Q: Is it okay to give my bird dried fruit instead of fresh?
Martine B., Stuttgart, Germany
A: Dried fruits have some wonderful advantages. They are small and convenient and they taste great. Being dry, they are perfect for use in foraging toys. When broken into small pieces, they are great for training. But there are some concerns about using them.
Fruits have a high water content and the drying (dehydrating) process simply removes the moisture. As a result, they shrink considerably in size. The biggest problem with dried fruit for parrots relates to that shrinkage.
Fruits have some great nutritional benefits, but they are high in sugar. If you were to dehydrate a piece of papaya, it would shrink to roughly a quarter of its size. However, while the water is gone, the sugar content of the original larger piece remains and is now compacted in a single bite size piece. Since the pieces are small, more can be eaten, so your bird is getting 4 times the sugar and calories than it would eating the fresh papaya.
There is also nutritional loss or degradation in dried fruits. The dehydrating process uses heated air – heat destroys certain vitamins and minerals. There are different methods used for dehydrating the different types of fruit – some are blanched to kill of any micro-organisms present. This applies more heat and can eliminate the water soluble vitamins, like vitiamin C.
A “sulphuring” process is sometimes used to preserve the color and flavor of the fruit while preserving some nutrients and destroying others. Sulfur dioxide is a gas that is created by burning coals or oils that contains sulfur. It is TOXIC and trace amount can be found in dried fruits having endured that process. Look for the words “sulphur”, “sulphites” or “sulphur dioxide” on the label to identify which have been treated and AVOID them.
Dried fruits remain high in fiber which is converted into energy. Some dried fruits, such as the blueberry, are actually higher in antioxidants than the fresh version.
As a snack, and in small portions, dried fruits are fine. But they shouldn’t replace fresh fruits in your bird’s diet.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.