There has been a debate for a long time about whether fresh fruit is healthier for you than dried fruit. However, the matter is not a simple either/or question, as there are several factors to consider.
The argument for fresh fruit
A point often said against dried fruit is that drying fruit destroys a lot of nutrients. However, it might be less simple than that. There isn’t enough evidence to say that a substantial amount of nutrition is lost simply because of drying itself, it depends more on the type of drying process used and what additional processing is being done.
Firstly, if fruit is dried chemically by adding preservatives like sulphur dioxide, it can become unhealthy, as sulphur dioxide reduces certain vitamins in the fruit, such as vitamin B. Also, if the fruit is dried using high heat, this can indeed destroy some of the nutrient content of fruit. However, the loss of nutrients can be minimised if the fruit is dried naturally in the sun, or by blowing warm air over it such as when using a dehydrator.
Secondly, another argument in favour of fresh fruit is that not only are preservatives added to dried fruit, but also extra sugar, making what should have been one of nature’s choicest offers of health just another processed product on the shelves. However, so long as you are discerning in reading labels and what brands you support, you can find dried fruit without any additives or extra sugar. If they are sweetened, look for natural sweeteners like honey or apple concentrate.
Thirdly, it’s sometimes said that because dried fruit has lost its moisture, fresh fruit is far better for you to eat as it contains a lot of water. However, if you’re relying on only fruit for your water intake, you’re probably already not getting enough water in your day.
The argument for dried fruit
Firstly, one possible point in dried fruit’s favour would be that fresh fruit loses nutrition when over-ripe, whereas dried fruit will retain its nutrition. However, this disadvantage will be easily minimised by making sure to eat the fruit before becoming too ripe.
Secondly, fresh fruit will have a reduced nutritional value if picked while under-ripe. If the fruit is being transported from a source far away, the fruit is usually picked while green in order to keep from spoiling during transportation. This lowers the amount of nutrients the fresh fruit contains. Dried fruit is less likely to have to factor in long transportation periods, and so is more likely to be picked at the optimal time. This definitely could count in dried fruit’s favour, because although not impossible, it’s not always easy to determine the source of the fresh fruit you buy from the grocers, the most convenient place to get your produce from. But it’s not enough in itself to swing the argument in dried fruit’s favour.
Thirdly, gram for gram, dried fruit does contain more nutrients and fibre than fresh fruit, and so it is often claimed that therefore dried fruit is more nutritional. However, this increased nutrient density is simply because the moisture has been removed from the fruit, concentrating the nutrients. While there is a higher nutritional concentration, it’s proportional to an increase in kilojoules, and so the serving sizes would have to be smaller, making this a moot point. As fruit already contains a not unsubstantial amount of sugar, consuming too many kilojoules by eating dried fruit is very easy. For instance, peaches, a popular South African Fruit export, have 165 kilojoules per 100g when fresh, but 958 kilojoules per 100g when dried.
Really, it just depends
Whether fresh or dried is better isn’t an absolute situation. Fresh fruit would be better than sugary, preservative-addled dried fruit, but naturally dried fruit would be preferable to overly ripe fruit.
In any case, you should probably be more concerned about the conditions the fruit has been grown in, rather than whether or not it has been dried or not. If fruit has been subjected to a concoction of chemicals while being grown, whether it’s eaten fresh off the tree or dried and seal-wrapped isn’t going to make much difference.
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Queenie Bates is an avid reader, researcher and writer, currently based in Cape Town, South Africa.