blood pressure.

Even after adjusting for demographic and lifestyle factors, the participants who ate significant amounts of dried fruit tended to have better diets, a lower BMI, a smaller waist circumference, and lower systolic blood pressure compared with those who did not.

When the researchers compared the days when a participant ate dried fruit with those when they did not, they found that the average intake of total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, potassium, and polyunsaturated fat was greater on the days they ate dried fruit.

They concluded that eating dried fruit tended to increase total fruit consumption, rather than replacing other forms of fruit. “Thus, increasing dried fruit consumption might help Americans achieve greater fruit intakes.”