The original superfruit
Prunes have a reputation as a constipation remedy and a nursing home staple. But our recipes showcase the dowdy prunes amazing benefits.
Prunes have a long-standing reputation as a remedy for constipation and as a nursing home staple. This rather dowdy image hardly suggests superfruit. But things are about to change.
While prunes may not be the most glamorous fruit on the market, new research suggests they may be one of the healthiest. Let’s take a look at why prunes deserve superfruit status.
We all know prunes are nature’s laxative. That’s because they are high in insoluble fibre, the type that stays in the digestive tract absorbing water, making stools larger and easier to pass.
But they aren’t just a bulking agent. Prunes also contain a compound called dihydroxyphenyl isatin, which stimulates the intestine, causing it to contract. This process is essential for regularity and good gut health.
In addition to insoluble fibre, prunes also contain an impressive amount of soluble fibre, the type that lowers cholesterol and with it the risk for heart disease. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition confirmed that diets high in fibre reduce the risk of mortality from all types of cardiovascular disease.
But fibre isn’t the only heart-healthy substance in prunes. The little wrinkly fruit is also chock full of potassium, a mineral known to help lower blood pressure. In addition, phenolic compounds, which inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, abound in prunes.
Mooove over milk—prunes are what your bones really need. In a surprising new study conducted at Florida State University, researchers discovered that eating 10 to 12 prunes per day can actually reverse bone loss in postmenopausal women.
The women who participated in the clinical study showed improved bone formation markers after only three months on the prune-enriched diet. According to lead researcher Dr. B. Arjmandi, prunes work by stimulating osteoblasts, enabling them to promote new bone formation. The researchers believe this may be due to prune’s high boron content.
Boron helps regulate mineral metabolism and optimizes estrogen levels, which in turn increases calcium absorption. Additionally, boron helps convert vitamin D to its active form, which helps the osteoblasts utilize calcium for bone formation.
Impressed? Consider this: the unheralded prune also contains other nutrients essential for bone health, such as potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K.
Phytonutrients in plants can have powerful, health-promoting effects on the human body. The good news—prunes are literally teeming with these compounds. They contain several disease-fighting carotenoids, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. In addition, prunes are brimming with anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, phenols, and neochlorogenic acid.
While all these nutrients work in unique ways in the body, they all have a common weapon against disease: their antioxidant ability. Antioxidants are crucial to good health because they fight harmful free radicals that can cause cellular damage.
Modern research continues to confirm their power. Studies have shown that the particular antioxidants in prunes can help prevent prostrate, cervical, gastric, lung, and breast cancer.
That’s not surprising when you consider prunes have a higher ORAC value (a measure of antioxidant activity) than the highly touted blueberry. The ORAC value of a 100 g serving of prunes is 8,059; the value for the same amount of cultivated blueberries is 4,669.
And remember boron, the prune’s bone-building mineral? Amazingly it’s also been found to be cancer preventive as well as a powerful cancer therapeutic. Several studies have shown it can help prevent prostate cancer and, in women who smoke, lung cancer.
When buying prunes, opting for the organic variety is the wisest choice. Nonorganic prunes are most often treated with sulphites or other chemical preservatives to enhance shelf life.
Prunes should be plump, moist, and shiny with no signs of mold (which appears as a white bloom on prunes). Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, prunes will keep for several months. That is, of course, if you can refrain from nibbling them all!
Nutrient chart (per 100 g, about 10 to 12 prunes)
Adding prunes to the menu
Clearly, if you’ve left prunes off your menu because you thought of them as “grandma’s fruit” you should reconsider your decision. In addition to their amazing health benefits, they have a sweet, rich taste that can enhance just about any dish.
Some serving ideas
You can even use prune purée as a fat substitute to replace butter or other fats in baked goods. You can use this healthy purée in cakes, muffins, cookies—even your most decadent brownie recipe.
Simply purée about 1 1/3 cups (330 mL) pitted prunes with 6 Tbsp (90 mL) hot water.
This should make about 1 cup (250 mL) prune purée that will keep in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Begin by replacing 1 Tbsp (15 mL) of the fat in your recipe with an equal amount of prune purée. Keep experimenting, replacing more and more of the fat until you get a taste and texture that’s appealing to you.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Nicholas Nutting of the Wickanninish Inn, Tofino, BC.
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol