Yes, it's true--I am actually writing a post about dried fruits and vegetables.
Is that any indication of how jam-packed full of excitement my life is? Oh sure, I could try to imitate other more adventurous bloggers like Tokaiangel and join a rock band, or I could emulate Xenia the intrepid archaeologist and run a marathon in Florence or...
I could blog about dehydrated fruits and vegetables.
Yes, instead of starting my own rock band, Crabby and The Cranky Cupcakes, (hard to do if you can't sing, play an instrument, or stay up past 10 p.m.) I thought I'd try to find out the answer to an Important Nutritional Question:
Are Dried Fruits and Vegetables Virtuous Food Choices, or are They Evil Treats You Should Ban from Your Cupboards This Very Minute?
Actually, you can blame the Bag Lady for this post. She sent me some dehydrated spinach, along with some other delicious treats like the Best Pluot Jam Ever in the Entire Known Universe.
And the dried spinach was great! You can keep it in the kitchen cabinet for weeks (I think; I got to mine too fast to find out anything about shelf life), and then next time you're making pasta or cheese bread or whatever, you can throw it in, and voila, instant spinach!
(BunnyGirl is also responsible for bringing such an exciting topic to Cranky Fitness. When she's not out running marathons like Xenia, she posts all kinds of healthy cooking tips, and she got me all curious about the idea of dehydrating produce. Not quite curious enough to actually go out and do it, because that sounds like work. But curious enough to blog about it.)
Dried Fruit Has a Bad Rep
Here's the thing: I like dried fruit. Even though I'm not very exotic about it, I love to throw dried cranberries on my spinach salad (must also have goat cheese, they go great together!) and I scarf down Gorp (good ol' raisins and peanuts) even when I'm not hitting the trail for a hike. Dried apricots? They're a tasty treat I recently re-discovered. And love to I put dried blueberries into bran muffins. Don't like prunes though; never have.
However, many health and weight loss bloggers are all "No waaaay! It doesn't count as real fruit, you might as well be eating deep fried Twinkies!!!"
(Dried vegetables, on the other hand, don't tend to come up a lot, pro or con, as hardly anyone eats them).
So, are the Dissers of Dried Fruit right? Or can I continue to justify my frequent consumption?
What Drying Does to Nutrition
According to folks at the Colorado State Extension, changes that occur during drying include:
- Calorie content: does not change, but is concentrated into a smaller mass as moisture is removed.
- Fiber: no change.
- Vitamin A: fairly well retained under controlled heat methods.
- Vitamin C: mostly destroyed during blanching and drying of vegetables.
- Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin: some loss during blanching but fairly good retention if the water used to rehydrate also is consumed.
- Minerals: some may be lost during rehydration if soaking water is not used. Iron is not destroyed by drying.
Alice Weighs In
At Columbia University's Go Ask Alice site (which is a great resource for all kinds of health questions), someone asked how dried blueberries compared with fresh. In addition to the vitamin C and thiamine loss mentioned above, "Alice" pointed out some more problems with dried fruit:
- Exposure to light and oxygen can further degrade nutrients.
- High heat drying may reduce the Protein Efficiency Ratio, making it more difficult for the body to use the protein in the fruit.
But on the positive side:
- Dried fruit can be higher in antioxidants than fresh;
- It's high in fiber, so it may help relieve constipation, lower blood cholesterol, and control diabetes;
- It's a good source of quick energy for athletes or others who burn lots of calories.
- Many dried fruits are high in iron, potassium, and selenium — important for maintaining healthy blood and muscles, and especially helpful to people who suffer from anemia.
To Each Her Own
Bottom line: you still have to eat a LOT of fresh fruits and vegetables. But it seems to me, especially if you're not closely watching every calorie, that dried fruits are pretty darn nutritious, really convenient, and in my mind should "count" towards the bazillion servings a day of produce we're all supposed to get.
I'm under no illusions that 200 calories of raisins and peanuts will fill me up like 200 calories of fresh apples and oranges would. But sometimes I don't feel like a damn apple or an orange. If I also happen to know there is ice cream in the freezer... raisins can start looking like a very sensible choice for a snack.
Want to Dry Your Own Fruit?
Not lazy like I am? Then the always informative folks at Mark's Daily Apple have some helpful tips.
Gosh, What a Fun Subject to Comment On!
Anyone have strong feelings about dried fruit or vegetables? Do you Stay Away or indulge your Cravings for Craisins?