Deliciously sweet and chewy, concentrated with energy and nutrients, dried fruit night not strike everyone as an obvious “diet food.” Yet, surprising new research debunks the idea that dried fruit is fattening.

Researchers from Louisiana State University decided that the subject of dried fruit and weight gain had received relatively little scientific scrutiny, particularly given widespread concerns about obesity. Drawing on data from large scale nutritional surveys, they looked at the dietary intakes of 13,292 adults and compared those to body measurements. The result: Those who ate dried fruit daily (as little as an eighth of a cup) had lower body mass indexes (BMIs), smaller waists and less body fat (by as much as 5% in a skin fold test).

Why might this be? For one thing, dried fruit eaters had a 43% higher intake of fiber. In previous research, increasing fiber intake helped triple weight-loss results. Also, this group enjoyed an overall 20% higher aggregate intake of nearly all essential nutrients — thereby avoiding the nutrient deficiencies that send our bodies the message to go on eating. Moreover, an earlier study focusing specifically on raisins found that regular consumption raised levels of leptin — a hormone that helped with appetite control.

Bonus:  Raisins contain compounds that might help reduce tooth decay by fighting the oral bacteria linked to cavities and gum disease.

Published October 1, 2011