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Dried Fruit Snack May Be Best Bet to Prevent Illness

raisins, nutrition, diabetes, prediabetes, hypertension, prehypertension

Next time you are in the mood for a snack, skip over the chips and cookies and reach for that box of raisins instead. Three recent studies show that it is a great snack for preventing some common health concerns.

Harold Bays MD, the medical director and president of the Louisville Metabolic and Atherosclerosis Center (L-MARC), and colleagues randomly assigned 46 men and women with a condition known as pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar, but not yet full-blown disease) to snack on raisins or another snack that did not contain any fruit or vegetable (but of equal caloric value) three times a day for 12 weeks. Compared to the control snacks, raisins significantly decreased average postprandial (after-meal) blood glucose levels by 16%.

Also, notes Dr. Bays, the participants who consumed raisins had lowered hemoglobin A1c values, a marker of long-term glucose control.

“Raisins have a low glycemic index and contain fiber and antioxidants, all factors which contribute to blood sugar control,” says James Painter PhD RD, nutrition research advisor for the California Raisin Marketing Board that helped fund the study. "Decreasing blood sugar and maintaining normal hemoglobin A1c levels is important because it can prevent long-term damage to the heart and circulatory system."

This study, presented at the American Diabetes Association's 72nd Annual Scientific Session was one of two conducted on the health benefits of raisins by L-MARC. The second study, announced at the American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session, suggests that eating raisins may also significantly lower blood pressure in those with pre-hypertension.

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Forty-six men and women with the condition of mildly high blood pressure (120 to 139 mmHg over 80 to 89 mmHg) were given raisins or other prepackaged commercial snack of equal caloric value three times a day for 12 weeks. Those snacking on the dried fruit significantly reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number which represents the amount of force in the arteries as the heart beats) by 4.8 to 7.2% which equates to a change of about 6.0 to 10.2 mmHg.

Diastolic blood pressure (pressure when the heart is at rest) was also lowered by 2.4 to 5.2 mmHg. Even small positive changes in blood pressure readings may have clinical benefits in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Raisins are high in potassium, a nutrient crucial for restoring healthy blood pressure, and contain fiber, polyphenols, phenolic acid, tannins, and antioxidants, said Dr. Bays, and definitely a better choice than processed food snacks. Sixty raisins (about a handful) is the serving size recommended in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

The third study on raisins was also supported by the California Raisin Marketing Board and conducted by lead researcher, G. Harvey Anderson PhD, Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Physiology at the University of Toronto and co-investigated by Nick Bellissimo PhD, Assistant Professor at Ryerson University and Bohdan Luhovyy PhD, Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University.

The team found that children eating raisins as an after-school snack increased satiety (feelings of fullness) and therefore prevented excessive calorie intake as compared to consuming other types of snacks, such as potato chips and cookies. Among the twenty-six 8 to 11 year olds studied, those eating raisins as a snack consumed 10 to 19 percent fewer calories over the course of the day.

"To our knowledge, this is the first controlled study that looks at after-school snacking and satiety among children," said Dr. Anderson. "We found consumption of raisins as a snack prevented excessive calorie intake, increased the feeling of fullness, and thereby may help contribute to the maintenance of a healthy weight in school-age children."

The California Marketing Board offers recipes for every occasion on their website www.calraisins.org.