Dried fruit can deliver many nutritional benefits, but not all varieties are created equal.
I enjoy dried fruit. I add it to oatmeal and overnight oats, garden salads, energy balls, whole grain sides, and desserts. One of my favorite treats is bark made from melted dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and chopped dried fruit.
Dried fruit is certainly delicious, but its healthfulness honestly depends on the kind you choose. Dried fruit has a reputation for being fattening or loaded with sugar, but the truth is it can be a healthy addition to your diet.
To limit sugar and carbs, simply watch your portion size. When fruit is dried, it shrinks considerably. That’s why a quarter cup of dried fruit (about the size of a golf ball) is considered one serving, equivalent to one cup of water-filled fresh fruit.
Also, there’s no one standard way to make dried fruit. Some fruits are simply dehydrated, with only fluid removed and nothing added. Others are soaked in added sugar and treated with artificial preservatives.
If you enjoy dried fruit, here’s what to look for—and what to avoid—to take advantage of its nutritional benefits without allowing unwanted add-ins.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
Best: Contains no added sugar
We like: Peeled Snacks Organic Dried Fruit
Despite any claims on the front of the label, the most important consideration when buying dried fruit is the ingredient list. Some dried fruits contain only a single ingredient: the fruit itself. When that’s the case, dried fruit counts the same as fresh, only with a shrunken portion size. The drying process generally preserves nutrients, so dried fruit is a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Again, just be sure to aim for about a quarter cup as a portion, not a handful.
Best: Sweetened with fruit juice
We like: Eden Organic Dried Cranberries
Some fruits are naturally bitter, so when dried, a sweetener may be added to balance the flavor. Cranberries are a good example. Unfortunately, some brands add high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, or even artificial sweeteners. Instead, look for versions sweetened with fruit juice. For example, the ingredients in Eden’s are organic cranberries, organic apple juice concentrate, and organic sunflower oil (to prevent the berries from sticking together).
Best: Organic varieties
We like: Newman's Own Organics Dried Apples
With fruit, the most important types to purchase organic (either fresh or dried) are those known to contain the most pesticide residues. These include strawberries, apples, grapes, peaches, nectarines, cherries, and pears. Fortunately, there are a number of brands that produce USDA Certified Organic dried fruit, such as these dried apples from Newman's Own.
Best: High in antioxidants
We like: Homegrown Organic Farms Freeze Dried Blueberries
Blueberries are often called the king of antioxidants because they pack so much antioxidant potency per bite. Many dried versions are sweetened, however, so be sure to check the ingredients. Freeze-dried blueberries are another good option. During the freeze-drying process, even more water is removed, so the fruit will have a crunchy (rather than moist) texture.
Best: High in iron
We like: Navitas Organics Mulberries
Dried fruit can actually be a decent source of iron, a key mineral many premenopausal women fall short on. Dried mulberries, figs, and prunes all supply iron. A quarter cup portion of each can provide 4-6% of your daily needs. Pair them with a quarter cup of almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, or pumpkin seeds for an additional iron boost.
Best: High in fiber
We like: MADE IN NATURE Organic Dried Figs Smyrna
One dried fig can pack a gram of fiber, which means five can supply 20% of the daily recommended minimum for this important nutrient, known to help with weight control, digestive health, cholesterol management, and blood sugar control. Slice and slather with a little nut butter as a snack, or chop and add to a garden salad or veggie packed stir fry.
Worst: Added sugar
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar daily, and men nine. That’s from all food and beverages combined. One of the best ways to manage your added sugar budget is to nix it from foods where it’s not needed, and dried fruit is a good example. To scope it out, check the ingredient list and opt for varieties with either no sweetener added, or just fruit juice.
Worst: Artificial preservatives
One of the trickiest challenges when buying dried fruit is to find products made without artificial preservatives. They’re used to enhance color and lengthen shelf life, but there are some concerns about their potential side effects, including aggravating asthma, triggering behavioral problems in kids, and potential links to heart damage and cancer. While a preservative-free dried apricot may not have the bright hue of its chemically treated counterpart, it’s a more natural option for your health.
Worst: Yogurt-coated dried fruit
Yogurt sounds healthy, but the yogurt coating surrounding bits of dried fruit is typically made with sugar and hydrogenated oil in addition to yogurt or milk powder. Chocolate coating can be just as processed. Instead, sprinkle dried fruit into actual grass-fed Greek yogurt, or melt a few squares of dark chocolate and dip in bits of dried fruit.
Worst: Fried in oil
Most dried fruits aren’t fried, with the major exception being banana chips. But the ingredients and methods of making this crunchy snack vary widely. Refined coconut oil, which may be bleached and deodorized, isn’t as healthful as virgin coconut oil, or VCO, which is high in antioxidants. If you’re a banana chip lover, skirt the fried variety and opt for freeze dried bananas instead.