Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dried fruit- friend or foe?

Sorry about the title, but I couldn't resist. Do people still say foe? Why hasn't that phrase morphed into 'friend or enemy'?

This summer I've gotten really spoiled. There have been lots of awesome farmer's markets, both in town and in the other midwestern cities I've visited (Springfield, IL and South Haven, MI) and I've gotten my pick of all the fresh produce I can handle. Peaches, nectarines, cherries, blueberries, and cheap watermelons from the roadside stand near my neighborhood. Num. I also discovered Jazz apples, which on principle I should oppose because they are a weird hybrid of apples and pears and the idea of genetically engineering fruit always seemed a little weird to me, but nonetheless they are fucking yummy and I wept bitterly when Kroger stopped carrying them.

It seems so odd to me that I never used to like fruit. Whenever I voluntarily ate a piece, I'd congratulate myself for eating healthy and then take a three month fruit hiatus until the next time, so as not to overdose on vitamins or anything. I think this was because my exposure to fruit had been mostly mealy, bitter Gala apples and lame, wrinkly red grapes from when I worked at Steak 'n Shake as a teenager. The only way one could choke those down was to drown them in hot caramel sauce (they were classified in the menu under 'lighter options.') I just never really got into them. And it wasn't until earlier this year that I just decided I would start eating fresh fruit (yes, it really was as simple as just telling myself it was time to start eating them. I've come to think of eating healthy as something that adults do, like getting up before noon on the weekends and doing the dishes without anyone telling you to. I am now an adult, so I must do all of these things.)

In the interim, I discovered the stepping stone to learning to like fresh fruit- dried fruit! It started with dried pineapple, which is inexplicably sweet compared to fresh pineapple. In fact, all fresh fruits are. I don't know why this is, and it's mildly disconcerting- what the hell are they doing to it to make it so sweet? I know they dehydrate it, or something, right? Oh, hey, the Internet! The Internet can tell me things! And it tells me, courtesy of Wikipedia, that "Since dehydration may result in water loss up to seven parts out of eight, dried fruit has a stronger flavor than its fresh counterpart." Well, there you have it.

Uh, oh, there's more- "The drying process also destroys most of the Vitamin C in the food." Huh. Well, that's not good. In fact, one of my nutrition bibles, the Magic Foods guide (which I wrote about earlier in 'Required Reading') says that dried fruit usually lacks almost all of the vitamins that its fresh counterparts have, except maybe the fiber. Also, dried fruit can have up to twice the calories of fresh fruit, for less actual food: for example, an apple has 60 calories, but 10 dried apple rings (the serving size) has 110 calories.

So, is dried fruit really worth it? It's delicious, and it's convenient, but is it healthy? Also, dried fruit is pretty expensive compared to the fresh. Thank God you have me around to make up your mind for you.

In my humble opinion, dried fruit is worth it, provided you study the label carefully and choose wisely. My pick? Trader Joe's Dried Bartlett Pears, and also, Trader Joe's Sweet Dried Apple Rings. Have I mentioned lately that I fucking love Trader Joe's? God, they are awesome. I used to think only uppity people shopped at Trader Joe's, but I guess now I am one of those uppity people, buying my fancy cheeses and organic arugula and carrying it home in my trendy reusable grocery tote bag. I don't care because I get awesome dried fruit at Trader Joe's.

Why is this dried fruit awesome? Mainly, the fiber. Fresh apples and pears have a goodly amount of fiber in them, and it's all preserved in the dried version. For example: the pears have a whopping 10g of fiber per 5 slice serving. That's 41% of your daily needs. And for only 140 calories, that's a deal. And though I might have maligned the apple rings earlier for having too many calories compared to fresh, in fact 110 is hardly anything for something this healthy, especially because it contains 3g of fiber per serving. I've taken to keeping a bag in my car for when I am on my way home from rehearsal at 10:00pm and famished.

I will offer one caveat- be careful about things like dried cherries, dried blueberries, and my beloved dried pineapple. The serving size is usually something like 1/4 or 1/3 cup, and let's face it, unless you want to look like crazy Lifetime movie anorexic girl by measuring out all of your portions with measuring cup, it's pretty easy to get carried away and end up eating way more than you intended; generally, these are in the 140-cal per serving range, which again is really not much, but if you're eating twice or triple that, then it kind of defeats the purpose and you might as well have candy. Dried berries are good for salads, or trail mix, or for sprinkling in your oatmeal, but in general, not so good to take the bag along and munch whenever the urge hits ya.

That's all I got. Comment and tell me what sorts of dried things are not tasty!

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