Dry fruits are the missing component in our diet. Laura González, head of nutrition and health at Nestlé, explains how to incorporate them into our diet, refutes a few myths, talks about their composition and offers some guidelines for their consumption.
Link between dry fruits and the Mediterranean diet
The main component of dry fruits is fat. We’re talking about 50%-60% of their composition. It is, however, healthy fat.
In Abecedario de la Nutrición, Laura González centers her weekly intervention in “El Bisturí” on dry fruits. This is the interview she had with Henar Fernández.
Dry fruits are a typical food in the Mediterranean diet and gastronomy, which is characterized by a high consumption of plant-based foods: raw and cooked vegetables, fresh fruits, leguminous plants, dry fruits and whole-grain cereals.
When we’re talking about dry fruits we mean fruits with hard shells like almonds, nuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, cashew nuts, pistachios; as well as peanuts despite stemming from a leguminous plant.
About the composition of dry fruits
The main component of dry fruits is fat. We’re talking about 50%-60% of their composition. It is, however, healthy fat. The type of fat varies from one fruit to another; for example, the fat in nuts is more unsaturated than the fat in hazelnuts and almonds, mainly composed by monounsaturated fat, which is the typical fat in olive oil. When they substitute saturated fats in the diet, they contribute to normal levels of blood cholesterol.
Besides fat, dry fruits are rich in regulating nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. Among those, vitamin E, a potent natural antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative damage; B-group proteins; and talking about minerals, they have magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc and calcium, which is an essential mineral for bone health.
Dry fruits are characterized by a high protein content and are along with leguminous plants, the main sources of those nutrients in vegetarian diets and a very interesting alternative to animal protein in an omnivore diet.
They’re also characterized by having less than 50% water. They’re very nutritious foods due to their high density of nutrients; they’re rich in fat, protein, a source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Not included in this group is roasted corn or salty cereal appetizers, usually marketed as mixed dry fruits. They shouldn’t be confused with dry fruits such as raisins, plums, dates… which contain less calories and whose main component is sugar.
Is there research that endorses the benefits of dried fruits?
There’s a lot of scientific research showing that regular consumption of these foods is beneficial because they help control cholesterol levels and they help prevent the onset of diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes. It’s also important to point out that this effect isn’t only attributable to dry fruits, but to the nutritional context in which they’re included, that is to say, the Mediterranean diet pattern.
In fact, back in 2013 a piece of research confirmed that the effects of this Mediterranean diet supplemented with dry fruits were beneficial and contributed to reduce up to 30% the prevalence of cardiovascular complications.
It’s advisable to have a small fistful (30/40 grams of dry fruits) 3-7 times a week even though current consumption is very low. We’re roughly consuming 6 grams of dry fruits a day.
It’s advisable to eat them raw, with no added salt or sugar and not fried.
Does the regular consumption of dry fruits make you put on weight?
Not at all. It’s a myth we expect doesn’t last forever. Part of the general population don’t eat them because they fear they’ll get fat. Their high fat content is responsible for that myth. A non-fried 30g dry fruit portion, without added salt and sugar, has 160-180 kilocalories.
Likewise, contrasting affirmations point out that diets rich in dry fruits are not associated with increasing body weight or waist circumference. It’s true that as any nutritionist would say, it’s a group of very energy-dense foods but they don’t contribute to people putting on weight when they consume the recommended amounts and when they do it within a healthy diet pattern.
It’s also important to make clear that when research puts emphasis on the idea that the general population should increase their consumption of dry fruits, it doesn’t mean the consumption of dry fruits mixed in snacks with salt, chocolate, honey or vegetal oil. It refers to almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts, nuts or pistachios. Raw, baked or roasted. It’s convenient to choose them without salt or sugar.
Ideas to incorporate dry fruits to your diet
Dry fruits can be eaten plain. As ingredients in salads or vegetable sautées, or even as sauces such as pesto for pasta. They can be added as little chunks, or ground to natural yogurt. They can also be used as ingredients in fruit salads or ground to coat fruit skewers.
They go very well with meat dishes, for example chicken with pine nuts. They also go perfectly along with fish, for example hake with almonds. Therefore, they can also be a sweet snack when they’re combined with dry fruits such as dry figs, dates or apricots, which can be a good alternative.
Does the consumption of dry fruits have any inconveniences?
Not, as long as they don’t have any mold or you don’t have an allergy to dry fruits. In the first case, the danger lies in it’s potential content of aflatoxins, a substance that has been linked to an increased risk of liver cancer. Aflatoxins are toxins produced by mold growing in dry fruits, in the seeds of cereals and in leguminous plants. Hence, the general recommendation of keeping this type of products in a dry place
We can consume dry fruits with peace of mind since the benefits of eating them outnumber the few or inexistent health risks.
Date: October 24th, 2018
By: Ángela Arrizabalaga
Nota: Instituto Nutrigenómica no se hace responsable de las opiniones expresadas en el presente artículo.