Here’s all you need to know about dried fruits and nuts.
What are dried fruits and nuts?
Dried fruits are fruits that are dried either naturally, by drying in the sun, or using specialised dryers. They include raisins, dates, figs, apricots, prunes, sweet lime and kiwis. Nuts or tree-nuts are fruits with a hard shell and seeds that are edible. They include almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts and pecans.
Are dried fruits and nuts truly beneficial for children?
Yes, they are beneficial. Here are some of their benefits:
- Dried fruits and nuts are a powerhouse of nutrients. They are concentrated sources of calories, proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals.
- As they are rich in proteins and minerals, including them in a child’s diet ensures increase in height and weight. In fact, dried fruits and nuts are the most ideal food for undernourished children to gain weight as they provide all the required micro-nutrients along with calories and fats.
- Dried fruits such as figs, raisins, apricots and dates are very rich sources of fibre. They help maintain good gut health and help prevent constipation in children.
- Dried fruits such as dates, raisins, figs and prunes are also good sources of iron – a nutrient that is important for the production of blood. Therefore, consumption of these dried fruits can prevent anaemia.
- Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pistachios contain calcium, magnesium and other minerals that are essential for the formation of strong bones and teeth. They also aid muscle growth.
- Nuts and dried fruits are also good sources of vitamins and antioxidants such as carotenoids, selenium,
- B-complex vitamins and vitamin C that are essential for healthy eyes and skin, better functioning of all organs and better immunity.
- Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are good sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for ensuring brain development, improving concentration and enhancing memory.
When should dried fruits and nuts be introduced in children’s diet?
Some children are known to develop allergies to nuts. Hence, it is recommended that nuts should be introduced in the child’s diet only after he completes one year. It is further recommended that if a child has a family history of allergy to nuts, they should be introduced in the diet only after the child completes three years. As dried fruit allergies are not very common, they can be introduced in a child’s diet when the child is around 10 – 11 months old.
In what form can dried fruits and nuts be given to children?
Children between the ages of one and five may not have a very co-ordinated chewing and swallowing action. Therefore, to prevent choking, nuts should be pounded to powder and dried fruits should be chopped very finely or made into a paste before giving them to children of this age group. After five years of age, children may be given whole dried fruits and nuts. But, it is always better to keep an eye on children below the age of ten, to make sure they chew the nuts well and do not swallow them whole so as to prevent choking.
Should dried fruits and nuts be soaked before consumption?
Traditionally, nuts are known to be warm in nature. Hence, it has always been recommended to soak nuts in water for some time before consuming them. It is believed that this tends to reduce the heat. But, there are no scientific studies supporting this belief. However, it is still recommended that nuts such as almonds and walnuts should always be soaked for four to five hours, peeled and then given to the child. This would reduce the anti-nutritional factors in nuts and improve the absorption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is also beneficial to soak dried fruits such as raisins, figs and apricots overnight as it facilitates better digestion.
How much dried fruits and nuts can be given to children?
The maximum amount of dried fruits and nuts that can be included in the diet varies for each age group.
- 1 – 2 years: 2-3 nuts and 1-2 dried fruits / day
- 3 – 5 years: 2-3 nuts and 2-3 dried fruits / day
- 6 – 10 years: 4-5 nuts and 2-3 dried fruits / day
- 11+ years: 6-8 nuts and 3-4 dried fruits / day
When consumed excessively, dried fruits and nuts can cause diarrhoea. Therefore, they should be consumed in moderate portions.
What is the right time of the day to give dried fruits and nuts to children?
Being rich in fibre, dried fruits and nuts have a high satiety value and give a feeling of fullness. Therefore, the ideal time to give them to children is mid-morning or mid-evening. This will also tackle their hunger pangs between meals.
Is there any specific dried fruit or nut that should be included at a particular age in children’s diet?
It is beneficial to include 2-3 soaked almonds or walnuts in children’s diet, once a day, from the age of two years. It aids memory and concentration, and improves overall health. Once children reach puberty and enter adolescence, it is beneficial to include dried fruits and nuts in the diet, on a daily basis, as they are a store of nutrients and help in proper growth and development. Including dried fruits such as raisins, dates, figs and apricots in young girls’ diet is also known to help cope with menstrual pains.
Doesn’t consumption of nuts lead to weight gain?
Dried fruits and nuts are concentrated sources of calories. However, only if a child consumes dried fruits and nuts beyond the recommended intake, would his total calorie intake go beyond his daily requirements. And, that excess consumption of calories may result in weight gain. Similarly, even though nuts have fats in them, consumption in right quantities do not increase blood cholesterol. In fact, as dried fruits and nuts are rich in fibre, minerals and vitamins, their inclusion in children’s daily diet can help keep blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure under control and prevent obesity. Only when consumption is very high as compared to the recommended intake, would there be a fluctuation in cholesterol levels leading to fattening.
Do dried fruits and nuts cause allergies?
Dried fruits are not known to cause allergies. However, a child can be allergic to nuts, including groundnuts, which are actually pulses. However, studies have shown that 20-40% of people who are allergic to groundnuts are also allergic to nuts. Hence, parents with children who have groundnut allergy should be careful when including other nuts in their children’s diet.