Prunes have a reputation for getting things moving in the body i.e. supporting bowel habits! But don’t restrict eating them to just when you are constipated! They have other potential health benefits too.
I invariably have prunes in the house. I often eat them with my breakfast or as a snack or chop them in a salad. And for someone who doesn’t like plums, that may surprise you!
I try not to think of prunes as dried plums. Plums are not a good thing for me – it is a texture thing. I vividly remember biting into a plum and finding half a worm-type creature in it. Yes, only half, as I’d just eaten the other half of it. Ugh. Ever since then, I’ve hated plums. The texture just puts me right off. But I love prunes.
Fiber and more
We all know about how prunes can help move things along. This laxative effect of prunes is partly due to their high fiber content. However, prune juice doesn’t contain fiber yet it still has a stool softening effect. So there is more to it than just fiber. The other laxative factors are sorbitol, a sugar alcohol in prunes and prune juice, and chlorogenic acid, a phenol. Both of these have some laxative properties. So prunes and prune juice deserve their reputation of helping support healthy bowel habits.
But are there other potential health benefits from eating prunes? Let’s take a look.
Prunes beyond constipation
1. Cardiovascular effects
Beyond improving bowel function, prunes can also impact cardiovascular health. One study on people consuming prunes or prune juice found a significant reduction in blood pressure compared to those who had water instead. This may well be due to the high potassium content of prunes. Prunes have also been seen in studies to protect endothelial cells from oxidative damage.
In another research study, postmenopausal women were given 75g/day of prunes and compared to those who had the same amount of dried apples. After 3 months, the prune eaters had significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein – a blood marker associated with inflammation.
3. Bone health
Research on prune consumption has also shown promising results regarding bone health. Again, in post-menopausal women, one group received 100g/day of prunes compared to another group who had 100g/day of dried apples. Both groups also received 500mg of calcium and 400IU vitamin D daily. The prune group showed significant increases in bone mineral density compared to the apple group. The prune group was also seen to have significantly decreased serum levels of bone turnover markers such as bone-specific alkaline phosphatase. These effects may be at least partially due to prunes containing high levels of boron which is needed for bone mineralization.
What about the sugar?
Of course, large amounts of prunes – and especially juice – are not appropriate for everyone. If someone has trouble managing their blood sugar levels, caution is needed with all dried fruit as they are basically concentrated sugar sources. However, prunes are better than many other dried fruits, with a glycemic load of only 10. So while they taste sweet, they don’t have a big impact on the blood glucose levels after eating them.
This means that if you are making a recipe that uses dates in it, as they have a glycemic load of 42, try switching them for prunes instead. Similarly, I use chopped prunes instead of raisins (glycemic load = 28) in recipes.
So if you want to snack, prunes may be a good choice, for cardiovascular health, bone health, inflammation as well as bowel function. And they taste yummy!
If you buy them and they are really hard, just add a little water and put them in the fridge and they will soften nicely.
Think beyond prunes just for constipation. Enjoy them regularly and you’ll be more than regular!