I love dried fruit. A lot of my clients are surprised to hear this because they think it’s “fattening” and loaded with sugar, but neither is true—if you buy the right kind. In fact, strategically using dried rather than fresh fruit is a smart way to meet your nutrient needs and control your weight.

Here’s the deal: if you take one cup of grapes and remove the water, you’ll get about a quarter cup of raisins, so when fruit is dried the portion shrinks by about ¾. However, the nutrients are still there, so as long as you stick with an appropriate helping, about the size of a golf ball, you’ll get the equivalent of a serving of fresh fruit. The key is to always read the ingredient list. Some dried fruits are sweetened with added sugar, but many are simply dried or dehydrated with no additives or preservatives, so nothing is put in, and the only thing that’s taken away is water.

How does dried fruit relate to weight control? First, people who eat more servings of fruit have lower weights—even more so than veggie eaters according to some research. Fewer than 30% of adults eat the recommended two servings of fruit a day and dried fruit can be an easy way to fill the gap, especially since it’s portable. Dried fruit is also an excellent source of antioxidants and, some exciting new research has linked a higher intake of antioxidants to a lower body weight, less body fat, and less belly fat, even without eating fewer calories.

Be sure to look for dried fruits or freeze dried versions with no added sugar or preservatives. Fruits that tend to be bitter (like cranberries) may be sweetened with 100% fruit juice and that’s okay. You may also see a small amount of oil in the ingredient list, which is used to prevent fruit from clumping, which is also okay. The main difference between dried and freeze dried fruit is that before they’re dried, freeze dried fruits are frozen, then placed into a chamber that uses a vacuum to gradually remove the water content while it thaws. The end product has all the flavor and nutrition of fresh fruit with a crispy, dry texture, and typically no ingredients other than the fruit itself.

Mix it up, and try dried fruit options that may be new to you like mulberries, goldenberries, or sour cherries. And to prevent overdoing it combine a small portion of dried fruit with other healthy foods. Here are three of my favorite breakfast or snack combinations:

Fall Festival Parfait
¼ cup dried apples folded into 6 ounces of yogurt (soy, coconut milk, nonfat Greek…) with a generous dose of apple pie spice, a few tablespoons of chopped nuts and one cup of puffed whole grain cereal like Arrowhead Mills puffed millet

Asian Medley
¼ cup dried plums, one serving brown rice crackers, 1 cup organic edamame in the pod, ¼ cup pine nuts, and a cup of brewed green tea

Mediterranean Delight
¼ cup Calimyrna figs, sliced almost all the way in half, stuffed or spread with a combo of 2 tablespoons almond butter, ¼ cup dry rolled oats and fresh grated ginger

How do you feel about dried fruit? Please share your thoughts or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

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