Are Raisins a Good Snack Choice?

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Raisins, like all fruits, have a variety of health benefits, but dried fruit is higher in calories per serving than fresh, so might they contribute to weight gain? A study done by the University of Connecticut helped set people's minds at ease. Men and women were assigned to consume a cup of raisins a day for six weeks and were able to successfully offset the consumption of other foods in their diets such that they experienced no significant change in weight or waist circumference. What about in kids? I explore that in the video, Are Raisins Good Snacks for Kids?.

Leave it to the California Raisin Marketing Board to dream up a study titled, "An after-school snack of raisins lowers cumulative food intake in young children." Sounds good, right? They compared raisins to potato chips and chocolate chip cookies. They gave kids raisins, grapes, chips or cookies and said they could eat as much as they wanted and surprise surprise kids ate less fruit and more junk, but I guess naming the paper "Kids Prefer Cookies" would not have garnered the same kind of sponsor approval.

This reminds me of another study they did showing that regular consumption of raisins may reduce blood sugar levels... compared to fudge cookies and Oreos. Another study showed raisins caused less of a blood sugar spike than Coca-cola and candy bars. Though you can tell it was not funded by Big Raisin by their conclusion, "whether the general public should be advised to snack on fruit rather than on candy bars requires further debate and investigation."

Comparing raisins to chips and cookies was similarly unhelpful. Luckily, a less biased study was published by researchers at the University of Toronto. Nine to eleven year old boys and girls were told to eat all the grapes or raisins they wanted 30 minutes before a meal in which they could eat all the pizza they wanted. If you just gave them the meal, no snack, they ate 837 calories worth of pizza. If you gave them all-you-can-eat grapes before the meal, they ate 128 calories of grapes, but that seemed to fill them up a bit, so they ended up eating less pizza. But because they ate the snack and the meal they ended up getting more calories over all. Still, grape calories are better than pizza calories, but when given raisins instead, they ate even more snack calories, but the raisins were evidently so satiating that they ate so much less pizza that they ate fewer calories over all.

Now I know as parents there's a concern that if our kids eat snacks it might spoil their dinner, but when the snacks are fruit and the meal is a pepperoni and three cheese pizza, the more we can ruin their appetite, the better.

Raisin marketers aren't the only one's trying game the scientific method. Check out:

How to help get our kids to eat their fruits and veggies:

More dried fruit studies (my fave is dried mango):

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

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How Learning to Cook Can Save Your Life

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The eating habits of modern Americans have been described as, "eating breakfast in their cars, lunch at their desks and chicken from a bucket." Within the last few decades, Americans are eating out more and more, and cooking fewer meals at home, which are typically healthier. Home-cooled meals tend to contain less saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and more fiber. Therefore, the benefits to preparing healthy food at home may include the prevention of chronic disease. Just because food is prepared at home doesn't mean it's healthy, though. Microwaving a frozen pizza isn't exactly home cooking.

One of the problems is many people no longer know how to cook. For example, one study reported that 25% of the men in the study had absolutely no cooking skills whatsoever. Another study in the UK compared the nutritional content of meals created by television chefs to TV dinners, and both were then compared to the nutritional guidelines published by the World Health Organization. The researchers looked at a hundred of each, and not a single one complied with the nutrition standards. And the TV chef recipes were even less healthy than the TV dinners!

Many people don't know how to make healthy food taste good. This is not a new problem; an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association bemoaned the same issue back in 1913. In the United States, "vegetables are frequently boiled in a way which deprives them of their characteristic odor and their toothsomeness. 'Villainous and idiotic' are the only adjectives that can describe our methods of cooking vegetables."

Researchers in Taiwan recently found that in a group of elderly Taiwanese people, those who cooked their own food were not only healthier, but also lived longer. In a ten year study, highlighted in my video, Cooking to Live Longer, those who cooked most frequently had only 59% of the mortality risk. This took into account the exercise people got grocery shopping, physical function, and chewing ability. So why did they live longer? Those that cooked typically ate a more nutritious diet with a higher consumption of vegetables.

The effect on mortality was much more evident in women than in men. It turns out that "men were, with doubtful justification, more positive about the nutritional value of convenience foods compared with women." Women who cooked made better food choices in general.

As one author noted in the book Something from the Oven, over the last century:

"we began the long process of turning over to the food industry many of the decisions about what we eat...Today our staggering rates of obesity and diabetes are testimony to the faith we put in corporations to feed us well. But the food industry is a business, not a parent; it doesn't care what we eat as long as we're willing to pay for it. Home cooking these days has far more than sentimental value; it's a survival skill."

With the onslaught of health information out there, access to simple, healthy recipes has never been easier. While cooking at home requires more effort, energy, and cleaning, the results, health aside, are often more rewarding. Learning to cook is a simple art, and with the right amount of patience and delicious ingredients, it can help us take back control of our own lives.

Check out your local public library for cookbooks--I've been amazed at the selection in all of the cities I've lived. Or for those for which books are just so 20th century, the online Rouxbe Cooking School holds healthy cooking classes.

More on fast food:

Some other unsavory bits about the food industry:

I think this is the only other mention of celebrity chefs I have:
Paula Deen: diabetes drug spokesperson

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

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Polenta Pizza

Pizza is the ultimate comfort food, and this pizza delivers! The herbed polenta crust is topped with easy-to-make sauce, as well as onions, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, and rosemary. Now you can have your pizza and feel good, too! I hesitate to say that this pizza is “easy,” since you need to prepare three recipes: […]

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