Is Dehydrated Food Good for You? Learning The Facts
You’ve likely set foot in a roadside 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 of 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 are 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, 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 disadvantages 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 the 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.
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. Unlike dehydrating, this high heat is an unfortunate side effect, as much of the nutritional value is cooked right out of the food.
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 very 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 or emergency preparedness food supply.
This is especially true for those folks where obtaining vitamins and minerals in their most natural state (also known as bioavailability) is vitally important.
High in Fiber and Antioxidants
Probably one of the littler 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 not to 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, and certainly not in the way of fiber and antioxidants.
At the end of the day, 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 flavors, 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 liven up 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.
Other Little Known Benefits of Dehydrated Foods
In addition to the health benefits we have listed above, there are a few other lesser-known benefits to consuming dehydrated foods that can help you in other ways.
People are always looking for better ways to save money, and one of the first items on the budget that often gets cut is the grocery bill. When you have the option to dehydrate food at home, you can buy your produce in bulk.
Doing so can save you money in the long run. You will also have the fruits and vegetables you love ready and available to eat at home throughout the year.
You will also find yourself making fewer trips to the grocery store for fresh food and produce. You can have gourmet dehydrated snacks like kale chips and sundried tomatoes without having to use any additional oils, preservatives, extra salt, or sugar.
Easy Food Storage
Another clear cut benefit of dehydrated veggies and other foods is the way it is preserved and stored. When you dehydrate your food, you are removing its moisture content which inhibits the growth of bacteria. This means that your dehydrated foods stay preserved and safe to eat for a lot longer than if it were fresh.
In addition, as a convenient byproduct of the dehydration process, you are also shrinking the food as it is being dehydrated, meaning it requires less food storage space. This makes it easy to have your favorite healthy snack on hand and ready to go in reusable containers or food grade storage bags.
Another way food dehydration can prove to be good for you is when you effectively reduce waste. How many times have you made a run to the grocery store for fruits or produce only to have it get too ripe or go bad before you can prepare them for consumption?
Dehydrating your food lengthens the shelf life of your food supply, so you don’t have to throw out food and cause unnecessary waste. You can rest assured that you will be getting your money’s worth out of the fruit and produce you are purchasing.
So, is dehydrated food healthy? Yes, yes it is. It is healthy for your body, and your wallet in many cases.
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 at these factors.
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 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 the 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 quickly, 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. While these foods have lost up to 95% of their water content, they don’t fill you up like fresh foods do.
Due to their long shelf life, 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 Vitamin A and Vitamin C, account for some loss during the food 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.
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 Vitamin 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 Vitamin A and Vitamin C during dehydration and well after the foods have been prepared for long-term storage.
However, with regards specifically towards the use of sulfites to enhance vitamin and mineral bioavailability 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 natural and wholesome (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 savory flavors to their dehydrated 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.
The sticking point, of course, is that history teaches us that sugar and sodium have long been used as natural preservatives in dehydrated foods for centuries. And while manufacturers extol these virtues as “healthy” benefits, the truth of the matter can be elusive to the everyday consumer.
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 which consist primarily of high calories and fructose invariably lead to liver problems, in which the liver will turn that fructose into fat.
Sodium levels in dehydrated foods aren’t much better. All manner of foods indeed 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 manufacturers will add additional sodium to their dehydrated foods to improve their taste (under the guise of preservation). Still, 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 to improve the look, taste, and longevity of their dehydrated foods.
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 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.
Commercially 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!
But 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% by 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 the infographic below:
This is important from a physiological standpoint, in which water helps 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).
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 through the act of their consumption.
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 fruits and vegetables 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.
Simple Dehydrated Food Tips
If you want to try to dehydrate your own foods at home, here are a few tips to help get you started.
- Always make sure you have the right temperature when attempting food dehydration. If you don’t, then you may fail to adequately dehydrate the food. When you purchase a dehydrator, you can find general guidelines and instructions on the proper temperature you should use in the instruction manual.
- Shoot for 95-percent hydration. Anything less and you run the risk of not properly storing your dehydrated foods for peak shelf life. Depending on the environment, including the level of humidity and temperature, you may need to adjust your dehydration times accordingly.
- You aren’t going to over dry your food. If you feel that they need to be dried for longer, then go for it. However, never turn the temperature up to a higher setting just because you want the process to go a bit quicker. This can result in moisture being trapped inside the dehydrator, and the food can spoil before you even have the chance to get to it.
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, despite 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 five years, while dehydrated vegetables have a shelf life of 10 years or more. Check out this article for a full write up.
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?
Can you re-hydrate dehydrated food?
Yes, you can! Fill a bowl with cold, clean water and lay your dehydrated food in. Generally, you will need twice as much water as the food you are attempting to re-hydrate. Alternatively, if you wish for a hot meal, you can use boiling water instead to reconstitute your dehydrated food.
How long does it take to re-hydrate food?
It can take up to an hour (or more!) to fully re-hydrate your dehydrated food. There are a lot of factors at play that could affect this, such as the amount and type of food you are re-hydrating, as well as the temperature of the water you’re using.
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 include all bean types, onions, peas, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, carrots, corn, celery, pumpkin, and squash.
What fruits can be dehydrated?
Popular fruits to dehydrate include cherries, peaches, dates, figs, apples, bananas, strawberries, apricots, coconut, blueberries, and raspberries.
Is dehydrated meat good for you?
Yes. Dehydrated meat is both nutritious and healthy, as it is low in cholesterol and fat, and high in protein.
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 an airtight container.
What kind of meat can you dehydrate?
There are a variety of meats you can choose to dehydrate, including lean beef, venison, poultry, lamb, and even fish. Many of these offer long shelf lives when dehydrated and often last a year or more when properly dehydrated and stored.
While pork is a viable protein to dehydrate, you’ll generally want to avoid doing so as it has a much higher fat content and does not store well. However, you can opt for a lean ham instead.
Can you dehydrate raw meat?
When choosing to dehydrate raw meat or poultry at home, there is no guarantee that all pathogenic bacteria will be killed off; they’re very likely to survive when the temperature in the dehydrator is between 130 and 140-degrees Fahrenheit.
It is recommended that an additional heat treatment to the protein be performed to ensure proper and safe preparation. For it to be safe for consumption, beef jerky should be heated to 160-degrees Fahrenheit.
How can you tell if home dehydrated food is dry enough?
Dehydrating food does not involve cooking at high temperatures. Rather, it is food heated at lower temperatures for a sustained and longer period of time to remove moisture content.
Generally, most fruits and vegetables will take up to 12 hours to dehydrate, and meats up to several days. Keep in mind that there are many factors at play that can affect these times.
When meats are dehydrated, they will generally have 20-percent moisture content. Dried fruit will be around 10-percent moisture, and dehydrated vegetables will be around 5-percent.
When is it good to have dehydrated snacks on the go?
If you’re an avid outdoors enthusiast and love to hike or spend a considerable amount of time outside or away from the home, dried vegetables, dried fruits and beef jerky all make great options that you can take with you while you’re on the go.
Having dehydrated food on hand allows you to choose healthy snack options (with moderation) in lieu of cereal bars or granola bars that may be packed with sugar and contain limited nutritional value.
If you have children, dehydrated foods are also a great choice as a healthy snack for a child’s lunchbox, and when you don’t have time to cut up and prepare the fresh variety of fruits and vegetables for them.
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!