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3 great reasons to enjoy this healthy dried fruit

3 great reasons to enjoy this healthy dried fruit

Grapes - packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and juicy flavor - are universally renowned as a wonderful (sweet) food choice.  Yet the dehydrated version of the grape, the humble raisin, doesn’t always command the same appreciation – possibly because of a perception that raisins are overly high in sugar and calories.

However, raisins contain many of the same beneficial nutrients and polyphenols as grapes.  And, while it’s true that these tasty little morsels are high in natural sugars, their content of fiber and protein means that they won’t cause blood sugar to “spike” after they are consumed.  In fact, raisins, in moderation, are not only diet-friendly - but are also “diabetes-friendly.”  To learn more about the unexpected benefits of raisins - which include protection against chronic diseases - keep reading.

Improve blood sugar control with raisins

Over 38.4 million Americans are living with diabetes.  And, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that a staggering 88 million adults have prediabetes, a condition which, if untreated, can progress to type 2 diabetes.

Surprisingly, raisins can help reduce the excessively high blood sugar that triggers this serious disease.  In a controlled study published in Postgraduate Medicine, the researchers found that participants who ate raisins three times a day for 12 weeks reduced their incidence of postprandial (after-meal) blood sugar spikes.  In addition, eating raisins significantly decreased HbA1c levels - a measure of blood sugar control over time - and reduced systolic blood pressure by up to 10.2 mm/Hg.

The team concluded that raisins, eaten in moderation, are actually a healthy snack choice for people with type 2 diabetes.

Raisins slash cancer risk

As if the good news about raisins’ ability to lower blood sugar weren’t enough, a scientific review of studies published in Advances in Nutrition in 2020 suggested that dried fruits - including raisins, dates and prunes - can cut the risk of some types of cancer.

The findings from the review were so encouraging that it would not be surprising if the impressed authors went scrambling for some dried fruits to add to their own diets.  The team found that three to five (or more) servings of dried fruits a week reduced the risk of precancerous colorectal polyps by a quarter.  The findings on the incidence of prostate cancer were even more promising, with the dried fruits slashing the risk neatly in half.  Finally, the scientists reported that the dried fruit mixture was associated with a 65 percent drop in the mortality risk from pancreatic cancer.

Additional studies have shown that raisins are high in antioxidants and phenolic acids that can ward off damage from free radicals and help prevent potentially cancer-causing mutations in cell DNA.  In addition, raisins are high in fiber, with a half-cup serving containing 3.3 grams.  Dietary fiber, which helps speed the elimination of waste and carcinogens from the body, has been shown in multiple studies to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Scientists have long known that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can help protect against cancer.  The new review shows that dried fruit can be just as effective - if not more so.

 Raisins strengthen bones and teeth

The International Osteoporosis Foundation reports that about 10 percent of women aged 60 have osteoporosis, in which bones become brittle and prone to fracture.  At age 80, the incidence of osteoporosis jumps to 40 percent among women.

It’s good to know that raisins can help protect against this potentially crippling condition.  Raisins contain healthy amounts of bone-building calcium, magnesium and potassium - and are also a source of the trace mineral boron, which works with vitamin D and calcium to keep bones strong. 

Not only do raisins strengthen bones, but they also benefit teeth and gums.  Studies have shown that oleanolic acid in raisins inhibits the growth of the cavity-forming Streptococcus mutans bacteria.  For good measure, they also act against P. gingivalis, the bacteria responsible for gum disease. 

The upshot: raisins are one food that satisfies your “sweet tooth” - without actually harming your teeth.

Enjoy “nature’s candy” - in moderation

It’s easy to incorporate raisins into your diet.  Use them in mixed salads, top off a bowl of oatmeal, yogurt or cereal, or add them to homemade trail mix.  Include them in wholesome banana or nut snacks, or utilize their sweet, savory taste to enliven and elevate cooked carrots and yams.  The ultimate portable snack, raisins can also be nibbled “on the go.”  Finally, raisins are a great choice for a pre-workout snack - a fact well-known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who reputedly presented them as prizes during sporting competitions.

Raisins can fulfill cravings for sweets in a healthy way - and are so satisfying they may help you avoid food cravings and binge eating.  However, with one-half cup of raisins containing 217 calories and 47 grams of natural sugars, they should be enjoyed in moderation.  Because, after all, there is truth behind that notion that "too much of a good thing" can be harmful.

If you are interested in do-it-yourself raisins, the process is probably easier than you think.  Simply remove the stems from seedless grapes of your choice (Thompson seedless grapes are ideal), rinse them in cool water and set them outside when you are expecting two or three days in a row of dry, sunny weather.  Rotate the grapes daily for even sun exposure.  In as little as 48 to 72 hours, you will be rewarded with plump, sweet, sun-dried raisins.

Whether you nibble on them to help ward off disease - or simply to enjoy a jolt of natural energy and sweetness - you will probably agree: raisins rule.

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