A Prune a Day Keeps the Doctor Away! Prunes Health Benefits

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Prunes have a bit of an unfortunate reputation. They’re that old natural remedy for relieving constipation, and constipation isn’t sexy. Plus, we associate prunes with being old and wrinkly, so much so that the word prune is used as an insult.

These dried fruits were so unpopular with women in the 25 to 54-year-old age group that the California Prune Board persuaded the FDA to allow them to re-brand some products and call them dried plums instead. The 2001 rebranding worked and sales of super healthy prunes have grown steadily since.

In addition to their reputation for promoting regularity, prunes or dried plums have a host of health benefits and can help to protect against some diseases.

What Are Prunes?

What Are Prunes

Prunes are dried plums. The plums grown for drying come from different varieties than those grown for eating fresh. The prune varieties have a pit that comes away easily and are known as freestone cultivars while the ones grown for eating as fresh fruit are known as clingstone cultivars. The main cultivar grown in the United States is the Improved French prune.

Forty percent of the prunes grown globally are grown in rich soils under a warm californian sun.

Prune Nutritional Information

  • per 100 g (3.5 oz) (RDV%)
  • Energy – 240 calories
  • Carbohydrates – 63.88 g
  • Sugars – 38.13 g
  • Dietary fiber -7.1 g
  • Fat – 0.38 g
  • Protein – 2.18 g
  • Vitamin A equiv. – 39 μg (5%)
  • Beta-carotene –  394 μg (4%)
  • Lutein zeaxanthin – 148 μg
  • Thiamine (B1) – 0.051 mg (4%)
  • Riboflavin (B2) – 0.186 mg (16%)
  • Niacin (B3) -1.882 mg (13%)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5) – 0.422 mg (8%)
  • Vitamin B6 – 0.205 mg (16%)
  • Folate (B9) – 4 μg (1%)
  • Choline  – 10.1 mg (2%)
  • Vitamin C – 0.6 mg (1%)
  • Vitamin E – 0.43 mg (3%)
  • Vitamin K – 59.5 μg (57%)
  • Calcium – 43 mg (4%)
  • Iron – 0.93 mg (7%)
  • Magnesium – 41 mg (12%)
  • Manganese – 0.299 mg (14%)
  • Phosphorus – 69 mg (10%)
  • Potassium – 732 mg (16%)
  • Sodium – 2 mg
  • Zinc – 0.44mg (5%)

Prunes Can Help To Protect Against Cardiovascular Diseases

Prunes Can Help To Protect Against Cardiovascular Diseases

Plums and prunes contain high amounts of phytonutrients called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids.

These substances are classified as phenols, and their antioxidants function has been well researched and documented. These antioxidants are particularly effective in neutralizing a dangerous oxygen free radical called superoxide anion radical. They have also been found to help prevent oxygen-based damage to fats.

As our cell membranes, brain cells and molecules such as cholesterol are mainly composed of fats, the ability of the antioxidants in prunes to offer protection confers a significant benefit.

These phenols have also been found to inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the body making them an important factor in the prevention of chronic diseases.

Other good food sources of neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid are eggplant, peaches and green tea.

When plaque builds up in the arteries, it causes atherosclerosis which is a narrowing of the arteries. As atherosclerosis worsens, it can result in a shortage of oxygen and blood to the tissues of the body. Left untreated, this can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of British Nutrition found that consuming prunes may help to slow the development of atherosclerosis. In the study the apoE-deficient mouse, which is bred to develop atherosclerotic lesions rapidly when fed cholesterol, was used to determine the effects of prunes at different dose levels in reducing atherosclerosis.  

Arteries were dissected, stained to visualize lesions, and the lesion area was measured by imaging software.  The total area of arterial atherosclerotic lesions was significantly lower in the mice fed a diet including dried plums than the control mice. The study was carried out over 5 months and the mice given dried plum powder consumed either a diet made up of 4.75% or 9.5% dried plum.

Scientists have also demonstrated that eating prunes and drinking prune juice can help to control high blood pressure.

A 2010 study reported that blood pressure and hypertension were reduced in groups that were given prunes daily.  A placebo controlled clinical trial study investigated the effects of prunes on blood pressure in 259 pre-hypertensive (Systolic BP = 120-139 mmHg, diastolic BP = 80-89 mmHg) volunteers.

Treated groups drank prune juice and ate either 3 (single serving) or 6 (double serving) prunes. A control group drank only a glass of plain water.  Blood pressures were recorded fortnightly for 8 weeks, and blood samples were taken at the beginning and at the end of the trial.

The researchers recorded a significant reduction of blood pressure in the group consuming the single serving of prunes each day. With the group consuming the double dose of prunes, only systolic BP was reduced significantly.

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people with a diet rich in fiber had a 12% reduced risk of developing heart disease and an 11% lower risk for cardiovascular disease than those eating the least amount of fiber.

They Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes And Obesity

They Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes And Obesity

Prunes and plums are both high in soluble fiber which helps to keep blood glucose stable. Soluble fiber slows down the rate of food leaving the stomach, and as food is released slowly, glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream over time instead of in a rush, meaning harmful spikes in blood sugar are less likely.

Soluble fiber also increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin which is an important factor in preventing and reversing type 2 diabetes.

The soluble fiber in prunes can help you to maintain a healthy weight because it helps you to feel full during or after a meal. This means that you won’t eat more than you need to at meal times and also reduces (some) in between meal snacking because you feel fuller for longer. It’s unlikely to have an effect on emotional eating though.

Prunes Help To Lower Cholesterol

Help to Lower Cholesterol

Soluble fiber also helps to lower cholesterol. It does this by binding with excess bile acids in the small intestine and then carries them through to the bowel for excreting.

In order for our bodies to digest fat we need bile. This is made from cholesterol in the liver and then stored and concentrated in the gallbladder. When the body excretes the bile from the intestines along with the prune fiber, the liver has to use more cholesterol to make new bile acids, thus lowering the amount in circulation in the body.

Another way that the fiber in prunes may contribute to lowering cholesterol levels is via a substance called propionic acid. In animal studies, this has been shown to inhibit an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol by the liver.

By lowering the activity of this enzyme, propionic acid can help to reduce cholesterol levels.

Prunes Help To Improve Bone Health And Reduce The Risk Of Osteoporosis

Improves Bone Health

A clinical study conducted at Florida State University (FSU) and published in the Osteoporosis International journal suggests that prunes may be able to prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

Forty-eight osteopenic women (65-79 years old) were randomly assigned into one of three treatment groups for 6 months: (1) 50 g of prune; (2) 100 g of prune; and (3) the control.

Osteopenic means that bone density is lower than normal peak density but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis.

Researchers concluded that the results of their study confirmed the ability of prunes to prevent the loss of total body bone mass density in older osteopenic postmenopausal women and suggest that a lower 50g (5-6 prunes a day) dose of prunes may be as effective as 100g of prunes in preventing bone loss.

Prunes are also high in the trace element boron. A 2001 review study noted that the boron is thought to play a role in the prevention of osteoporosis and osteopenia and that a single 100g serving of prunes meets the daily requirement for boron.

The potassium found in prunes also helps to support bone health. The adequate intake for potassium is 4,700 mg a day. Along with calcium and magnesium, potassium is essential for strong and healthy bones.

Doctors at the University of California were able to stimulate new bone formation in postmenopausal women by adding enough potassium salts to neutralize the metabolic acids that eat away at bone.

The daily potassium intake of most American women is reported to be around 2,200mg, which is less than half of the adequate intake level. Prunes can help to make up some of that deficiency, with a 100g (approx 10 prunes) serving of prunes containing 732mg of potassium. You can see a full list of the best foods for potassium at the Better Bones website.

In a 2016 animal study, prunes were also found to be beneficial in combating the loss of bone density that is a common side effect of radiation treatment. Researchers found that prunes and prune powder can reduce radiation’s effect on bone marrow, preventing bone density loss and promoting bone health.

They’re A Good Source Of Vitamin K, And Beta Carotene

 Good Source Of Vitamin K

Beta-carotene protects our cells and fixes the damage done by free radicals which means that it can help to prevent premature aging. Vitamin K works with beta carotene to help to reduce bone loss and also improves circulation.

Prunes Are One Of The Best Antioxidant Sources

Antioxidant

Antioxidants are compounds that help to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are a product of normal cell metabolism, smoking, environmental pollution and UV radiation. Excess free radicals contribute to premature aging, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

A study carried out at Tufts University in Boston ranked prunes as the number one antioxidant food source.

Using a laboratory analysis method known as ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity), prunes were found to have more than twice as much antioxidant capacity as other high ranking foods like as blueberries and raisins.

Prunes were given a score of 5,770 ORAC units per 100 grams, blueberries scored 2,400 and raisins scored 2,830. The top performing vegetable is kale with an ORAC score of 1,770 followed by spinach with 1,260.

Prunes are rich in the powerful antioxidant phenols neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids and are rich in flavonoid pigments called anthocyanins which also have strong antioxidant properties.

Prunes Are Good Source of potassium

potassium

We’ve already seen that the potassium in prunes can help to keep bones strong and healthy, but that isn’t its only function, potassium also plays other crucial roles in the body.

Potassium is necessary for digestion, heart rhythm, fluid levels, nerve impulses, kidney function and muscle contractions, as well as blood pressure regulation.

A potassium deficiency can lead to stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.

They’re Rich In Iron

Iron

The average adult needs 10mg of iron a day. This jumps to 15mg for menstruating women and 30mg for pregnant women. A 3.5oz serving of prunes contains 0.93 mg of iron which is 7% of the normal daily requirement, and a half cup serving of prune juice contains 3mg.

When iron intake is inadequate, a condition known as anemia develops. People with anemia don’t have sufficient red blood cells.

Symptoms of anemia can include:

  • fatigue
  • rapid heart beat
  • shortness of breath
  • headache
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dizziness.
  • pale skin.
  • leg cramps
  • insomnia

Prunes Help To Maintain Regularity & Provide Intestinal Protection

Prunes Help To Maintain Regularity & Provide Intestinal Protection

This is the best known benefit of prunes. Prunes help to maintain regularity because of two components that they contain. Fiber and sorbitol. The fiber provides bulk to the stool which helps it pass through more easily and more quickly, while the sorbitol keeps it soft.

A faster transit time reduces the risk of colon cancer, and easier elimination prevents painful hemorrhoids.

The insoluble fiber in prunes provides a food source for the good bacteria in the colon. When these bacteria ferment the fiber, they produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid. Butyric acid is the primary fuel for the cells of the large intestine and helps to maintain colon health.

In addition to butyric acid, the good gut bacteria create two other short-chain fatty acids, propionic and acetic acid, which are used as fuel liver and muscle cells.

By providing a food source for friendly gut bacteria, fiber allows these bacteria to flourish which prevents harmful bacteria from taking over and causing illness.

The bacteria in the gut are also a major part of the immune system. so it’s very important to keep them happy and well fed!

How To Add More Prunes To Your Diet

Prunes

Whenever you add more fiber rich foods to your diet, you should make sure that you drink enough water to prevent any digestive problems.

When you purchase prunes, look for prunes that are sold in a transparent package or with a transparent window in the packet. This way you can inspect the prunes quality. They should be plump, soft, not too wrinkly, and without mold.

Store your prunes in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. Keeping them in the fridge will extend their life and allow you to keep them for six months or so. Make sure that each time you take a few prunes from the container, you reseal it properly to prevent the prunes from losing moisture and drying out.

If you do end up with dry prunes, you can soak them in hot water for a few minutes to refresh them. When adding prunes to cooked recipes, pre soaking them will reduce cooking time.

  • Eat prunes as a snack throughout the day.
  • Add chopped prunes to your breakfast oatmeal.
  • Make a healthy trail mix by mixing chopped prunes with nuts, other dried fruits and dark chocolate.
  • Add prunes to cakes and cookies.
  • Blend them into drinks and smoothies.
  • Puree prunes for prune butter.
  • Add them to a savory stew.
  • Chop prunes and mix them into natural yogurt for a healthy breakfast or dessert.
  • Serve stewed prunes on top of waffles and pancakes.
  • Add prunes to your turkey stuffing.

Sweet Potato Gratin with Prunes

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium leeks, white and tender green parts, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 pound plump pitted prunes
  • 6 pounds sweet potatoes

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F
  2. Butter a glass or ceramic baking dish.
  3. Spread the prunes between sheets of saran wrap and use a rolling pin or meat tenderizer to flatten them to a 1/4-inch thickness.
  4. Peel the sweet potatoes and slice them 1/8 inch thick.
  5. Melt the butter in a large pan, add the leeks and thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover and cook for 5 minutes until the leeks soften.
  7. Remove the lid and cook until any liquid has evaporated.
  8. Add the cream, bring to a boil, then remove from the heat.
  9. Strain the leeks and reserve the cream.
  10. In a bowl, toss three-fourths of the sliced sweet potatoes with the leeks and prunes and season with salt and pepper.
  11. Spread these in the prepared baking dish and arrange the rest of the sweet potato slices on top. Pour the leek cream evenly over the top.
  12. Cover the potatoes with buttered parchment paper and then a sheet of foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and press the sweet potato layers down slightly then cook uncovered for another 45 minutes.

Oven-Roasted Prunes Wrapped With Pancetta

INGREDIENTS

  • 24 pitted prunes
  • 3 ounces soft blue cheese
  • 3 ounces thin-sliced pancetta, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat a broiler.
  2. Stuff each prune with about 1/2 teaspoon blue cheese. Wrap with  pancetta and secure with a toothpick.
  3. Place on a baking sheet and cook until the pancetta is lightly crisped, turning once.
Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.