Health

Is dried fruit healthy?

Sugar, calories can surge

(CNN) - Yes, dried fruits -- including dried apricots, dried cranberries, raisins, dried dates, dried figs and prunes -- pack a big nutrient punch for their shrunken size.

The reason is that nutrients and fiber are more concentrated when water is removed from fruit. For comparison, a half-cup of dried apricot halves has 4.7 grams of fiber, but the same amount of fresh apricot slices has 1.6 grams of fiber. Dried fruit is also a rich source of antioxidants and the B vitamin folate.

One large epidemiological study involving more than 13,000 individuals found that dried fruit eaters have better nutrient intakes --- and weigh less -- compared with those who don't consume it.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the natural sugars in dried fruit are also more concentrated, which isn't necessarily cause for concern for the general population and may even be helpful for athletes needing quick fuel. But it can be an issue for those carefully watching their sugars, carbs or calories. For example, a cup of grapes has 23 grams of sugar and 104 calories, but a cup of raisins has 116 grams of sugar! And it has 520 calories -- five times the amount!

According to US dietary guidelines, which encourage consumption of 1½ to 2 cups of fruit daily, a half-cup of dried fruit counts as one cup.

For diabetics who carefully distribute carbohydrates throughout the day, different rules apply.

"When educating clients, many dietitians and diabetes educators recommend considering 2 tablespoons of dried fruit as one serving (15 grams) of carbohydrates," said Lori Zanini, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. For example, 2 tablespoons of raisins is equivalent to 15 grams of carbs, but for the same amount of carbs, you can eat half a cup of red grapes, she explained. You could also eat half of a cantaloupe, minus a couple of bites (a half of a small cantaloupe has 18 grams of carbs).

Overall, dried fruit can be a nutritious, convenient and portable snack, especially when mixed with nuts and eaten as trail mix. But if sugars, carbs or calories are of concern, be sure to count out your portion of dried fruit, as it can be easy to mindlessly nibble on it.

Also, limit dried fruits that contain added sugars (cranberries are a frequent culprit, according to Zanini) or are coated in sugar, such as dried pineapple rings or other candied fruit. Finally, if you are sensitive to sulfites or have asthma, choose organic brands of dried fruit that do not contain sulfur dioxide, a preservative.