Dried Fruit and Public Health Seminar – How does the evidence stack up under expert scrutiny?

By Rick Miller, Clinical and Sports Dietitian, Harley Street, London

On the 7th June 2018 in London, distinguished speakers presented to an audience of healthcare professionals on key topics concerning dried fruit. The Seminar’s primary aim was to investigate the existing evidence on current public health messaging and dried fruit consumption and establish clearer priorities for further research.

Topics covered: the composition of dried fruit and their contribution to fibre and sugar, digestive health, dental health, antioxidants and phytonutrients and the perceived evidence of current public health advice.

Dr Sigrid Gibson, Director of Sig-Nurture Ltd presented the composition of dried fruit and their contribution to fibre and sugar, setting the scene for Professor Kevin Whelan, Professor of Dietetics at King’s College London who discussed dried fruit and digestive health. Professor Whelan described from the evidence that a delayed gut transit time, alterations in the gut microbiome and low stool weight are risk factors for gastrointestinal disorders, such as colorectal cancer.

Dr Michele Sadler, Director of Rank Nutrition Ltd and Dr Nigel Carter OBE, CEO Oral Health Foundation took dual turns to present the topic of raisins, oral health and snacking. Dr Sadler presented her recent systemic review of the evidence for dried fruit and oral health in detail, culminating in the opinion that the link between oral health and traditionally dried fruit is based on little research or scientific evidence.

Dr Carter followed this presentation reiterating that much of the evidence to date with regards to snacking and oral health was old and of poor quality. He suggested that it may be the total amount of sugar in the diet that matters, not how frequent it’s provided.

More research is needed to establish the link thoroughly, but very possibly fresh fruit may have been given a green light – whilst dried fruit – such as California Raisins – have been mislabelled as ‘oral health villains’.

Professor Graham Finlayson, Chair in Psychobiology, at University of Leeds presented his piece on dried fruit and appetite. He provided a fascinating insight regarding the complexities of human appetite and the multiple control mechanisms at work when it comes to making food choices. Dr Finlayson explained that one of the opportunities for dried fruit and weight management is that it may help to ‘normalise’ homeostatic (biological) and hedonic (desires to eat) appetite response in susceptible individuals.

Expanding on dried fruits’ beneficial properties, Professor Gary Williamson, Professor of School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, talked through the vast array of phytochemicals and phytonutrients, detailing that dried fruits contain high levels of a variety of polyphenols and that we are just starting to understand their health benefits.

Dr Marie Ann Ha, Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University discussed the inconsistency of public health advice for dried fruit.

Dr Ha acknowledged that Public Health England were, in fact, divided between two areas when it comes to dried fruit. Dietary fibre intake to increase to 30g per serving against the conflicting advice of The Oral Health Report which specifically mentions dried fruit should only be eaten with meals and highlights the concern that dried fruit is cariogenic due to the high sugar content and potential to stick to the teeth.

Dr Ha did state however, that this area of research is truly unexplored and based on weak research, mostly in rats consuming chopped, dehydrated apple.

The day concluded with a panel discussion about the practical findings of the day. It was raised that whilst much media attention is levelled at dried fruit in era of public health concerns regarding sugar. In the context of overall public consumption of traditionally dried fruit as a snack (which appears to be very small), we may in fact be focusing our attention on totally the wrong target when it comes to sugar.

In fact, supporting the significant health benefits of a natural food, such as California Raisins, where the research does exist, could well be the best advice of the day!

Could a serving of California raisins be a solution? By Rick Miller, Clinical and Sports Dietitian, Harley Street, London

For further details please email info@ukraisins.com

About the Author: 

Rick Miller is a registered Clinical and Sports Dietitian based in Harley Street, London.

You can find out more about Rick at www.rick-miller.co.uk