When people make the commitment to eliminate processed food and sugar from the diet, dried fruit frequently becomes one of the more popular alternate snacks of choice.
While there is some perplexing discussion online about whether dried fruit is healthy or not (seriously?), from an ancestral perspective, it is certainly fine. This is especially true if you take the time to dehydrate fresh fruit slices yourself.
For those who buy dried fruit from the store, however, there are a few things you need to know first!
There is a lot of toxic dried fruit out there. This doesn’t mean dried fruit is unhealthy. It just means you need to educate yourself to buy the good stuff.
Next time you buy dried fruit, be sure to thoroughly examine the label. The picture below shows a healthy brand of dried cranberries on the left versus the 365 brand on the right that I personally would never buy.
Can you see the differences? Let’s go into detail!
Sulfur dioxide is found in almost all commercially available dried fruit. This is a confusing ingredient for many people, because sulfur is a necessary and very beneficial mineral. What’s more, most people are deficient in it, which hampers the immune system considerably.
So why not get some with your dried fruit?
The problem with sulfur dioxide is that it is quite different from sulfur, the pure element found in the earth’s crust as a bright yellow colored solid. (1)
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a gaseous compound. If you have well water, you may have noticed an occasional smell of rotten eggs – that’s from another gaseous sulfur compound – hydrogen sulfide.
For industrial use, sulfur dioxide is created by burning coal or oil. In food production, manufacturers use it as a disinfectant, a bleaching agent or as a food preservative. In dried fruits treated with SO2, the color changes dramatically from drab to vivid, making such commercial offerings much more attractive to consumers.
Dangers of SO2
The toxic derivation of the SO2 used in the food industry gives smart consumers reason enough to avoid it.
While small amounts don’t harm most people, regularly consuming dried fruit treated with it is not a good idea.
For those with asthma, SO2 can be dangerous or even deadly. About one in nine asthmatics have their symptoms worsened by exposure. It’s harmful effects on the lungs increases the risk of children, older adults and people with asthma to require hospital admission or an ER visit. (2, 3)
In sum, while SO2 in it’s natural form isn’t dangerous for most people, the toxic sulfur dioxide used as a preservative in dried fruit is best avoided. Just look at the color and you will know! If it’s vivid and bright, check another brand!
Dried Fruit Coated with Vegetable Oil
Many brands of commercial dried fruit are coated with industrially refined vegetable oil to reduce the tendency for the pieces to stick together.
This additive is present even in many brands that are otherwise free of preservatives like sulfur dioxide.
While this ingredient wouldn’t be a problem if a healthy fat like avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil is used, most of the labels I’ve checked contain soy or canola oil.
Both of these, even when organic and cold-pressed, are best avoided due to the high likelihood of GMO cross-contamination of these crops and the nonideal fatty acid content.
Better quality brands tend to use organic sunflower oil. While this fat is not ideal (unless high oleic, cold-pressed sunflower oil is specified), the low oleic form is acceptable in the tiny amounts used in dried fruit production.
The best option, of course, short of making it yourself is to purchase dried fruit that doesn’t contain any added vegetable oils.
It seems odd that food manufacturers typically add sugar to a naturally sweet food like dried fruit, but this is exactly the case!
Many years ago, I used to just love dried pineapple rings until I started reading labels and realized just how much added sugar are in them!
When you eat dried fruit that contains added sugar, the potential for an addictive overeating response increases.
For those on a gut-healing diet like the GAPS Protocol, watch out! Dried fruit is allowed on this diet in small amounts, but the added sugar is not (usually in the form of cane or beet sugar labeled as just “sugar”).
The one exception I can find to the “avoid dried fruit with added sugar” warning is for those brands that use apple juice instead.
For example, dried cranberries are notoriously sour, so much so that finding a brand without any added sweetener is virtually impossible (at least for me … I’ve not found one yet!).
However, some companies use organic apple juice instead to take the edge off the sourness (like this one).
I love a few dried cranberries in my morning bowl of soaked oatmeal – so this was a very welcome find!
For those on GAPS and people avoiding all-natural disaccharide sugars like cane, maple syrup, coconut sugar, etc, this is the only acceptable alternative I’ve come across.
Dried Fruit: Is it Healthy or Not?
In conclusion, dried fruit definitely can be a healthy part of the diet when consumed in moderate amounts.
What is moderation? My rule of thumb is no more than one, small palmful per day. If you have large hands, a half a palmful!
Going DIY by slicing up organic fruits and dehydrating them at home (this model is excellent) is the optimum approach.
Do you prefer to buy dried fruit due to time or equipment constraints? If so, be sure to check for these four things. A quality brand will check all the boxes!
- The fruit is preferably organic or at least a low spray crop. Pineapples, mango, kiwi, melon, cantaloupe, and papaya are all on the Clean Fifteen list.
- The fruit does not contain sulfur dioxide as a preservative.
- Industrially processed vegetable oils are not listed.
- Sugar is absent (organic juice concentrate is acceptable).
Do you have a good dried fruit brand that you buy? Please share! My personal favorites are this brand and this brand.
(1) Difference between Sulfur and Sulfur Dioxide
(2) Sulphur dioxide in foods and beverages: its use as a preservative and its effect on asthma.
(3) Sulfur dioxide
(4) Clean Fifteen
Also artificial colors, e.g yellow #5 etc. are often added to dried fruit to make them appear better.