Dehydration is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. While our ancestors relied on the sun to dry food, today we have commercial equipment and home appliances that can remove bacteria-forming moisture. This process preserves food for much longer than its ordinary shelf life.
Dehydrated foods can be a healthier alternative to many snacks, and you can add them to salads, oatmeal, baked goods, and smoothies. Because they rehydrate in liquid, they’re also easy to use in recipes.
Dehydrated foods keep their nutritional value. As a lightweight, nutrient-dense option, dehydrated foods are a go-to for hikers and travelers looking to save space.
Almost anything can be dehydrated. Some common food items made with dehydration include:
- Fruit leather made from apples, berries, dates, and other fruits
- Soup mixes made of dehydrated onions, carrots, mushrooms, and other vegetables
- Herbs dehydrated for a longer shelf life
- Homemade potato, kale, banana, beets, and apple chips
- Powdered lemon, lime, or orange peel used in teas, alcoholic beverages, and other recipes
You can dehydrate your own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even meat in an oven or specialty food dehydrator. Many dehydrated foods are available in stores as well, though watch out for added ingredients like sodium, sugar, or oils.
The dehydrating process retains a food’s original nutritional value. For example, apple chips will have the same calorie, protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber, and sugar content as the fresh fruit.
However, because dried food loses its water content, it’s usually smaller in size and has more calories by weight. Keep your portions of dehydrated foods smaller than what's recommended for the unprocessed food to avoid overeating.
Dehydrated food also retains:
Dehydrated foods also maintain their nutrients for much longer than their fresh counterparts. Research shows that fresh produce loses its vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content within a few days of refrigeration — with reductions as high as 50% for some nutrients.
Potential Health Benefits of Dehydrated Food
Dehydrating food can save you money, reduce food waste, and speed up your cooking. You can also add seasoning or spices to food as you dry it, stocking your kitchen with healthy, easily portable snacks.
Research suggests that dehydrated foods may have other benefits, including:
Reduced Risk of Cancer
Dried fruits and vegetables could play a role in reducing the risk of some cancers, including pancreatic, stomach, bladder, and prostate. While research is ongoing, scientists think the drying process activates chemicals in foods that help prevent cell damage linked to cancer.
Studies show that dehydration increases the fiber content in fruits and vegetables. Dietary fiber is essential to maintaining your digestive system, and getting enough in your diet can prevent constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and potentially colorectal cancer.
Because the dehydration process concentrates calorie and sugar content, dried foods can offer a more effective energy boost than other snacks. Research shows that nutrients in dehydrated food are also more easily absorbed by our bodies, helping you feel more energized for longer.
Lower Risk of Food Poisoning
The mold, yeast, and bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses need water to form. Research shows that dehydrating food can reduce the risk from most common bacteria and possibly other disease-causing microorganisms. However, the way dehydrated food is stored may also affect its safety, and more research is needed to study the full range of foodborne contaminants.
When properly stored, most dehydrated foods have a shelf life of several years and take up little space. Because they rehydrate in liquid, they’re an easy way to add extra nutrients to meals like soups, casseroles, and stir-fries.
This preservation also gives you access to food even when it’s out of season. You can add a larger variety of nutritional foods to your diet year-round, which research says promotes better health and reduces the risk of diseases.
Potential Risks of Dehydrated Foods
Dehydrated foods can be a rich source of vitamins and minerals, but their calories and sugar are concentrated as well. Because the serving sizes are so much smaller after dehydration, it can be easy to overeat dehydrated food.
Moderate your portions when eating dehydrated food and consider the following possible disadvantages:
Unwanted Weight Gain
Dehydrated foods have a higher calorie content by weight and can be high in sodium and sugars, depending on the food. In excess, these nutrients can cause weight gain and increase your risk of obesity, heart problems, and diabetes.
While most nutrients remain unchanged after dehydration, vitamins A and C may be reduced or destroyed. Depending on the method used, dehydration can also reduce Bvitamins and some minerals. Make sure to get these nutrients from other sources to avoid vitamin deficiencies.
According to research studies, we get about 20%-30% of our daily water intake from food. Staying hydrated aids in digestion, blood pressure management, joint health, and flushing bacteria from your body.
By dehydrating food, we remove its water content — and studies show most people already don’t drink enough water, so dehydration is a risk.
Dehydrated foods have concentrated amounts of many vitamins and minerals, but high levels of some nutrients can interact with certain medications.
For example, kale chips are packed with vitamin K, which promotes heart health but counteracts medications like blood thinners. Talk to your doctor about what nutrients you should manage in your diet before powering up your food dehydrator.