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How prunes go above and beyond in providing unexpected health benefits

How prunes go above and beyond in providing unexpected health benefits

Prunes are perhaps best known for their time-honored ability to help people stay “regular.”  But to focus only on this obvious prune benefit is to overlook all the other gifts to health so generously offered by these sweet, wrinkly morsels.

Prunes, of course, are simply plums that have been dried.  Scientifically known as Prunus domestica, plums are packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and fibers - all of which are also found in prunes.  Moreover, research suggests that prunes may have previously unrealized abilities to protect against serious chronic diseases.  You may be surprised by the far-reaching, health-promoting powers of prunes!

Reduce osteoporosis risk with prunes

Osteoporosis, an age-related condition in which bones become more porous, raises the risk of debilitating fractures.  But prunes can be an important line of defense against this disease.  Researchers report that flavonoids such as beta-carotene and anthocyanins in prunes can increase pathways that promote the creation of new bone cells or osteoblasts. 

In addition, prunes are excellent sources of the bone-building nutrients vitamin K, phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium.  In a controlled 2022 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists explored the effectiveness of twelve months of regular prune consumption in increasing hip bone density mineralization in postmenopausal women.  The results were striking.  While the control group lost bone mineral density over the course of the study, density was preserved in the prune group, leading the impressed scientists to conclude that 50 grams of prunes a day could serve as a valuable drug-free treatment intervention for osteoporosis.  Clearly, nibbling on prunes is good for the bones.

Regulate blood glucose levels and discourage type 2 diabetes with prunes

Prunes are higher in sugar and calories than plums.  Despite this, prunes don’t appear to cause meaningful rises in blood sugar.  In fact, their generous amount of fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates and helps to protect against harmful blood sugar “spikes.”  Prunes also help to increase adiponectin, a hormone that promotes healthy blood glucose levels and reduces chronic inflammation.

In addition, antioxidant flavonoids in prunes can help scavenge free radicals that could otherwise cause oxidative damage and contribute to type 2 diabetes. By the way, plums and prunes are believed to offer twice the antioxidant power of other fruits, including their “cousins” nectarines and peaches.  In one eye-opening study, scientists found that consumption of prunes and plums - along with apples, blueberries, and grapes - is linked with lower rates of type 2 diabetes!  Of course, if you have been diagnosed with diabetes, discuss your prune consumption with your integrative doctor or dietitian.

Prunes promote efficient elimination and healthy weight

Prune’s reputation as a gentle natural laxative is well-deserved.  Prunes are rich in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to stools and helps to speed waste through the digestive tract.  Another secret weapon in prunes is sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol with laxative effects.  In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who consumed two ounces of prunes a day for three weeks had better stool frequency and consistency than those who used psyllium fiber, another popular nutrient to prevent constipation.  The researchers even suggested that prunes be considered a “first-line therapy” for treating mild to moderate constipation.

Not only do prunes help promote the elimination of waste and toxins from the body - thereby helping to ward off the feelings of sluggishness and lethargy that can accompany constipation - but their fiber creates a sense of fullness that can help discourage food cravings and binge eating.  At a reasonable 115 calories per 50-gram serving (five medium-sized pitted prunes), this tasty dried fruit, when eaten in moderation, can support a weight loss journey.  And prunes make an excellent post-workout snack, especially when paired with protein.

Prunes are easy to incorporate into your diet

Portable and convenient, prunes are always ready to be enjoyed out of hand as an energizing snack.  You can also blend them into smoothies, stir them into Greek yogurt or oatmeal, utilize them in your favorite trail mix, or use them as you would raisins to add sweetness and texture to salads.  Fans of prunes may also want to try stewed prunes, prune whip, and prune butter.

However, remember that prunes’ delectable sweetness and pleasing consistency make them easy to overeat.

How many prunes are too many?  Most nutritionists advise limiting your prune consumption to 44 to 87 grams daily (roughly one-quarter to one-half a cup).  Prune juice should be limited to four to eight ounces a day.  Look for brands that are 100 percent organic prune juice with no added sugars.

Prunes can help keep your digestive system running smoothly, but they also appear to benefit bones and blood sugar levels.  Delicious, nutrient-packed prunes make a great addition to your healthy diet.

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