Dried fruit in general tends to be thought of as higher in sugar than nutrients, but, spoiler alert: Raisins are pretty great for you. Here, registered dietitian Jessica Bippen, RD, breaks down the benefits of raisins and much more.
The nutrient run-down of raisins
Raisins are typically made by drying out grapes in the sun and then processing them in a plant. And while they certainly look very different from grapes, Bippen says raisins are nutritionally very similar to their hydrated counterparts. "The funny thing about raisins is that many people don't realize they have the same benefits of grapes," Bippen says. "They're the same fruit, just dehydrated."
She explains that the major difference is that obviously grapes have much more water than grapes. "Without the water content, the nutrients become much more concentrated," Bippen says. "It also means the sugar becomes more concentrated, so it's important to be aware of that as well." This is true of all grapes; some manufacturers add extra sugar to grapes, which makes their sugar content higher.
With that in mind, here's a brief run-down of the key nutrients in one ounce of raisins (approximately 60):
- Calories: 85
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Carbohydrates: 22 grams
- Sugar: 17 grams
- Calcium: 14 milligrams
- Iron: 0.5 milligrams
- Magnesium: 9 milligrams
- Potassium: 212 milligrams
- Sodium: 3 milligrams
What are the benefits of raisins?
1. They're full of antioxidants
"Just like grapes, raisins are a good source of antioxidants," Bippen says. "This is because they are high in a specific type of antioxidants called polyphenols." She explains that polyphenols help fight free radicals in the body, reducing inflammation—making them one of the biggest benefits of raisins. She adds that they are also great for brain health, connected to boosting cognitive function and protecting against cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer's and dementia.
2. Raisins contain iron, which benefits cardiovascular health
Bippen also places a gold star next to another one of the nutrients in raisins: iron. "This is a nutrient that especially many people who follow a vegan or plant-based diet may not get enough of, so snacking on raisins could especially help them get more of this nutrient," she says. Iron helps with blood flow, she says, which directly benefits the cardiovascular system. For this reason, raisins are a great ingredient to incorporate into a pre-workout snack. "For iron to be absorbed well, it should be paired with vitamin C. Raisins actually have that nutrient as well, so you're getting both in the same source," she adds.
Regardless of what eating plan you follow, a good goal is to aim to get 18 milligrams of iron each day—so while raisins aren't the end-all, be-all source of the mineral, incorporating them into your diet can help you meet your needs.
3. They have calcium, which benefits bone health
Raisins also contain small amounts of calcium, which Bippen says can support bone health. (You want to aim to get between 1,000 milligrams and 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.) Besides being good for your bones—including your teeth—Bippen adds that calcium plays an important role in muscle function, helping assist in relaying messages from the brain to the muscles. Yet another reason why they're good to stash in your gym bag!
4. Raisins have small amounts of protein
While they aren't exactly a powerhouse source of protein like meat, nuts, beans, or tofu are, Bippen points out that raisins do contain the nutrient, and hey, every little bit counts. "This is also helpful in keeping the sugar in raisins from spiking blood sugar as much as it would otherwise," she says.
5. Raisins are a good source of fiber
Just one ounce of raisins contains 1 gram of fiber, which is pretty impressive for a relatively small amount. (You want to aim to get between 25 grams and 28 grams a day.) "I wouldn't use raisins as your primary fiber source, but it is a great bonus and definitely is beneficial that it is included," Bippen says. Like protein, the fiber also helps prevent the dried fruit's abundant natural sugars from having such a strong effect on your blood sugar levels.
Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for the body, helping to lower inflammation as well as boosting gut health. While a handful of raisins is only a small portion of the amount of fiber needed for the entire day, adding it to your oatmeal or salad will get you that much closer to your fiber goals, and benefit your body in the process.
Okay, about that sugar content...
As mentioned, raisins contain a concentrated amount of sugar per serving, which is why Bippen typically recommends enjoying them in moderation. "A good serving size would be a handful," she says. She also recommends pairing raisins with other healthy foods, such as nuts or on a slice of peanut butter toast. "The protein and healthy fats in nuts helps keep blood sugar levels steady," she says. "It also makes it a more satiating snack."
Bippen says it's important to keep in mind that some brands add extra sugar to their raisins to make them taste sweeter. "Ideally, the only ingredient listed will be the raisins themselves and possibly sulfur dioxide, which is used for preservation," she says.
In terms of other risks or side effects to keep in mind, like any food, some people may have an allergic reaction or intolerance to raisins. It's also worth noting that raisins are one of the fruits with the highest amount of pesticide residue, as tested by the Environmental Working Group. To minimize your exposure to pesticides when eating raisins, opt for organic if you can.
5 healthy recipes using raisins to try at home
Sure, you could reap the benefits of raisins by just eating them straight. But that gets old fast. If you're looking for more way to enjoy the classic dried fruit, try these delicious recipes that feature raisins as the star ingredient.
As Bippen mentioned, trail mix is one of the best ways to incorporate raisins into your diet because the nuts add in extra protein and healthy fat content. It's also one of the easiest because there's no cooking required. If you're looking for a blueprint to follow, this is a good one to try. Besides raisins and nuts, it also has pumpkin seeds—so seasonal right now!
Get the recipe: Healthy trail mix
Topping off your oatmeal with raisins is a no-brainer, and the combo tastes just as delicious in muffin form. Put your overripe bananas to good use with this recipe, which combines them with flour, the starring dried fruit, an egg, milk (or alternative milk), and brown sugar.
Get the recipe: Banana oatmeal raisin muffins
The flavor profile of raisins makes them versatile enough to taste great in almost every type of salad, but they pair surprisingly well with carrots. This recipe, created by My Forking Life creator Tanya Harris, is the perfect balance of sweet, savory, and tangy. All you need besides the carrots and raisins is pineapple, apple cider vinegar, salt, mayo, and a pinch of sugar.
Get the recipe: Carrot, raisin, and pineapple salad
Raisins can taste especially delicious in savory dishes, like this chicken entree with caramelized onions. The cinnamon in this recipe really rounds out the flavor profile, making it a particularly great, warming dish for fall. Another bonus to including the cinnamon is that it helps keep blood sugar levels steady.
Get the recipe: Cinnamon raisin chicken with caramelized onions
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of cinnamon:
Raisins also taste delicious when spiced up with turmeric, one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory spices you'll find in your pantry. Here, the raisins and turmeric are two core ingredients in this couscous dish. Almonds are also included, which ups the protein. Enjoy it as a side dish or add more protein—such as chicken or tofu—and serve it as an entree.
Get the recipe: Turmeric couscous with raisins and almonds
Join Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group for more healthy recipe inspiration. Plus, share your own go-to recipes with other members!
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