Nutrition experts tend to favor a “less is more” approach when it comes to deciding what to eat: choosing whole, minimally processed foods over those with long, unpronounceable ingredient lists. Raisins, otherwise known as dried grapes, fit the bill. “They’re a whole food that’s minimally processed with no added ingredients or preservatives,” says Jenny Friedman, a Philadelphia-based dietitian. But raisins are also relatively high in sugar and calories.
So are raisins healthy? Here’s what you need to know about the nutritional profile of raisins.
What are the health benefits of raisins?
Raisins are dried grapes. They’re typically reddish-brown, but also come in a golden variety. “Traditional raisins are sun-dried and contain no additional preservatives or stabilizers,” says Friedman; the process of air-drying is responsible for their brown color. “Golden raisins, however, are dried in a dehydrator and contain sulfur dioxide as a preservative,” making them gold in color.
Both tend to be made from the same type of grape, and both are healthy. For being so small, raisins are a nutrient-dense food. “Imagine all of the nutrition from one grape concentrated into one tiny package,” she says.
Raisins are a good source of phytonutrients — naturally occurring plant compounds — that contain antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, adds registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre. They also have some iron and small amounts of other vitamins and minerals, including about 300 mg of potassium for a standard quarter-cup serving. (The National Institutes of Health recommends 4,700 mg of potassium a day for adults.) Raisins contain magnesium, which is beneficial for heart health as well as healthy nerve and muscle function, Friedman says. Shrunken grapes also contain about two grams of fiber per serving.
But raisins are also relatively high in calories. A serving has about 130, which can be a lot for a little snack. “As dried grapes, they don’t contain nearly as much water as regular grapes, so on a per-calorie basis, they are not as filling or satisfying as regular grapes or other fresh fruits,” St. Pierre says.
Are raisins high in sugar?
Yes. One serving contains about 24 grams of sugar — about the amount of sugar in a Snickers bar or a handful of jelly beans.
One difference is that the sugar in raisins, unlike in candy, occurs naturally. Because raisins are a whole food, they also offer other nutritional components like fiber, which help regulate the body’s response to an influx of sugar.
There is an upside to the high sugar content of raisins. It’s primarily in the form of fructose, a fruit sugar, making raisins an easily digestible source of quick energy. That endears them to endurance athletes, who eat raisins to fuel performance, says Friedman.
What’s the healthiest way to eat raisins?
First, make sure you buy a brand that contains only one ingredient (raisins) and no added sugar.
Next, watch your portions. It’s easy to overdo it, which is why mini one-ounce boxes of raisins are a great size for snacking. They contain slightly less than the typical serving size, with about 100 calories instead of 130. “When thinking about the recommended portion for raisins, I’d try to visualize that box, a golf ball, egg, or what can fit in the palm of a hand,” Friedman says.
You can eat them on their own, but “I recommend pairing raisins with some protein and fat,” says Friedman. “The addition of something sweet to this combo results in something as satisfying as it is filling.” Smear celery stalks with peanut butter and raisins, St. Pierre suggests, or sprinkle them atop a salad.
If you want to cut back on sugar in your diet, add raisins to replace some of the granulated sugar in recipes such as banana bread, pumpkin bread or cookies, Friedman suggests. You’ll be adding sweetness in a more natural way.