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Study: Dried Fruit Can Fill Nutrition Gaps And Improve Diet Quality

Close up of colorful assorted dried fruit in a black bowl on a black background.

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Key Takeaways

  • Most Americans do not get the recommended number of servings of fruit per day, leaving them potentially deficient in the important nutrients offered by the food group.
  • Including dried fruit in your diet can help fill nutrition gaps while removing barriers to consuming more fresh produce, like cost and availability.

A new study shows that eating dried fruit may help people consume more nutrients and improve diet quality overall.

Data published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in October found that people who eat dried fruit regularly had a higher quality diet and were more likely to get enough under-consumed nutrients like fiber and potassium, compared to people who didn't include fruit (fresh or dried) in their diets.

“When it comes overall diet quality, on days when people ate dried fruit in the study, they also ate more whole grains, nuts, and seeds," Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian in the New York City area and a nutrition partner with Sunsweet, tells Verywell. Gorin was not involved with the study.

Along with factors like excessive salt intake and low intake of whole grains, under-consumption of fruit is a contributor to diet-related disease and disability worldwide. 

For the new study, the researchers wanted to determine whether dried fruits can play a role in filling nutrition gaps and improving diet quality. They performed a cross-sectional analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2007 and 2016 and estimated the average dried fruit intake of 25,590 subjects via a dietary recall.

According to the data, 7.2% of subjects in the sample consumed dried fruit. Using the Healthy Eating Index 2015 as a reference, the researchers concluded that the group consuming dried fruit had overall higher-quality diets compared to subjects who did not eat dried fruit.

Dried fruit eaters also had lower mean body mass indexes, waist circumferences, and systolic blood pressures than those who did not eat dried fruit.

The subjects' dietary fiber, potassium, and polyunsaturated healthy fat intakes were greater on days when they consumed dried fruits compared to days when they did not.

The results echo research published in 2017 that used NHANES data and a cross-sectional design to study the effects of raisin consumption on health.

Like the results of the current study, raisin consumers were found to have a higher-quality diet, a lower body mass index, and a higher intake of fiber and potassium compared with non-raisin eaters. People who ate raisins also had a higher intake of other key nutrients and a lower intake of added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium than people who did not eat raisins.

What About Calories?

In the current study, the subjects who consumed dried fruits did appear to consume more calories. However, the finding should not necessarily be a deterrent.

Marina Chaparro, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and the author of Diabetes & Pregnancy: A real guide for women with Type 1, Type 1, and Gestational Diabetes, found the increased calorie factor particularly interesting. Chaparro highlights that the finding was observed alongside key health benefits, such as lower waist circumference and better blood pressure—benefits that were not observed in subjects who did not consume dried fruit.

“In other words, weight loss and health are not just dependent on calories in vs. calories out," says Chaparro. "Despite consuming slightly more calories when eating dried fruit, weight was still lower."

Why Fruit Intake Matters

Fruits have important dietary benefits, such as being a source of fiber and key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Fruits are also a source of carbohydrates and can offer a sweet taste without added sugars.

Elise Compston, RD, LD

Although often overlooked as a nutritious choice, dried fruit is a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet.

— Elise Compston, RD, LD

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends adults following a 2,000 calorie diet consume 2 cup-equivalents of fruit a day.

However, “only 1 in 10 Americans meets the recommendation for fruits and vegetables per day, Elise Compston, RD, LD, a registered dietitian based in Reno, Nevada, tells Verywell.

Other studies have linked fruit consumption to a decreased risk of health conditions like hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Research has also shown that a lower intake of fruit might be linked to fertility challenges.

1-Cup Fruit Equivalents

There are several ways to get your daily fruit serving. Here are some examples of one-cup equivalents for different fruit options.

  • One cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
  • 1 cup 100% fruit juice
  • ½ cup of dried fruit
  • 1 large banana, orange, or pear

While there are clear barriers to consuming enough fruit, including cost and lack of access to fresh options, dried fruits can fill the gap because they are shelf-stable and cost-effective.

“Although often overlooked as a nutritious choice, dried fruit is a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet," Compston says. “Dried fruit often contains more fiber, vitamins, and minerals per serving than their fresh counterparts. While the drying process does deplete some nutrients, some studies have actually shown an increase in certain phenolic compounds."

What This Means For You

If you are not getting the daily recommended servings of fruit per day, try adding dried fruit to your diet. Not only will it help you meet the dietary recommendation, but it will confer other health benefits because it provides fiber and many key nutrients.

Adding Dried Fruit to Your Diet

Including more dried fruit in your diet can be as simple as purchasing no-added-sugar varieties like dried raisins, mangoes, or apples for a quick on-the-go snack that can be kept in your bag or office drawer, since they don't require refrigeration.

Dried fruits can also be used as an ingredient in many of your go-to cooking and baking recipes. Try adding them to dishes like salads, oatmeal, and muffins.

While dried fruit has a strong sweet taste, many varieties do not contain any added sugar, making it an excellent alternative to candy when you have a craving for something sweet.

Compston suggests focusing on including varieties of dried fruit in your diet that do not have added sugar and including darker-skinned fruits like prunes, figs, and raisins, which "contain higher antioxidant levels and phenol content when compared with other dried fruits." You should also be mindful of portion sizes when you're picking a dried fruit to snack on.

Whether you're tossing some dried cranberries in your tuna salad, snacking on dried mangoes during a hike, or dipping dried figs in dark chocolate for a decadent treat, including dried fruit into your diet appears to be a tasty, easy, and cost-effective way to support your overall health.

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