GoogDehydrating is one of the best DIY methods of preserving food. Because the process removes moisture from food, dehydrated foods can last for years when stored properly. Dehydrated foods are also compact and will take up less space than methods like home canning.
But there’s a lot of debate as to whether dehydrated food is good for you or not.
New to dehydrating? Read Expert-Level Food Dehydrating Guide
Quick Answer – Is Dehydrated Food Good for You?
Because some nutrients are lost during dehydration and storage, dehydrated food is not as healthy as eating fresh food. However, dehydrated foods are still a good source of many nutrients.
Dehydration also means you’ll be able to eat many foods when the fresh version isn’t available, such as in winter. In this sense, dehydrated foods are very good for you.
Health Benefits of Dehydrated Food
1. Can Eat Produce Year Round
Dehydrating is a way to preserve produce so you can eat it year round. This benefit is particularly great if you grow your own food. Water bath canning, pressure canning and lacto-fermentation pickling are also ways to preserve food but dehydrated food takes up less space and is better for snacking on.
True, it’s now possible to get “seasonal” items like tomatoes and berries even in winter. However, a lot of this fresh produce isn’t actually fresh. Produce in supermarkets can be months old – which is why we can get apples which were harvested in October even in July of the next year.
2. Preserves Mineral Content
Studies such as this one have found that dehydrating doesn’t have a negative effect on the mineral content of food. In particular, the iron and calcium content of dehydrated food is similar to that of the fresh food.
These nutrients can be difficult to get in winter, especially for vegetarians or when meat and dairy aren’t available. So, dehydrating high-iron and calcium foods such as leafy greens is a good way to ensure nutrition all year round.
3. Concentrated Nutrients
Because dehydrating removes moisture from food, the nutrients in dehydrated foods become concentrated. This makes it easier to get the RDA for certain nutrients from dehydrated foods than fresh.
For example, it’s easier to eat an entire dehydrated eggplant (as yummy eggplant jerky) than to eat an entire eggplant.
4. High Fiber
One of the nutrients which gets concentrated in dehydrated foods is fiber. Because fiber is so important for cancer prevention, it’s no surprise that eating dehydrated food reduces risk of colon, gastrointestinal, pancreatic, and other cancers. (1)
5. Energy Dense
Some foods, like tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms, are more than 90% water. Dehydration removes the moisture from these foods but keeps all the calories intact, thus creating a very energy-dense food. (3)
Having an energy-dense food isn’t always ideal, especially when you want to cut calories for losing weight. However, the energy density of dried foods is what makes them great for DIY backpacking meals and Bug Out Bag food. (4)
6. High Bioavailability of Certain Nutrients
Bioavailability is your body’s ability to absorb a certain nutrient from food. Dehydrating actually increases the bioavailability of certain phytochemicals, such as polyphenols and tocopherols from fruits, so the body is better able to utilize them. (5)
7. Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Various studies show that eating dried fruit reduces your likelihood of cardiovascular diseases. This is due to the high amount of fiber and antioxidants in dried foods. Further, if you are snacking on dried fruits, it’s less likely that you are snacking on junk food which contributes to heart disease. (6)
8. More Potent Antioxidants
Dehydration uses heat to dry out produce. While there are some downsides to heating food, one benefit is that is can trigger the Maillard reaction. In a nutshell, it’s the chemical reactions which occur when proteins and sugars in food are heated.
Due to the Maillard reaction, certain antioxidants actually become more potent when foods are dried. Some phenolic antioxidants are even created during the dehydration process. This is why the antioxidants in dried cranberries, grapes, and plums have twice the potency as in the fresh fruits.(7)
9. Makes It Easier to Eat Vegetables
Dehydrating can transform boring vegetables into a delicious snack, such as crunchy kale chips or delicious eggplant jerky. It’s also a lot more convenient to bring dried produce with you on the go; I can pack a baggie of dried tomatoes in my purse but wouldn’t risk fresh ones making a smashed mess!
I also use dehydration as a way to sneak veggies into my picky children’s diet. For example, my kids won’t eat 2 cups of leafy greens without a lot of complaining. However, 2 cups of leafy greens dehydrate down to a tiny amount. I can blend the dried greens into a superfood powder and easily sneak it into smoothies, pancakes, or spreads without them even noticing.
Downsides of Dehydrated Food
1. Vitamin Loss
The biggest downside of dehydrated foods – and the main reason some claim that dried foods aren’t healthy – is vitamin loss. Exposure to heat destroys many vitamins, particularly vitamins A, B1, and C.
Studies like this one found that dehydrating destroyed huge amounts of vitamins in leafy greens: only 1-14% of vitamin C and 22-71% of B1 remained after dehydrating. Drying at lower temperatures can help keep more vitamins intact. (8)
*It should be noted that even fresh foods lose these nutrients. A study found that, after just 8 days in the refrigerator, spinach lost 47% of its folate.
2. Carotene Loss
Dehydrating might concentrate and increase certain antioxidants but carotene isn’t one of them. Carotene easily gets destroyed by heat, which is why dried greens only retain 20-69% of their carotene. The carotene in other produce, such as carrots and peppers, is also easily destroyed by dehydrating.
Interestingly, blanching food before dehydrating helps retain the carotene content so less than 5% is lost. But blanching will also destroy and leach out water-soluble vitamins, so it isn’t a perfect solution. (9, 10, 11)
3. Bad for Your Teeth
Be cautious about snacking on too many dried fruits. Dried fruits stick to the teeth and, because the sugar in them is very concentrated, they can cause tooth decay. Don’t forget to keep an emergency dental kit on hand!
4. Hard to Digest
There are two reasons that dehydrated foods may cause digestion issues. The first is that dried fruits contain highly-concentrated sugars, which can lead to gas and upset stomach. The second reason is because our bodies need moisture for digestion. So, while you can snack on a completely dehydrated meal, it’s probably best to rehydrate dried foods – especially ones with tough fibers like celery or broccoli – before eating.
5. Dehydrated Meat May Be Unsafe
To dehydrate meat safely, a temperature of at least 160F is recommended. Unfortunately, most home dehydrators don’t get to this temperature. Even if the dehydrator has a 160F or higher setting, the temperature might not be consistent throughout the entire dehydrator.
This means that it can be risky to dehydrate meat at home; pathogenic bacteria and parasites might remain in the dried meat! Read this for more on how to dehydrate meat safely. Also read about how to cure meat.
Not sure which dehydrator to get? See our reviews of the best dehydrators.