Food policy makers consider dried fruit equivalent to fresh fruit in dietary recommendations around the world. This is according to health researchers presenting their views at the 30th World Nut & Dried Fruit Congress. The presentations recognise that traditional dried fruits such as dried apricots, dried apples, dates, dried figs, raisins and sultanas, and prunes should be included side by side with fresh fruit recommendations by policy makers around the world.
"Dried fruits are great sources of total and soluble fibre in the diet," said Dr Daniel D. Gallaher of the University of Minnesota. "Just as fresh fruit, they have low glycaemic index values and can play an important role in preventing different aspects of metabolic diseases."
In addition to providing fibre, dried fruits rank among the top potassium sources in diets around the world, according to Dr Arianna Carughi, Health and Nutrition Research Coordinator for the California Dried Fruit Coalition. Dried fruits also contain a range of increasingly important bioactive phenolic compounds, as well as specific vitamins and minerals, unique to each fruit.
"There is little doubt that plant polyphenols protect from heart disease. The health effects are complex and they appear to work in many different ways, not just simply as antioxidants," said Dr Gary Williamson of the University of Leeds. "Some fruits including dried fruits contain high levels of a variety of polyphenols and we are just starting to understand their health protective effect."
Not only do the researchers clarify the misconceptions that have perpetuated the idea that dried fruits may not be as healthy as their fresh counterparts, their work highlights the added benefits that dried fruits provide.
"Our research into dried fruits (Greek currants) suggests that they inhibit some forms of cancer in vitro," said Dr Andriana Kaliora of Harokopio University. "While the mechanisms are unknown, extracts appear to stop propagation of cancer cells, bring on cancer cell death, and suppress inflammation."
Comparing fresh and dried
One of the common problems encountered with comparing dried foods on nutritional grounds is the common practice of equating on a weight for weight basis, for example, per 100g. Not surprisingly, since the weight of water is removed in drying, the sugar content of dried versus fresh fruits appears disproportionately high, contributing to the mixed messages about the sugar concentration of dried fruits. However, when portion size and water content are taken into account, then the natural fruit sugars and calories become equal for fresh and dried fruits.
Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables has been shown to lower the rates of obesity and chronic diseases. However, despite campaigns and educational efforts, a significant gap still remains between the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables and the quantities actually consumed by populations around the world.
Dried fruits are already included alongside fresh fruits in formal dietary recommendations for Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Policy makers in other countries should follow the lead of these countries to include dried fruits with their recommended guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake.
Considering their important nutritional qualities, and because they are naturally resistant to spoilage, easy to store and transport, available year round, readily incorporated into other foods, and relatively low in cost, dried fruits represent an important means to increase overall consumption of fruit.
The scientific evidence for considering dried fruit nutritionally equivalent to fresh fruit not only provides policy makers with tools to improve dietary recommendations, but also offers a healthful solution for populations worldwide. - (EurekAlert!, June 2011)