Monday, February 08, 2016

Craisins Are More Candy Than Fruit

A strange thing happened last week.

In response to a tweet that included the photo up above that inferred Craisins are a healthful handful of "Nature's Candy", I pointed out that Craisins were in fact candy, as in order to make them palatable, heaps of sugar are added.

That's not the strange part.

The strange part was the somewhat heated debate it seemed to spark on Twitter. One RD wrote to say that though there's more sugar than raisins, there's not that much more (I'll come back to the raisins in a bit), and that she'd certainly choose Craisins over chocolate chips for her trail mix.

So I decided to compare the two.

First, by weight, gram for gram the Craisins have 34% fewer calories than Hershey's semi-sweet chocolate chips (I'd say that's a good thing), but with 89% of the Craisins' calories coming from sugar (versus 46% of calories coming from sugar in the chocolate chips). Interestingly, when compared by weight with chocolate chips, Craisins have 10.5% less fibre (who knew chocolate chips had fibre?), and 18% more sugar.

If we compare them by volume though (as I think volume is probably the way most assemble trail mix), the Craisins come out a bit better still, containing just half the calories of the same volume of chocolate chips and with 10% less sugar. So maybe this RD's got it right - Craisins, as a sugar source for your trail mix, will provide a tiny bit less sugar than chocolate chips and at half the calories.

Next up was an RD who took issue with my use of the terms, "heaps", and "piles", to describe the sugar content of Craisins.

Now it's true that heaps and piles are not formal units of measure, but yes, to me the 5.4 teaspoons of sugar contained in the single serving package of Craisins featured in the original tweet can be fairly described as both a heap and a pile. Another way to consider Craisins' sugar content is to ask how much sugar is found per tablespoon of Craisins? The answer is that 60% of each tablespoon of Craisins is sugar, and therefore piles of Craisins definitely mean piles of sugar.

And now back to raisins. The same RD who didn't like my heaps and piles comment decided also to build a strawman argument (she misrepresented my argument to make it easier to attack) when faced with my answer that yes, 7 teaspoons of sugar per quarter cup serving of Craisins is a pile, and asked me if I was "against" raisins as well.

The answer's yes - if the question is the non-strawman version asking me if I'm also opposed to considering raisins a fruit equivalent.

It's true, unlike inedibly-tart-without-added-sugar Craisins, sugar isn't directly added to raisins, instead it's concentrated in them by way of dehydration. By volume raisins contain 4.17x the calories of red grapes, and 3.7x their sugar, and just one of those little, unlikely to help fill even a child up, 1.5oz boxes of raisins, contains 6.25 teaspoons of sugar representing 77.5% of the raisins' total calories. And they're not exactly nutritional powerhouses either as raisins pack little to nothing in the way of nutrients.

Here's are some breakdowns of the nutrients found in a 1.5oz box of raisins

Whereas a cup full of actual grapes, an amount likely to provide some real satiety, and containing 18% fewer calories and 9% less sugar than that tiny, not-filling box of raisins, brings a fair bit more in the way of nutrients.

All this to say - if you like Craisins, raisins or chocolate chips, by all means eat them, but know that the first two have far more in common with candy than they do with fruit and probably shouldn't be confused as healthful.

When it comes to Craisins and raisins, nature's candy is still candy.