Internationally recognized health researchers presented their views at the recent 30th World Nut & Dried Fruit Congress, recommending that food policy makers consider dried fruits equivalent to fresh fruits in dietary recommendations around the world.
The presentations recognized that traditional, no-sugar added dried fruits, such as raisins, dried plums (prunes), figs, dates, apricots and apples should be included side by side with fresh fruit recommendations by global policy makers.
Organized by the International Nut and Dried Fruit Foundation (INC), the 30th World Nut & Dried Fruit Congress brought together industry leaders and researchers in an international dried fruit round table. The round table highlighted the collaboration by thirteen scientists from the United States, Greece, Turkey, Japan, and the United Kingdom on the paper entitled Traditional Dried Fruits: Valuable Tools to Meet Dietary Recommendations for Fruit Intake accessible at www.nutfruit.org/inc-projects/driedfruits.
Research presented at the Congress by Daniel D. Gallaher, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources - University of Minnesota; Andriana Kaliora, Ph.D., Lecturer in Foods and Human Nutrition, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics - Harokopio University; and, Gary Williamson, Ph.D., Professor of Functional Food, Procter, Department of Food Science - University of Leeds, UK, supported the paper's statement that traditional dried fruits should be included with fresh fruits in dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake around the world.
"Dried fruits are great sources of total and soluble fiber in the diet," said Gallaher. "Just as fresh fruit, they have low glycemic index values and can play an important role in preventing different aspects of metabolic diseases."
In addition to providing fiber, dried fruits rank among the top potassium sources in diets around the world, according to Arianna Carughi, Ph.D., C.N.S., Health and Nutrition Research Coordinator for the California Dried Fruit Coalition. Dried fruits also contain a range of increasingly important bioactive phenolic compounds as well as specific vitamins and minerals unique to each fruit.
"There is little doubt that plant polyphenols protect from heart disease. The health effects are complex, and they appear to work in many different ways, not just simply as antioxidants," said Williamson. "Some fruits, including dried fruits, contain high levels of a variety of polyphenols, and we are just starting to understand their health protective effect."
Not only did the researchers clarify the misconceptions that have perpetuated the idea that dried fruits may not be as healthy as their fresh counterparts, their work highlighted the added benefits that dried fruits provide.
"Our research into dried fruits (Greek currants) suggests that they inhibit some forms of cancer in vitro," said Kaliora. "While the mechanisms are unknown, extracts appear to stop propagation of cancer cells, bring on cancer cell death, and suppress inflammation."
One of the common problems encountered with comparing dried foods on nutritional grounds is the routine practice of equating on a weight for weight basis, for example, per 100 grams. Not surprisingly, since the weight of water is removed in drying, the sugar content of dried versus fresh fruits appears disproportionately high, contributing to the mixed messages about the sugar concentration of dried fruits. However, when portion size and water content are taken into account, the natural fruit sugars and calories become equal for fresh and dried fruits.
Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables has been shown to lower the rates of obesity and chronic diseases. However, despite campaigns and educational efforts, a significant gap still remains between the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables and the quantities actually consumed by populations around the world.
Dried fruits are already included alongside fresh fruits in official dietary recommendations for Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Policy makers in other countries should follow the lead of these countries to include dried fruits with their recommended guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake.
Considering their important nutritional qualities and because they are naturally resistant to spoilage, easy to store and transport, available year round, readily incorporated into other foods, and relatively low in cost, dried fruits represent an important means to increase overall fruit consumption.
The scientific evidence for considering dried fruits nutritionally equivalent to fresh fruits not only provides policy makers with tools to improve dietary recommendations but also offers a healthful solution for populations worldwide.
The INC Foundation, based in Reus, Spain, is a non-profit organization whose objectives are to undertake and promote scientific and nutritional studies, to promote international cooperation, and to be an international source of information on nuts and dried fruits for health, nutrition, and scientific issues.
A complete text of Traditional Dried Fruits: Valuable Tools to Meet Dietary Recommendations for Fruit Intake is available online at www.nutfruit.org/inc-projects/driedfruits with biographical summaries of the contributors, along with supporting charts, statistics, and references. A pdf file of the summary statement and its charts and images are available.