(NaturalNews) What could be better than giving your sweet tooth what it craves while giving your body the nutrients it needs for vibrant health? Keeping a selection of dried fruits on hand makes it easy to treat the whole family to a delicious, chewy and nourishing snack. Recent studies have shown that dried fruit is a treasure chest of nutrients. It's also a way to eat favorite fruits when they are out of season.
Eating natural snacks like dried fruit keeps people in harmony with the teachings of Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu science of health that believes all living beings are a composite of the five basic elements: fire, water, earth, air and sky. In order to keep life moving in a healthy direction, it is important to replenish these elements through the consumption of natural foods which are the sources of these elements. This requires that all the foods we eat, including snacks and particularly the foods given to children, be natural and unprocessed.
Eating nutrient dense fruit helps with weight loss
The amazing health benefits of fruit are well known. Eating fruit has been shown to do everything from reducing the risk of cancer to helping with weight loss. Eating nutrient dense fruit sends a powerful signal to the body that it is being properly nourished. When the body is well nourished, the hormone leptin will turn off the urge to eat.
Fruit provides a rapid increase in energy level for activity and exercise. It has been shown in studies to help reduce blood pressure due to its positive sodium to potassium ratio. Fruit reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, and keeps cancer away. It keeps cholesterol ratios looking good, helps prevent diabetes, and slows the aging process.
Dried fruit provides a luscious burst of flavor and sweetness that will satisfy the sugar urge. The drying process removes most of the water, making everything about dried fruit more concentrated including its nutrients. For example, the antioxidant power of dried blueberries can be as much as four times higher than their fresh counterparts.
Dried fruit is a research star
Dried fruit is rich in essential nutrients in synergistic balance and with high bio-availability. It's loaded with vitamins, minerals and vital enzymes. Dried fruit contains high amounts of polyphenols, substances that give fruits its colors and high antioxidant ratings.
The British Journal of Nutrition, February, 2009, reports a study finding that consuming dried plums slows the development of atherosclerosis, the buildup of waxy plaque inside blood vessels. This in turn slows the development of cardiovascular disease and may reverse the buildup of plaque in veins and arteries.
Another study reported in the August, 2008 edition of Cancer Research showed that eating dried black raspberries prevents the development of cancer by restoring carcinogen altered and damaged genes to their normal state.
The July, 2008 Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reports a study finding that the infection fighting power of dried cranberries comes from its high antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants combat free radical production in the body, a function that many scientists believe gives fruits the ability to combat the aging process.
The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, reported a study finding dried berries decreased tumor number and tumor size, and decreased expression of genes implicated in colon cancer.
Recent research, reported in Bioscience Biotechnology Biochemistry, June, 2008, has isolated a new antioxidant powerhouse in dried prune extract. This procyanidin oligomer is composed of epicatechin and catechin. Epicatechin improves blood flow and is a promoter of heart health. The link between epicatechin and killer disease is so strong that it is being considered for status as a vitamin. It may be that many diseases are the result of epicatechin deficiency.
Which dried fruits make the best choices?
Raisins are dried grapes and retain most of the benefits of the grape along with other benefits they develop as raisins. They are rich in boron, iron, potassium calcium and the B vitamins, and are a good source of fiber. They contain phytonutrients such as resveratrol and olenolic acid. The health benefits of raisins include protection from gum disease and cavities, osteoporosis, and macular degeneration. Raisins are as beneficial to eye sight as carrots. The resveratrol in raisins provides the body with many of the benefits of eating a calorie restricted diet. Use raisins on cereal, in salads, and in cooking and baking. Make trail mix that includes raisins along with other dries fruits, nuts and seeds.
Apricots are another popular dried fruit with a high nutritional profile. They are rich in fiber, beta-carotene, Vitamins A and C, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, silicone, and potassium. Apricots are also rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that protects against cancer, particularly of the prostate, larynx, esophagus, lungs and prostrate. Their ability to scavenge free radicals helps prevent cataract formation, while their high fiber content helps prevent constipation and digestive conditions such as diverticulosis. Three or more servings of fruit a day, including apricots, lowers the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36 percent compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit a day. Dried apricots make a wonderful lunchtime addition or afternoon snack for the whole family.
Cherries are related to plums, peaches, apricots, and almonds along with many others from the versatile Rose family. They are a good source of vitamins A and C and potassium. They contain pectin and antocyanins, which are flavonoids linked to the prevention of cancer and heart disease. One study found cherries to be potent antibacterial agents that help prevent tooth decay and plaque formation. They are also a time proven treatment for arthritis and gout. Cherries have one of the highest levels of anti-aging free radicals of any food, giving them superfood status. Cherries have been found to help regulate the body's natural sleep patterns, and help recovery from jet lag. They have been shown to aid people with memory loss. Dried cherries can be added to salads and desserts, but they are supreme right out of the bag.
Cranberries are known to treat bladder and urinary tract infections with their high levels of antioxidants. The keep the urinary tract clean and may prevent tumors from developing. Cranberries have powerful effects on heart disease, yeast infections, cancer, stroke, and viral infections. Proanthocyanadin, a compound found in cherries, prevents plaque formation on teeth better than mouthwashes. Regular consumption of cranberries can kill the H. pylori bacteria, known for causing stomach cancer and ulcers. Extracts of chemicals found in cranberries prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying in test tube experiments. Dried cranberries make a great addition to all types of cooked meats, sweet potatoes, salads, and casseroles. They can be tossed with olive oil, parmesan and pasta.
Apples supply a high level of the bone protective mineral boron, along with an osteoporosis fighting flavanoid found only in apples, called phloridzin. Studies have found that apples lower asthma symptoms in children, and women who eat lots of apples during pregnancy have lower rates of asthmatic children. The quercetin in apples may protect brain cells from the kind of free radical damage that leads to Alzheimer's disease. Pectin in apples lowers LDL cholesterol. Quercetin and naringin are responsible for the 50 percent lower rates of lung cancer in frequent apple eaters. A Cornell University study found that rats eating apples every day reduced their risk of breast cancer by up to 44 percent. Apple eating rats had a 43 percent lower rate of colon cancer primarily due to the pectin in apples, and they had a 57 percent lower risk of liver cancer. Pectin also supplies galaturonic acid which lowers the body's need for insulin. Apples make a great afternoon energy booster. They can be added to chicken or tuna salad. Mix apples with grapes, walnuts and a touch of organic mayonnaise for a Waldorf Salad.
Don't let this list be confining. All dried fruits contain a wealth of nutrients and provide a host of health benefits.
Choosing and using dried fruits
Conventional dried fruits may be treated with chemicals such as sulfur dioxide. This is to inactivate the enzyme polyphenoloxidase which darkens the fruit during the drying process. This compound sometimes causes allergic reactions in people. Some fried fruits have been subjected to bleaching or coloring. Sometimes a preservative called sulfite has been used.
All these drawbacks can be avoided by buying organic dried fruits. Organic dried fruits are free of additives. In addition, organic dried fruit has been sun dried or dried at temperatures low enough so that vitamins and enzymes remain intact.
Dried fruits should be stored in tightly closed glass containers in the refrigerator. Stored this way, or in their original unopened packaging, they can be kept for a year or more.
Organic dried fruits are available in bulk and bag at health food stores. They can be ordered online from several sources. One of the best is Higher Power, where you can stock up with organic dried apples, apricots, large flake coconut, dates, figs, mangoes, peaches, pears, pineapples and raisins.
Health Benefits of Fruit, Our Father's Farm.
10 Health Benefits of Apples, Eat this!
BC Doan, Five Dried Fruits and Their Undeniable Health Benefits, HealthMad.
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.