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Prunes' Unique Antioxidant Phytonutrients

 

Prunes are a good source of soluble and insoluble fibre (studies link the former to lowered blood cholesterol levels), prunes rank foremost in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) list of high-scoring antioxidant fruits. In fact, prunes register off the scale on the Orac index, which measures how effective food is at neutralising damaging free radicals.

100 grams of prunes score 5,700 points, while their closest rivals are blueberries with 2,700. Food scientists believe that the high antioxidant rate is related to the dark pigment of the fruit’s skin.

The fresh version (plums) and the dried version (prunes) of the plant scientifically known as Prunus domestica have been the subject of repeated health research for their high content of unique phytonutrients called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These substances found in plum and prune are classified as phenols, and their function as antioxidants has been well-documented. These damage-preventing substances are particularly effective in neutralizing a particularly dangerous oxygen radical called superoxide anion radical, and they have also been shown to help prevent oxygen-based damage to fats. Since our cell membranes, brain cells and molecules such as cholesterol are largely composed of fats, preventing free radical damage to fats is no small benefit.

Beta-Carotene for Even More Antioxidant Protection

Prunes' ability to deter oxygen-related damage to our cells is also related to their beta-carotene content. Prunes emerged from our food ranking system as a very good source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) - just a quarter-cup of prunes will give you 21.1% of the daily value for vitamin A. Beta-carotene acts as a fat-soluble antioxidant, eliminating free radicals that would otherwise cause a lot of damage to our cells and cell membranes. Only after cholesterol has been oxidized by free radicals does it pose a threat to artery walls. The buildup of cholesterol in the artery walls forms plaques that can either grow so large they block blood flow or rupture, releasing a clot that can impede the flow of blood, and triggering a heart attack or stroke. Free radicals can also damage cellular DNA, causing mutations which, if serious enough, can result in the formation of cancerous cells. In addition, by causing damage, free radicals contribute to inflammation, which is one way the body clears out cells or other substances that have been damaged. In this way, free radicals increase the severity of a number of different conditions. This is why beta-carotene, which shuts down free radicals, has been shown in studies to be helpful for the prevention of a variety of diseases, including atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease, and colon cancer, and why it has also been found useful for reducing the severity of inflammatory conditions like asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Potassium for Cardiovascular Health

Prunes are a good source of potassium, providing 9% of the daily value for this mineral in a quarter-cup. Potassium is an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Since a quarter cup of prunes contains a whopping 316.6 mg of potassium (860mg per 100g)  and only 1.7 mg of sodium, those diced dried prunes on top of your breakfast cereal may help to prevent high blood pressure and protect against atherosclerosis.

The effectiveness of potassium-rich foods like prunes in lowering blood pressure has been demonstrated by a number of studies. For example, researchers tracked over 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine the effects of diet on blood pressure. Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods, as well as foods high in magnesium and cereal fiber, had a substantially reduced risk of stroke.

In addition to these cardiovascular benefits, the potassium found in prunes may also help to promote bone health. Potassium may counteract the increased urinary calcium loss caused by the high-salt diets typical of most Americans, thus helping to prevent bones from thinning out at a fast rate.

Prunes are widely known as a good source of dietary fiber, a reputation that was confirmed in our ranking system in which prunes were found to supply 15.1% of the daily value for fiber in just a quarter-cup. The health benefits provided by prunes' fiber are substantial:

Normalizing Blood Sugar Levels and Helping with Weight Loss

Prunes' soluble fiber helps normalize blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach and by delaying the absorption of glucose (the form in which sugar is transported in the blood) following a meal. Soluble fiber also increases insulin sensitivity and can therefore play a helpful role in the prevention and treatment of Type 2 diabetes. And, prunes' soluble fiber promotes a sense of satisfied fullness after a meal by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach, so prunes can also help prevent overeating and weight gain.

Prunes' Fiber for Regularity, Lower Cholesterol, & Intestinal Protection

Prunes are well known for their ability to prevent constipation. In addition to providing bulk and decreasing the transit time of fecal matter, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids, prunes' insoluble fiber also provides food for the “friendly” bacteria in the large intestine. When these helpful bacteria ferment prunes' insoluble fiber, they produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid, which serves as the primary fuel for the cells of the large intestine and helps maintain a healthy colon. These helpful bacteria also create two other short-chain fatty acids, propionic and acetic acid, which are used as fuel by the cells of the liver and muscles.

The propionic acid produced from prunes' insoluble fiber may also be partly responsible for the cholesterol-lowering properties of fiber. In animal studies, propionic acid has been shown to inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol by the liver. By lowering the activity of this enzyme, propionic acid helps lower blood cholesterol levels. In addition, prunes' soluble fibers help to lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body via the feces. Bile acids are compounds used to digest fat that are manufactured by the liver from cholesterol. When they are excreted along with prunes' fiber, the liver must manufacture new bile acids and uses up more cholesterol, thus lowering the amount of cholesterol in circulation. Soluble fiber may also reduce the amount of cholesterol manufactured by the liver.
 

A study published in the September 8, 2003 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as prunes, helps prevent heart disease. Almost 10,000 American adults participated in this study and were followed for 19 years, during which time 1,843 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) and 3,762 cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD) were diagnosed. People eating the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12% less CHD and 11% less CVD compared to those eating the least, 5 grams daily. Those eating the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better with a 15% reduction in risk of CHD and a 10% risk reduction in CVD.(December 3, 2003)

Lastly, the insoluble fiber provided by prunes feed friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, which helps to maintain larger populations of friendly bacteria. In addition to producing the helpful short-chain fatty acids described above, friendly bacteria play an important protective role by crowding out pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and preventing them from surviving in the intestinal tract.

Vitamin B6 for Energy and Cardiovascular Health

Vitamin B6 is essential for the body's processing of carbohydrate (sugar and starch), especially the breakdown of glycogen, the form in which sugar is stored in muscle cells and to a lesser extent, in our liver. Vitamin B6 plays a pivotal role as a methyl donor in the basic cellular process of methylation, through which methyl groups are transferred from one molecule to another, resulting in the formation of a wide variety of very important active molecules. When levels of B6 are inadequate, the availability of methyl groups is also lessened. One result of the lack of methyl groups is that molecules that would normally be quickly changed into other types of molecules not only do not change, but accumulate. One such molecule, homocysteine, is so damaging to blood vessel walls that high levels are considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A quarter-cup of prunes will supply you with 8.5% of the daily value for vitamin B6.

Iron Absorption

 The ability of plum and prune to increase absorption of iron into the body has also been documented in published research. The ability of plum and prune to make iron more available may be related to the vitamin C content of this fruit. Prunes, like health supplements, are packed with vital vitamins and minerals including potassium, vitamins A, B, C and E, magnesium and iron. Prunes are a good source of iron (2.4 mg per 100g), especially for vegetarians.

Aging

Research from the USDA Centre on Ageing, at Tufts University in Boston, shows that not only do antioxidant-rich fruits help to prevent the development of certain cancers, heart and lung diseases, and cataract formation, they are also thought to slow the ageing process and aid longevity.

Protection against Macular Degeneration

Your mother may have told you carrots would keep your eyes bright as a child, but as an adult, it looks like fruit is even more important for keeping your sight. Data reported in a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Archives of Opthamology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.

In this study, which involved 77,562 women and 40,866 men, researchers evaluated the effect of study participants' consumption of fruits; vegetables; the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; and carotenoids on the development of early ARMD or neovascular ARM, a more severe form of the illness associated with vision loss. Food intake information was collected periodically for up to 18 years for women and 12 years for men. While, surprisingly, intakes of vegetables, antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids were not strongly related to incidence of either form of ARM, fruit intake was definitely protective against the severe form of this vision-destroying disease. Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but prunes can help you reach this goal. Try chopped prunes on your morning cereal or lunch time yogurt. Add a wonderful sweetness to any stew or grain dish simply by tossing in a handful of pitted, diced prunes. Next time you crave a rich treat, try stuffing a pitted prune with a dollop of your favorite nut butter.(July 10, 2004)

Description

Prunes are nutritious fruits that are extremely fun to eat since they have a sweet, deep taste and a sticky, chewy texture. Prunes are actually dried plums, more specifically the dried version of European plums, including the Agen variety.

Unfortunately for the delicious and quite beneficial prune, its name has acquired a somewhat negative connotation, being associated with wrinkles, old age and sluggish gastrointestinal tracts. As our Health Benefits section shows, nothing could be further from the truth. To give prunes some PR that may help overcome this stigma and to promote prunes to their rightful place in the American diet, they have been informally christened with another name, a name that reflects their heritage . . . the “dried plum.”

The scientific name for plums and prunes is Prunus domestica.

History

The process of drying plums to make prunes is thought to have originated thousands of years ago in an area near the Caspian Sea, the same region where the prune-producing European plums originated. They spread throughout Europe with the migration of different cultures and civilizations.

The process of drying plums to produce prunes took hold in California, now the leading producer of prunes worldwide, in the mid-19th century when Louis Pellier planted grafted plum tree cuttings brought back with him from his native France. Among these trees were those belonging to the Agen variety, the type of plum that is extremely well suited to be dried to make prunes.

How to Select and Store

Prunes are sold either with their pits or already pitted. The form you choose should depend upon your personal preference and recipe needs.

Ideally, you should purchase prunes that are sold in transparent containers so that you can evaluate them for quality. They should be plump, shiny, relatively soft and free of mold. If the packages are opaque, ensure that they are tightly sealed so that the prunes will not have lost any moisture. As with any other dried fruit, try to purchase prunes that are not processed with food preservatives such as sulfites.

Prunes should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place where they will keep for several months. Storing them in the refrigerator will extend their freshness, allowing them to keep for about six months. Regardless of where you store them, make sure that when you open the container, you reseal it tightly to prevent the prunes from losing moisture.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Prunes:

If you have prunes that are extremely dry, soaking them in hot water for a few minutes will help to refresh them. If you are planning on cooking the prunes, soaking them in water or juice beforehand will reduce the cooking time.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Serve stewed prunes with rosemary-scented braised lamb and enjoy this Middle Eastern inspired meal.

Serve stewed or soaked prunes on top of pancakes and waffles.

Combine diced dried prunes with other dried fruits and nuts to make homemade trail mix.

Prunes make a delicious addition to poultry stuffing.

Safety

Prunes and Oxalates

Prunes are among a small number of foods that contain any measurable amount of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating prunes. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid prunes, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat prunes 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Prunes, Dried
0.25 cup
101.58 calories

Nutrient

Amount

DV
(%)

Nutrient
Density

World's Healthiest
Foods Rating

vitamin A

 844.48 IU

 21.1

 4.2

very good

dietary fiber

 3.02 g

 15.1

 3.0

good

potassium

 316.63 mg

 9.0

 1.8

good

vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

 0.11 mg

 8.5

 1.7

good

World's Healthiest
Foods Rating

Rule

excellent

DV>=75%

OR

Density>=7.6

AND

DV>=10%

very good

DV>=50%

OR

Density>=3.4

AND

DV>=5%

good

DV>=25%

OR

Density>=1.5

AND

DV>=2.5%

In Depth Nutritional Profile forPrune

References

 

  • Ballot D, Baynes RD, Bothwell TH, et al. The effects of fruit juices and fruits on the absorption of iron from a rice meal. Br J Nutr 1987 May;57(3):331-43.
  • Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria CM, Whelton PK. Dietary fiber intake and reduced risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Sep 8;163(16):1897-904.
  • Bhatia IS, Bajaj KL. Tannins in black-plum (Syzygium cumini L.) seeds. Biochem J 1972 Jun;128(1):56P.
  • Cho E, Seddon JM, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Prospective study of intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and carotenoids and risk of age-related maculopathy. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 Jun;122(6):883-92.
  • Egbekun MK, Akowe JI, Ede RJ. Physico-chemical and sensory properties of formulated syrup from black plum (Vitex doniana) fruit. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 1996 Jun;49(4):301-6.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Nakatani N, Kayano S, Kikuzaki H, et al. Identification, quantitative determination, and antioxidative activities of chlorogenic acid isomers in prune (Prunus domestica L. ). J Agric Food Chem 2000 Nov;48(11):5512-6.
  • Sellmeyer DE, Schloetter DE, Schloetter M et al. Potassium citrate prevents urine calcium excretion and bone resorption induced by a high sodium chloride diet. J Clin Endo Metab 2002;87(5):2008-12.
  • Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, Bowen PE, Hussain EA, et al. Chemical composition and potential health effects of prunes: a functional food. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2001 May;41(4):251-86.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

Always consult your doctor. This site is for information purposes and does not prescribe products. Confirm all details with a specialist (see disclaimer).

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