Getting your kids to eat their vegetables is usually a challenge, but when it comes to fruit, most babies, toddlers and big kids love it.
Fresh, whole fruit is ideal for kids: it has plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and water which kids not only need to thrive, but promotes feelings of satiety and can prevent constipation.
For those times when fresh fruit isn’t available or convenient however, you may have wondered, is dried fruit healthy for kids? Does dried fruit have too much sugar? And are raisins are a healthy snack for kids?
Here are answers those questions and more.
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Dried fruit health benefits
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the amount of whole fruit kids consume has increased 67 percent, but 60 percent of kids still aren’t eating enough.
So whether you buy it in a bag, a box, or as part of your favorite trail mix, dried fruit can be healthy for kids and a way to increase the amount of servings they get each day.
Dried fruit contains more fiber and phenols, a type of antioxidant that’s protective against certain diseases, than fresh fruit per ounce, Anthony Komaroff, M.D. states in this article.
What’s more, dried fruit can provide significant proportions of the daily recommended intake of several micronutrients like folate.
However, certain types of dried fruit lose some of their nutrients like vitamins A, C, thiamine and folate—a result of the drying process.
Unlike other types of kids’ snacks, dried fruit contains no sodium, cholesterol or fat (except for coconut).
Adding dried fruit to a salad, veggies, or plain Greek yogurt for example, can make it taste better and encourage your kids to eat foods they wouldn’t have otherwise touched.
Dried fruit is healthy because it has natural sugars, right?
When it comes to sugar, most experts say that it’s the added sugars that we should be paying attention to.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), too much added sugar can increase a child’s risk for obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends kids between 2 and 18 eat less than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugars a day.
As the new Nutrition Facts labels continue to be rolled out, it will be easier than ever to decipher the grams of natural and added sugars in a food.
Although some experts consider dried fruit healthy for kids because it has natural sugars, I’m not convinced.
Through my work as a health journalist, I’m of the mind that all sugar, whether it’s natural or added, has the same effect on the body and should be limited.
And some experts agree.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “…high fructose corn syrup is absolutely worse for you than the natural sugar found in berries and apples, but for the most part, sugar is sugar is sugar. It all wreaks havoc on your health.”
Another thing to consider is that some manufacturers add sugar to certain types of dried fruit like tart cranberries so that they’ll taste sweet.
The calories in dried fruit can add up quickly
When you compare the same serving size of fresh fruit to dried fruit, dried fruit has more calories.
Counting calories isn’t something any kid should be doing, whether they’re overweight or not. But it’s important to keep in mind that since dried fruit is so sweet and snackable, it’s easy to go overboard.
Are raisins a healthy snack for kids?
Individual portions of raisins are a kid-favorite and can be a healthy addition to your kid’s diet.
One small box has nearly 2 grams of fiber and protein, and they’re also a good source of iron, potassium and magnesium, the “calming mineral.”
Yet keep in mind that raisins are also high in sugar— 25 grams worth—so stick with grapes when you can, which are lower in sugar and more filling thanks to the amount of water they contain.
What about yogurt-covered raisins?
Yogurt-covered raisins sound like a healthy option for kids, but take a look at what Sun-Maid Vanilla Yogurt Raisins are actually made with:
Yogurt flavored coating (sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, nonfat milk powder, yogurt powder (cultured whey and nonfat milk), whey powder, artificial color (titanium dioxide), soy lecithin—an emulsifier, and vanilla),tapioca dextrin, confectioners glaze).
When you consider the ingredients, it’s best to serve these as a treat—or not at all.
Tips for Buying & Serving Dried Fruit
The next time you give your kids dried fruit, keep these tips in mind.
- Since certain types of fruit (whether they’re fresh or dried) make the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, consider purchasing organic dried fruit to avoid pesticide exposure.
- Read labels carefully and look for products where dried fruit is the only ingredient.
- When buying cranberries, choose those that are sweetened with fruit juice, not sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners, Cynthia Sass, RD states in this article.
- Avoid dried fruit with artificial preservatives like sulfur dioxide and other additives.
- Think of dried fruit as an extra: add it in small quantities to unsalted nuts and seeds, oatmeal, healthy cookies or homemade bars, and to vegetable and grain dishes.
- Keep portion sizes in mind: one cup of fresh fruit is equivalent to 1/4 of dried fruit. But keep in mind, kids’ portion sizes are typically smaller depending on their ages.
The bottom line: dried fruit can be healthy for kids, but it’s best consumed in moderation and in the right portions.