By Chelsea Fisher
Sweet, nutritious, and shelf stable, dried fruit is an easy and convenient way of getting in your daily servings of fruit -- which, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, fewer than one in four Americans regularly achieve. Fruits provide some of the most potent protection against cancer and other chronic diseases.
One caveat: keep in mind when reaching for dried fruit that it is calorie dense. A quarter-cup of the stuff has about the same calories and natural sugar as a cup of its fresh counterpart. But don’t shy away completely: the drying process maintains almost all of the fresh products’ cancer-fighting antioxidants and fiber.
Dried fruits are a sweet tooth’s perfect companion, as they have a low or moderate glycemic index, meaning they affect insulin levels far less dramatically than cookies and cake. Dried fruits -- think prunes, apricots, pears, and apples -- also promote digestive health. Their high concentrations of soluble and insoluble fiber can help regulate bowel function and relieve constipation. Dried fruits also contain phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals), which are believed to reduce the risk of major chronic diseases, including cancer.
When choosing dried fruit make sure it looks moist and shiny, not dull and leathery, which would indicate that it’s old. Check that there is no added sugar. Some items marketed as “dried,” such as pineapple and papaya, may have so much added sugar that they should be labeled “candied.” When munching on dried fruit, take a look at the serving size and calories, as your calorie intake can often end up being more than you think. For instance, a cup of grapes is 63 calories, while a cup of raisins contains a whopping 493 calories.
Add dried fruit to oatmeal and cereal, instead of syrup or sugar, for sweetness and extra nutrients. Toss it with salads to add color. When baking, dried fruit can be a great way to add natural sweetness to muffins, breads, and crumbles – Like our Oatmeal and Date Cookies and Walnut Cranberry Scones just remember to plump the fruits in hot water first. And, of course, dried fruit is delicious on its own as a snack year round.