The Great Fruit-Snack Showdown: Dried Fruit Takes the Crown

The Great Fruit-Snack Showdown: Dried Fruit Takes the Crown

The Great Fruit-Snack Showdown: Dried Fruit Takes the Crown

Forget gummies — Study finds dried fruit has the highest nutritional value

Date: May 2, 2024
Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Summary: Next time you’re packing lunch for your kid or reaching for a healthy afternoon bite, consider this: only three types of packaged fruit snacks — dried fruit, fruit puree and canned fruit with juice — meet the latest recommendations for high-nutrition snacks set by federal dietary guidelines, according to food scientists.

So you’re packing a lunch or searching for a healthy afternoon pick-me-up. Forget those gummy bears!

New research by food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reveals that only a select few packaged fruit snacks actually meet the latest federal dietary guidelines for high-nutrition snacks.

This study, published in the journal Nutrients, is the first of its kind to delve into the nutritional landscape of commercially available fruit snacks.

The researchers, led by Professors Amanda Kinchla and Alissa Nolden, analyzed a whopping 1,497 fruit snacks (defined as non-frozen, non-beverage products primarily made with fruit) using the Mintel Global New Products Database.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Top Contenders: Out of all the contenders, dried fruit emerged as the champion, boasting the highest nutrient density, fiber content, and the least amount of added sugar.

  • The Laggards: Fruit-flavored snacks, like gummies, sadly landed at the bottom of the barrel. They were found to have the lowest nutrient density and fiber content, along with the highest amount of added sugar. Other low scorers included canned fruit packed in syrup and dried fruit with added flavors (both containing significant amounts of added sugar).

Why This Matters?

While fresh fruit reigns supreme in terms of health benefits, a staggering 80% of Americans fall short of the recommended daily intake of five fruit servings.

This is where nutrient-rich fruit snacks can play a role in helping us bridge the gap.

“It’s not always fresh fruit that people are grabbing,” says Professor Kinchla. “We wanted to see which snacking products offered the most nutritional value.”

Scoring the Snacks:

The researchers employed the Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) Index, a system that assigns an overall nutrition quality score based on a food’s nutrient profile.

This model considers both desirable nutrients (protein, fiber, potassium, vitamins D, calcium, and iron) and those to be limited (saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugar, and sodium).

“The NRF’s strength is its ability to evaluate multiple nutrients simultaneously,” explains Professor Nolden.

Beyond the Label:

The study went beyond just analyzing the information on the label. The researchers also factored in added sugar and fiber content based on the FDA’s Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) per eating occasion, accounting for the variability in serving sizes across different types of fruit snacks.

The Road Ahead:

The ultimate goal of this research is to pave the way for healthier fruit snack options.

“By understanding consumer preferences and sensory experiences,” says Professor Kinchla, “we can design fruit snacks that are not only nutritious but also appealing to consumers. This can ultimately contribute to improved health and wellness.”

The study concludes with a call for reformulation in the fruit snack industry. Formed fruit snacks and fruit-based bars could benefit from a reduction in added sugar to become more nutritious choices.

Canned fruit with added sugar and fruit-flavored snacks require more significant reformulation due to their low nutrient density and fiber content, coupled with high levels of added sugar.

By prioritizing a decrease in added sugar, an increase in fiber content, and an enhanced sensory profile, the future of fruit snacks can be brighter, offering consumers more informed choices that promote smart snacking and overall well-being.

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Materials provided by University of Massachusetts AmherstNote: Content may be edited for style and length.