Dried Fruits and the Sugar Myths

Clarifying some misconceptions, perpetuated as myths, about sugar concentration in dried fruits has become a matter of great importance.

Traditional dried fruits provide dietary fibre, are virtually fat and salt-free and each provide a range of essential micronutrients, such as potassium, copper, manganese, iron and vitamins A, E, K and niacin. Being a carbohydrate food, dried fruits tend to be higher in sugars and given the current emphasis on sugar reduction their wholesome track record is being brought into question, especially in regions where dried fruits were not historically a local food.

Increasingly, ‘free’ or ‘added’ sugars are being reviewed by some health experts, due to the association of high sugar intakes with poor dietary quality, obesity and increased risk of non-communicable diseases – heart disease, cancers, diabetes, asthma and dental diseases being the most prevalent globally. Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. A World Health Organization report recommends reducing free/added sugar to less than 10% of daily energy intakes, with consideration for additional reductions down to 5%.

Origins of sugar myths in dried fruits

Apparently, emphasis is on reducing sugar-sweetened beverages and the sugar contributed by fruit juices and smoothies, because of the large volumes of these energy-rich drinks consumed to simply quench thirst! Unlike the whole fruit, their juices tend to be low in dietary fibre, the protective health role of which is well recognised. The UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends increasing fibre from 25g to 30g/day, alongside reducing free/added sugars to less than 5% energy.

So, are dried fruits being recommended by health professionals as part of the solution? It seems not, for a number of reasons:

The popularity of processed fruit snacks, with varying quantities of fruit pieces, fruit juice concentrate and other forms of added sugar (e.g., glucose syrup in yoghurt coatings), is blurring the boundaries between confectionary at one end (high free/added sugar) and traditional dried fruits (with no added sugar) at the other. Processed fruit snacks with added sugar have been promoted as healthy, some boasting a contribution to 5-a-day and convenient for children’s lunch boxes, with consumers not until now questioning this claim. A 2015 UK survey of children’s healthy fruit snacks revealed that 85% contained over 4tsp sugar/serving- that’s more than most sweets. Such reports have contributed to the industry taking a more discerning look at the role of fruit and sugar, but there’s a long way to go since it seems consumers and health professionals alike do not automatically distinguish between fruits with added sugar and those that are 100% pure fruit. As nutrition professionals, policy makers and consumers review the role of foods with added sugar in a healthful diet, the industry is encouraged to take steps that consistently communicate the nutrient benefits of traditional dried fruits without added sugar.

Health benefits of dried fruits

An excellent report was published in 2011 summarising the view of scientists that traditional dried fruits could and should be considered alongside fresh and so contribute towards achieving the increased fruit and vegetable intakes so necessary for improved health outcomes.

To correct misinformation, the dried fruit industry needs to communicate the nutrient content and potential health benefits of traditional dried fruits based on accurate and high quality research. On balance, we can continue to enjoy some confectionery, so there’s a place for processed fruit snacks, but traditional dried fruits are the important food choices that can improve consumers’ snacking habits.

From: California Prune Board

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Tags : dry fruits snacks sugar added nutrition industry food
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