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By Cynthia Jossart

Is dehydrated food healthy and nutritious?

Dehydrating food for preservation is nothing new. In fact, according to the University of Illinois' College of Agriculture, it is the oldest way to preserve food. It is easy to store, lasts a long time and is lightweight. In the search for healthier, cheaper and more natural food, gardening and food preservation have surged in popularity. Naturally, the next step is understanding the nutrition behind dried food.

Are dried meats, fruits and vegetables healthy and nutritious?

The answer is both yes and no. Like anything else, quantity plays a significant role. When compared with their fully hydrated counterparts, however, the answer is actually a pretty solid "not really." This is because a lot of what makes fruit and vegetables nutritious gets destroyed during the drying process. A regular serving size of a plum has 15.7 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C and 8 micrograms of folate. After the dehydrating process, the serving changes and the nutrient amount drops. Vitamin C drops to 1.2 mg and folate all but disappears.

Heat and air naturally destroy vitamins A and C, sunlight destroys vitamin A and blanching fruits and vegetables reduces other vitamins and minerals that are water soluble (LS). There are steps that can be taken to prevent nutrient loss. For home drying, there are two good options. Steam blanching inactivates the enzymes that break down vitamins without the water that would break down minerals. Dipping fruits and vegetables in lemon juice (or another highly acidic juice like orange or pineapple) will help preserve vitamins C and A. It will also help prevent discoloration as the food dries (sfg).

Calories and naturally occurring sugars can present a problem

New research has shown that a large portion of the population may be sensitive to fructose, a type of sugar found in fruit. Because the portion sizes for dried foods are much smaller, consuming a larger amount of dried fruit (and therefore, more fructose) is more likely. Having levels of sugar that are too high can cause a lot of problems, including flatulence, cramps and bloating, as well as weight gain and – if you are not brushing – tooth decay (WMD).

Dried food is also a compact source of calories. This benefits people who need high calorie food and have little appetite. But for the average, healthy person, smaller portion sizes mean a greater chance of gaining weight by exceeding recommended calorie intake. It is important to note that the difference here is in portion size. A serving of fresh apples and a serving of dried apples both have roughly the same calorie count (sfg). However, a serving of fresh apples is one medium apple, or one cup, while a serving of dried apples is a quarter cup.

Overall, dried food is relatively healthy. It can be a source of compact calories and is easy to store, which is great for a hiker in the mountains. For less active adults, however, they should be kept to one or two serving sizes per day in order to maintain good health.

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