It happens to all of us—we're scrounging around looking for something to eat on the road, or trying to find a healthy option in a gas station, and we spot some dried fruit, maybe mixed with nuts. Ah, fruit. Something recognizable, that's fairly close to nature. But dried fruit, despite feeling fairly innocuous, consistently comes up on the list as a snack our experts recommend people avoid. "Yes, it's high in fiber, but it's also super-high in sugar and easy to go overboard on," says Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian. Here's why dried fruit shouldn't be considered a health food:
1. It's high in sugar.
Like Jessica said, dried fruit is always high in sugar—even if you go for a kind that has "no sugar added." Even if no "sugar" is added, companies often use apple juice or other fruit juices to sweeten dried fruit, and these juices amount to, in essence, straight sugar. At its absolute best, when dried fruit really has nothing added, it's still high in sugar, as it's such a condensed version of typical fruit. You'd never sit down and eat 12 apricots—it'd obviously be sugar overload—but you'd easily eat 12 dried apricots, and often far more.
2. It's hard on your digestion.
The lack of water in dried fruit concentrates not only the sugar but the fiber as well. In nature, fiber and water always exist together to help sweep food through your digestive system—in fact, hydrated fiber is one of the healthiest things for our digestion. When the water is removed, the food becomes much tougher to digest, getting stuck instead of sweeping through your system (picture pushing dry food down a drain, versus liquid or a gel). This can cause gas, bellyaches, and uncomfortable bloating.
3. It often contains inflammatory oils.
Dried fruits often contain sunflower oil or canola oil to give them that pleasing texture. These oils, found in most processed foods, can offset your omega-3/omega-6 balance and contribute to bodily inflammation. They also easily go rancid when exposed to light and air, making them even more inflammatory in your body.
4. It contains sulfites.
Many people go out of their way to avoid sulfites in wine while being unaware that dried fruit contains the same preservatives. Numerous studies have shown that these additives can cause skin and breathing problems, especially in people with asthma.
What should you do instead?
"Fresh fruit gets my top pick," says Jessica, "but freeze-dried berries are a decent alternative if someone is looking for something shelf stable they can munch on, as they tend to be lower in calories but still provide a decent amount of fiber, plus key vitamins and minerals." And if you are going to go for the dried fruit, read the ingredients list to make sure it contains just one ingredient—the fruit—and drink a lot of water while you eat it.