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Nutrition Awareness Behavior Diet

Forget About Snacking On Gummies Try Dried Fruit Instead

4 months, 2 weeks ago

4387  0
Posted on Mar 07, 2024, 2 p.m.

The next time you are packing lunch snacks or looking for an afternoon nibble and find yourself reaching for commercially available gummy fruit snacks, remember that only three types of fruit snacks meet the latest recommendations for high-nutritional snacks set by the federal dietary guidelines. According to recent research published in the journal Nutrients from the University of Massachusetts Amherst food scientists, dried fruit, fruit puree, and canned fruit with juice are the best overall fruit-snacking products. However, the best choice remains fresh fruit.

USDA defines commercially available fruit snacks as "products made with fruit and fruit juices, which may or may not contain added sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives," the researchers found that dried fruit has the best overall nutritional profile, being the highest nutrient density and fiber content while also having the lowest added sugar. Fruit-flavored gummy snacks have the lowest nutrient density and fiber content as well as the highest amount of added sugar. 

Other fruit snack options with low nutritional profiles include canned fruit packed in something other than juice and dried favored fruit. Both of these options also contain higher amounts of added sugars. Snacking on a fresh piece of fruit is undoubtedly the healthiest and most recommended option. However, 80% of the American population is not eating the daily recommended amount of 5 servings. Thus, choosing nutrient-dense fruit snack options may be a strategy for increasing fruit intake, according to the researchers.

"It's not fresh fruit but the snacking products that people are more customarily consuming," says food scientist Amanda Kinchla, extension professor, who co-led the study with Alissa Nolden, assistant professor and food scientist. 

For this study, the researchers analyzed the nutritional content of 1,497 fruit snacks using the Mintel Global New Products Database that was accessed through the UMass Libraries. Fruit snacks were defined as "non-frozen, non-beverage food products mainly made with fruit ingredients." 

The team used the Nutrient Rich Foods Index (NRF) to calculate the overall nutritional score based on the nutrient profile of foods to compare the healthfulness of the fruit snacks, taking into account protein, fiber, potassium, vitamin D, iron, calcium, and other components that are recommended to be limited such as cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and saturated fats. 

The fruit snacks were classified into 9 different categories: dried fruit, fruit-based bar, dried flavored fruit, canned fruit, fruit-flavored snack, fruit puree, fruit chips, formed fruit, and canned fruit with juice. In addition to looking at the nutritional value per serving size, the added sugars and fiber content was calculated based on the FDA reference amounts per eating occasion to balance the serving variability among the different fruit snack categories. 

"We were trying to connect the dots between all the nutrients, which is the advantage of the NRF -- to be able to look at multiple nutrients at the same time," Nolden says.

"With Alissa's consumer insight and understanding of perceptions and sensory analysis, we can try to understand consumers' acceptance and limitations and then design foods that would better cater to that, so that we can then bolster health and wellness platforms," Kinchla says.

"Reformulation of fruit snacks is needed… Formed fruit and fruit-based bars could be lower in added sugar to become a more nutritious fruit snack option. Canned fruit [with added sugar] and fruit-flavored snacks need more reformulation, as they are low in nutrient density and fiber content and high in added sugar. Improving the nutritional quality of fruit snacks can facilitate smart snacking choices,” the researchers concluded. 

"Future direction for the fruit snack category should consider decreasing added sugar content, increasing fiber content and enhancing sensory profile to improve the overall nutrient density."

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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