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Are wrinkles always a bad thing? When it comes to our diets that’s a resounding no. That’s because dried fruits and all their shriveled nuances are a reliable way to infuse your daily menu with great flavors and big-time nutrition when fresh options are lackluster.
Indeed, it’s not just fresh fruit that can help us meet our nutritional needs. Using dietary recall data from 25,590 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a study in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reported that people who regularly eat dried fruits (about one-quarter cup daily) have better overall diet quality and higher intakes of important nutrients like potassium and fiber than those who don’t consume any water-starved fruit. Despite consuming slightly more daily calories, mean body mass index, waist circumference and systolic blood pressure were found to be lower in dried fruit eaters. Most Americans do not get the recommended number of servings of fruit per day, so turning to shelf-stable and convenient dried fruits can be a way to squeeze more in and help fill any nutritional gaps. Dried fruit is rich in nutrients, since it contains all the nutrition of fresh fruit but in a compact form. And being easy to digest, the various guises of dried fruit are a smart pre-workout snack for a little boost.
Related: The Cook’s Guide to Dried Fruit
With that said, it’s important to remember that since moisture has been removed dried fruit is more concentrated in calories than fresh versions so it’s prudent to practice some restraint and not polish off a bag of raisins in one go. A good rule of thumb is to limit portion sizes of dried fruit to about a quarter cup. But not all sugary calories are the same. According to an investigation in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, when people sipped a drink sweetened with sucrose they produced lower amounts of hunger-suppressing hormones, compared to when they consumed a beverage spiked with glucose and this could lead to the overconsumption of calories and, in turn, unwanted weight gain. Sucrose, or “table sugar,” is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose and is often pumped into processed foods like soda, candy, and cereal. On the other hand, glucose on its own occurs naturally in carbohydrate-containing foods like fresh and dried fruits. Some dried fruits are sweetened further with added sugars, so choose unsweetened versions when possible. You should wary of options labeled “crystallized” or “candied” — this simply means sugar has been added.
Here’s the dried fruit that’s ready to add a sweet, nutritious kick to your meals and snacks.
While the season for fresh apricots is but a blip on the calendar, the dried version is a 365 option. Among dried fruits, apricots lead the way in beta-carotene, an antioxidant linked to improved brain functioning and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, our bodies can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A which is used to bolster bone and immune health. Other nutritional highlights include dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin E and copper. If you’re sensitive to sulfites (asthmatics might react to sulfites), look for dried organic apricots such as Made in Nature that are not treated with this preservative that is used to maintain the color of the fresh apricot. You can tell an apricot is sulfite-free when it’s brown as opposed to bright orange.
Eat more: Add apricot slices to grain-based salads, add to homemade granola bars, soak and blend into sauces, stir into curries, and use in grilled cheese to add a sweet kick.
Who should give a fig about eating dried figs? You should! These gems from the sunny Mediterranean are a surprising source of calcium making them a good option for this bone-benefiting mineral if dairy is not on your menu. A half-cup serving also delivers an impressive 7 grams of dietary fiber. A recent study suggests that consuming more fiber-rich foods like dried figs can positively alter our gut microbiome which, in turn, may improve mental health including reducing depression. If you can, hunt down dried Mission figs, which have a habit-forming soft yet firm outside, and creamy inside.
Eat more: Perfect as an out-of-hand snack, also add dried figs to stews and a pot of baked beans. Chop and add to quick breads, roasted vegetables, and gooey quesadillas with caramelized onion. Also, try blending into smoothies.
Dried Tart Cherries
Time to pucker up. Rosy dried tart cherries are flush with potent polyphenol antioxidants to help stamp out cell-damaging free-radicals that roam our bodies. An investigation in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that these polyphenols can reduce the activity of osteoclasts, cells that participate in bone breakdown, thereby making eating tart cherries a possible way to help maintain break-resistant bones. And if hard training is your jam, take heed of research showing that the antioxidant payload in tart cherries may help improve certain elements of exercise performance including lessening muscle soreness by reducing oxidative stress and subsequent inflammation. The sweet-tart nuggets may also have the power to knock you out by helping alleviate insomnia. Other nutritional highlights include vitamin C and beta-carotene. Some brands, including Friske Farm Market, offer the option of purchasing unsweetened tart cherries for those who don’t mind a little more sour power.
Eat more: Scatter on oatmeal, bowls of yogurt or a green salad, use in muffins, poach and use the cherry sauce for a pancake or a cake topping, and incorporate into trail mix. Also great in chutneys.
Yes, it’s true, eating prunes (dried plums) can lead to more bathroom visits. Research shows that the fiber contained within prunes can increase stool frequency and consistency. And that is something that your grandmother shouldn’t be the only one celebrating considering that constipation is one of the leading gastrointestinal complaints in America. You can count on prunes to add more potassium to your diet to help keep blood pressure numbers in the safe zone. They are also a source of vitamin B6 which we need for proper protein metabolism. Plus, bioactive antioxidants in the delicious fruit appear to have the power to improve bone health.
Eat more: Use in stews, blend into energy balls, simmer with oatmeal, and whiz into smoothies. Place 1 cup dried pitted prunes in a bowl, cover with water and let soak for a couple of hours. Drain and blend rehydrated prunes in a food processor into a smooth puree. Start by replacing half the sugar and fat in baked good recipes like brownies and muffins with the puree and see if the results are to your liking.
Bite into one of these dried South American berries and you’ll be hooked on their sweet-tart taste explosion. Also known as Inca berry, goldenberries nutritional bounty includes impressive amounts of vitamin C. You may consider vitamin C a big player in immunity, but science shows the nutrient can also make it easier for us to hold onto our lean body mass as we age. What’s more, the parched berries are a great source of fiber to help us stay feeling full and foster a healthier gut microbiome. They also offer up a healthy dose of anti-cancer antioxidants. You can find dried goldenberries at well-stocked bulk and natural food stores or online from Navitas Organics.
Eat more: Add to granola, yogurt, ice cream, trail mix, and even grain bowls for a pop of sweet-tart exotic flavor. Use them to make fanciful sauces and jams.