Is Dehydrated Food Good for You? Learning The Facts
You’ve likely set foot in a road side convenience store or truck stop, maybe a Circle K, Trader Joe’s, Love’s or Speedway, went to the snack aisle and saw row upon row of dehydrated treats. Banana slices, apricots, veggie chips and the ever popular beef jerky tantalize your senses.
You grab a couple bags of each and go on your way, patting yourself on the back for a job well done, refusing to succumb to that delectable bag of Funyuns!
There’s a very strong and pervasive belief, when it comes to food preservation, that folks assume because food is dehydrated, it has to be healthy. Right? Well, not necessarily, and likely not in the way that you think.
There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than just munching on dehydrated apple slices to curb your appetite, thinking you’re doing your part in eating healthy. Let’s go ahead and explore if dehydrated food is nutritious, and more importantly, if dehydrated food is healthy for you.
Are Dehydrated Foods Really Good For You?
Similar to your favorite police or detective drama series on TV, where cops interview a suspect, there are always two sides to a story. Dehydrated foods are not exempt from this, especially when it comes to finding out if those tasty dehydrated banana chips you bought at Trader Joe’s are legit healthy.
The problem, of course, is that what you don’t know can hurt you, and while dehydrated foods have a noble reputation for being healthy and nutritious substitutes for your more popular snacks like Doritos, Corn Nuts and trail mix, the fact of the matter is that nutrition labels matter!
Below is a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of whether dehydrated foods are good for you. We’ll then follow up with a much more detailed investigation into their respective nutritional properties in your everyday snacking.
Reasons Dehydrated Foods Are Good for You
- Sourced food is 100% natural
- Calorie content is preserved
- Vitamin and mineral content is maintained
- Higher concentrations of fiber and antioxidants
- No artificial chemicals or preservatives
Reasons Dehydrated Foods Aren’t Good for You
- Higher calorie content by weight
- Loss of non-soluble vitamins and minerals
- Can be high in sodium and sugars
- Added artificial colors and preservatives
- Loss of water weight
A Brief Bit of History
The point of this article is not to scare you away from enjoying dehydrated foods. To provide some context, the actual mechanization of dehydration as an act of preserving food got its start in France in the mid-1800s by a couple of fellows named Masson and Chollet.
Their mechanized invention became the modern precursor to the dehydrators we see today, decked out with individual heating zones, fancy digital timers and shiny stainless steel construction. The Cosori CP267-FD Food Dehydrator is a popular example of this.
Bottom line up front, the process of dehydrating food for preservation has been with us for millennia, history recording the ancients using the sun and wind to dehydrate their food, staples like vegetables, fruit, fish and all manner of animal meat.
Our fore-folks knew 12,000 years ago that dehydrating food was a great way to preserve food, and came to heavily rely on the nutrients and sustenance that dehydrated foods provided them.
So, what’s the lesson here? Well, if our ancient ancestors knew that dehydrating food was a great way to preserve and retain the nutritional properties of their food, we can logically deduce that dehydrated food is good for you and that dehydrated food is healthy for you to eat. Sort of. With a few caveats.
With our (very) short history lesson concluded, we can dive straight into the nutritional benefits and disadvantage of dehydrated foods.
The Benefits of Dehydrated Food
The following is a comprehensive look at why dehydrated foods are both healthy and good for you. Note that there are many benefits to consuming dehydrated foods, with these specific topics addressing the lion’s share of those benefits in detail.
Source of 100% Natural Food
This one easily tops our list precisely because it’s the major contributor as to why folks dehydrate food in the first place.
In an age where processed foods are manufactured for the masses, you only have to look as far as their nutrition labels to find fault: Sodium benzoate? Polysorbate 60? Chlorine dioxide? Propyl gallate? Disodium guanylate?
These popular chemical additives (and many more) are found in many of the processed foods we consume. And some of them are damn scary!
One of the sure-fire ways to avoid the plethora of (harmful) chemical additives that manufacturers sneak into their snacks is to dehydrate your own food.
With this method, you are in complete control of your own food supply chain, as this chain is essentially between you and the food you’re going to dehydrate.
Vegan? Perfect! Dehydrating your own fruits and vegetables is awesome for vegetarians as you’ll avoid blurring the lines in figuring out if something store bought was derived from an animal or not. A great example of this is disodium guanylate, a flavor enhancer, which is often produced from fish.
On a plant based diet? Again, dehydrating is your ticket! There are no hidden chemical compounds or additives such as artificial colors or preservatives in the pure, organic food that you prepare.
In fact, you could go one step further and purchase non-GMO produce and fruits, ensuring that the dehydrated food you’re preparing is truly wholesome and a healthier alternative for you and your family.
Calorie Content Maintained
Organic foods such as vegetables and fruits contain a lot of water; dehydration is the act in which water is methodically removed.
This results in dehydrated food that contains more calories on a weight-for-weight basis than their un-wizened counterparts.
For example, 100 grams of fresh apricot has 48 calories, while 100 grams of dehydrated apricot has 241 calories. See infographic below:
The act of removing water content from food, by as much as 95% or more (depending on the food and dehydrator model you’re using), does not impact the caloric value of the food.
Dehydration preserves the calories present in food, which is a huge advantage as it allows folks to use dehydrated foods as a healthy, compact and lightweight option for backpacking, hiking and outdoor adventuring.
In addition, because dehydrated foods are packed with more calories per ounce than than their fresh versions, dehydrated foods are a huge staple in many emergency and disaster preparation kits.
Because of their compact and lightweight nature, along with their ability to be stored for months, even years, on end, dehydrated foods offer a powerful punch in survival situations.
Plethora of Vitamins and Minerals
Dehydrators operate at a low temperature, which is ideal for preserving all of the healthy benefits of the food you’re preparing.
In fact, this helps to classify dehydrated food as raw food, an important distinction for folks who are committed to a raw food diet.
Because of the way that dehydrators operate, that is, the introduction of low heat combined with positive airflow, the low temperature preserves the number of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and enzymes in the fruits and vegetables you’re working with.
Conventional cooking methods (like stoves) and preservation methods (such as canning) use high heat to prepare and cook food, where as an unfortunate side effect, much of the nutritional value is cooked right out of the food.
An example of this are Vitamins A and C, which are uniquely susceptible to high temperatures.
Vitamin C in particular is very sensitive to heat, and can be destroyed during the cooking process. Dehydrators prevent much of this loss by applying low heat in a controlled manner.
With the ability to maintain its macro and micro nutrients post-processing, dehydrated food is a key food source for any pantry.
This is especially true for those folks where obtaining vitamins and minerals in their most natural state is vitally important.
High in Fiber and Antioxidants
Probably one of the more little known benefits of dehydrated foods is that dehydrated fruits and vegetables enjoy higher concentrations of fiber and antioxidants, by weight, than their fresh versions.
Fiber is an important nutrient in all diets, as it helps control blood sugar levels, maintains bowel health and lowers cholesterol.
See the chart below, paying particular attention to the relationship between the green diamonds (average intake) and blue bars (recommended intake) of whole grains (fiber):
Antioxidants are nutrients that receive a lot of free press, but are mostly misunderstood.
Existing naturally in fruits and vegetables, antioxidants fight free radicals in your body which can cause premature aging and disease. Dehydrated fruit, especially dates and figs, are an excellent source of antioxidants.
Both fiber and antioxidants are crucial to a balanced and healthy diet, and dehydrated foods make it easy to store and consume these needed nutrients.
However, all too often we find ourselves falling victim to unhealthy snacks because they’re quick, convenient and easy to grab.
As stated in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) article linked earlier, “dried fruits should be a greater part of the diet as they are dense in phenol antioxidants and nutrients, most notably fiber.”
Choosing dehydrated fruits and vegetables for your fiber and antioxidant needs makes sense, as there is little excuse to not prepare these foods ahead of time, allowing you to easily consume and enjoy these tasty treats later.
Having them on hand prevents you from choosing unhealthy snacks that offer little to no nutritional value, certainly not in the way of fiber and antioxidants.
The more accessible the healthy treats are, the more likely you’ll be to consume them, thereby creating healthier eating habits.
No Artificial Chemicals or Preservatives
Of all the benefits related to dehydrated foods being healthy and good for you is the inclusion of zero artificial chemicals, additives and preservatives in the dehydrated foods you prepare.
Note that we’ve specified “you” as this is an important clarification because not all dehydrated foods are created equal.
Let’s take dehydrated apricot slices as an example. Apricot slices that are purchased in a store will likely, nine times out of ten, contain a chemical called sulfur dioxide.
This additive is used to enhance and brighten the bright orange color that fresh apricots have:
As you might have guessed, sulfur dioxide has serious side effects, including, but not limited to skin rashes, respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. Pretty high stakes just so that the dehydrated apricots you bought from the store look more appetizing.
The above is just one example of the consequences of purchasing and consuming store bought dehydrated foods.
This argument can easily be extrapolated to include the entire processed food industry in which we, knowingly or otherwise, consume these (toxic?) foods without a second thought.
The truth of the matter is this: To avoid consuming artificial chemicals and preservatives in your dehydrated foods, you will essentially need to make your own, or specifically seek out products that do not have these chemicals or agents listed as an ingredient.
To do this, choose fruits and vegetables that are non-GMO and responsibly grown and harvested, meats that are certified humanely raised and devoid of antibiotics, rBGH and other hormones.
For those looking to stockpile dehydrated foods in the event of an emergency or disaster are definitely going to want to make their own.
Many of the chemicals and preservatives used in commercially produced dehydrated foods can cause secondary issues such as gastrointestinal problems, certainly not an ideal situation to deal with while under duress.
The Disadvantages of Dehydrated Food
The drawbacks to dehydrated foods, especially with regards to whether they are healthy for you or not, mostly revolves around two things: if the foods are purchased (or are commercially processed) and the actual consumption rate in which these foods are consumed. Let’s go ahead and take a deeper look.
High Calorie Content
Calories, by their nature, are a double-edged sword. Eat too little, and your body goes into a caloric deficit, which at its extreme, can be dangerous where excess weight loss is concerned.
Eat too much, and your body has undergoes a caloric surplus, which at its extreme, can also be dangerous where too much weight gain is concerned.
Dehydrated foods are good for you as long as they are consumed in moderation. With water weight removed from foods (more on this later), the caloric content between dehydrated foods and fresh foods, by weight, is pretty telling.
We used apricots in our last example, so let’s use apples this time around: One cup of fresh apple slices contains 70 calories, while one cup of dehydrated apple slices contains 209 calories. See infographic below:
Distilling this down into simple numbers, by eating one cup of dehydrated apples, versus one cup of its fresh equivalent, you are essentially consuming nearly three times the calories, approximately one-ninth of the total caloric intake as recommended by the USDA.
These calories can add up quick, especially if you have these tasty dehydrated treats nearby and are absentmindedly snacking on them throughout the day.
As demonstrated above, dehydrated foods, and fruits in particular, are very easy to overeat. These foods have lost up to 95% of their water content, and don’t fill you up like fresh foods would.
Due to their compact and lightweight nature, dehydrated foods are ideal for preppers and survivalists, as well as backpackers and hikers looking for quick and sustained energy on the trails. Those living sedentary lifestyles, however, should take care to limit their intake to 1/4 cup per day.
Loss of Vitamins and Minerals
The act of dehydrating foods, while yielding low weight, calorie-rich snacks, does have several drawbacks when it comes to the preservation of vitamins and minerals.
Certain soluble and non-soluble vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A and C, account for some loss during the dehydration process as these vitamins are fairly susceptible to heat and oxidation (Vitamin C more so than Vitamin A).
Methods have been used to try to reduce these losses in several different ways. Utilizing a sulfite additive (usually potassium bisulfite or potassium metabisulfite) in your dehydrated foods will assist in keeping these vitamins and minerals viable post-dehydration.
However, doing so will result in the destruction of thiamin and riboflavin (Vitamins B1 and B2 respectively), important nutrients in converting food into energy.
Further, dehydrating fresh vegetables usually begins with a blanching process which helps lock in the nutrients, color and texture of the food, while also destroying enzymes that cause the growth of bacteria and mold.
Unfortunately, the act of blanching results in the loss of minerals and some Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins, as these are water soluble and lost during the boiling phase when blanching.
Ironically, unlike sulfites being used for the preservation of vitamins at the cost of thiamin and riboflavin destruction, the blanching process preserves and reduces the loss of not only thiamin, but Vitamins A and C during dehydration and well after the foods have been prepared for long-term storage.
With regards specifically towards the use of sulfites to enhance vitamin and mineral content in dehydrated foods, we would be remiss if we did not point out that doing so defeats the entire premise of dehydrated foods being a healthy option to begin with.
This is especially true for those that subscribe to raw food diets, as well as those endeavoring to minimize third party artificial additives and preservatives in their foods.
High Sodium and Sugar Levels
We all know that consuming excess amounts of sodium and sugar can lead to serious health problems and diseases.
What you might not know is that processed, commercially manufactured dehydrated foods are a primary offender in this area primarily because these foods can contain higher levels of sodium and sugar than their homemade counterparts.
Manufacturers are only too happy to spike their dehydrated treats with extra sugar and sodium to add additional sweetness and savoriness to their foods.
This prompts folks to eat more of the food, drastically increasing their sodium and sugar intake levels beyond what is recommended in a daily diet.
Of course, sugar and sodium can also be used as preservatives in processed dehydrated foods, with manufacturers extolling these virtues as “healthy” benefits.
Curiously, homemade dehydrated foods are not necessarily exempt from the consumption of excess levels of sodium and sugar. You’ve likely seen a trend over the last few years in which fructose (a type of naturally occurring sugar) has been on the “hit list” of many watchdog nutritionists.
Diets that consist primarily of high calories and fructose invariably leads to liver problems in which the liver will turn that fructose into fat.
Sodium levels in dehydrated foods aren’t much better. It is true that all manner of foods contain some quantity of sodium, but it is when those foods are processed (either naturally or otherwise) that things can get out of hand.
We’ve already addressed that manufactures will add additional sodium to their dehydrated goods to improve their taste (under the guise of preservation), but home based dehydrated foods face the same stigma.
Like calories, sodium intake for dehydrated foods can easily be elevated simply by overeating. Freshly picked apricots contain 2mg of sodium per cup, while dehydrated apricot slices contain 13mg per cup.
This, in conjunction with higher levels of naturally occurring fructose (which does not inhibit appetite like glucose) can lead to increased sugar (and sodium) levels in the bloodstream.
Artificial Colors and Preservatives
Previously, we’ve covered in great detail the pitfalls of commercially produced dehydrated foods.
We learned that manufacturers will add artificial colors, flavors and preservatives in order to better the look, taste and longevity of dehydrated foods in general.
And we also learned that food producers will do this regardless of the implications of the serious health effects that arise from including these chemicals in our dehydrated foods. Nevertheless, there is hope.
There is a growing consensus, more akin to a movement, in which society is pushing back on all fronts to limit or entirely erase the inclusion of chemicals and unhealthy food additives in our food supply.
You’ve likely seen advertisements on TV in which voice announcers declare that their light beer contains no high fructose corn syrup, butter that contains no trans fats or artificial flavoring or preservatives, and vegetables and fruits that are certified non-GMO.
Commercial dehydrated foods are now on this list, as they traditionally use artificial chemicals to make dehydrated fruit more appetizing, preservatives to increase shelf life, and artificial flavors to give consumers an extra boost in taste.
Suffice to say, until the tide turns against an industry bent on utilizing these harmful additives in our foods, the safest and most reliable way to ensure your dehydrated foods are good for you is to make your own.
Loss of Water Weight
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. By its very definition, dehydration is the act of removing water from a source. In this case, that source happens to be the food you are choosing to dehydrate!
Why is this significant, and more importantly, why is it classified as a “bad thing” in dehydrated foods?
Well, the answer is actually two fold. The first is that, second to the action of drinking water (which accounts for 80% of our daily water intake) we obtain the last 20% from the foods we eat.
This doesn’t sound so bad at first blush, but studies reveal that people drink far less water than the recommended amount. See infographic below:
This is obviously important from a physiological standpoint, in which water helps to flush our bodies of toxins, regulate body temperature and assists in other biological processes; not having enough of it can impede or degrade the performance of these functions.
The second answer can be found in overeating. Yes, it would seem that we have beaten this horse dead already, no?
However, it’s important to note that because fruits and vegetables, which are comprised almost entirely of water, are dehydrated, you are not getting that much needed hydration.
Coupled with the lack of water obtained via dehydrated foods, the direct result is that you will feel less full after munching on your favorite dehydrated treats.
Fresh, ripe fruit and large salads are fill-worthy foods for our stomachs mostly because of their water content. Dehydrate that water from fruits and vegetables, and suddenly it takes more to fill you up, increasing the risk of overeating.
As evidenced previously, overeating dehydrated foods can unnecessarily increase your caloric, sugar and sodium intake levels, which can spell trouble in the long run if moderation is not practiced.
Make no mistake, dehydrated foods are terrific treats, but can pose a significant threat to your health if not actively managed.
Okay, that was a metric ton of material we just went through to answer if dehydrated foods are healthy and nutritious for you.
Sure, it would be easy to generalize everything and proclaim, unequivocally, that yes, dehydrated foods are good for you. But seriously, that really isn’t the case because as mentioned in the very opening paragraph of this article, there are caveats.
However, never fret! Dehydrated foods are relatively healthy, and based on the disadvantages listed in the article, every single consideration can easily be mitigated and further circumvented given enough time, preparation and effort.
Yes, there is some work involved, but at the end of the day, you (and your body) will be much happier and healthier for it.
That said, dehydrated foods, like anything else, should be viewed as a component of a total and healthy daily diet, not solely relied upon for that day’s total caloric intake.
Dehydrated fruit, vegetables and proteins are terrific tasting snacks and are very convenient grab and go options, but care must be exercised in their rate of consumption.
Now granted, the above may prove difficult if dehydrated foods are a major part of your survival and emergency food kit arsenal.
Eating only dehydrated foods for the short term is not likely to cause long term harm, but the aim, in spite of disasters or emergencies, is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet that includes both fresh (if possible) and dehydrated foods.
With that in mind, we at WanderMighty are fans of natural, organic dehydrated foods in general, both for satisfying your day-to-day caloric needs, as well as for the preparation and execution of a survival and/or emergency food kit.
The key takeaway here lies in the moderation and discipline of eating such food, ensuring that the dehydrated food is correctly portioned out.
Dehydrated food is healthy, nutritious, and good for you, as long as it is consumed responsibly and is 100% organic as possible.
Interested in learning more about preserved food? We have a great article on the subject, Is Freeze Dried Food Good for You? and a companion buyer’s guide on the Best Tasting Emergency Food Bars. Be sure to check them out!
How long are dehydrated foods good for?
Properly prepared and stored, the shelf life of dehydrated fruits is 5 years, while dehydrated vegetables have a shelf life of 10 years or more. Check out this article for more information.
Can dehydrated food spoil?
Yes, spoilage can occur if the dehydration process was improperly performed, or if the dehydrated food was not properly stored.
How do you store dehydrated food long term?
Store dehydrated food items in air-tight containers such as canning jars or freezer bags. Ideally, store these food items in a cool, dry and dark place.
Can you rehydrate dehydrated food?
Yes you can! Fill a bowl with cold, clean water and lay your dehydrated food in. You will need twice as much water as the food you wish to rehydrate.
How long does it take to rehydrate food?
It can take up to one to two hours to fully rehydrate your dehydrated food. This may take longer or shorter depending on the amount of food to rehydrate.
Does dehydrated food need to be refrigerated?
No. However, refrigerating or freezing dehydrated foods will significantly prolong their shelf life.
What vegetables can you dehydrate?
Popular vegetables to dehydrate are beans, onions, peas, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, carrots, corn, celery, pumpkin and squash
What fruits can be dehydrated?
Popular fruits to dehydrate are cherries, peaches, dates, apples, bananas, strawberries, apricots, coconut, blueberries, and raspberries.
Is dehydrated meat good for you?
Yes. Dehydrated meat is nutritious and healthy, as it is low in cholesterol and fat, and high in protein and energy.
How long is dehydrated meat good for?
Dehydrated meat will last up to 2 to 3 months if properly stored, up to six months if refrigerated or placed in the freezer in a freezer bag.
What do you think of our write-up? Did we get it right? Feel that we got it super wrong? Tell us! Feel free to reach out and let us know what you think of the article; we always appreciate thoughtful, constructive criticism, good or bad!