It Turns Out, We Should All Be Eating More Prunes
Plums are a type of stone fruit with a delicious sweet flavor. The fruit grows on trees that, once planted, can take four to six years to even bear fruit according to the California Prune Board. Even at that point, the tree needs eight to 12 years before it can reach its full production capacity. Plums typically ripen in the summer and are then harvested.
There are a variety of different types of plums, and their dried version is known as prunes. Convenient and flavorful, prunes are a versatile dried fruit that can be enjoyed on their own or incorporated into a variety of dishes.
Although this fruit offers up some serious health benefits, make sure to pay attention to ingredient lists and purchase varieties that solely list prunes as the only ingredient (try to avoid options with any added sugars or oils). Here's everything you need to know about prunes and why they are worthy of a spot in your grocery cart.
What are prunes?
Chewy and sweet, prunes are plums that have been dehydrated for preservation. They can last in your pantry for about six months and provide a ton of versatility in practically any meal. Plus, they are little nutritious powerhouses. "Prunes have many different health benefits, from gastrointestinal health to bone preservation, modulating immune response, diabetes and atherosclerosis and satiety," says Shirin Hooshmand, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at San Diego State University.
Prune Health Benefits
1. Provides a slew of beneficial vitamins and minerals
Prunes are a rich source of complex carbohydrates, fiber and are relatively low in calories. But they also provide a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals. A serving of just four prunes (38g) provides:
0g total fat
0g saturated fat
24g total carbohydrate
3g dietary fiber
14g total sugars
0g added sugars
20mg calcium (2% DV)
0.4mg iron (2% DV)
280mg potassium (6% DV)
23mcg Vitamin K (20% DV)
0.1mg riboflavin (8% DV)
0.9mg niacin (6% DV)
0.1mg Vitamin B6 (6% DV)
0.2mg pantothenic acid (4% DV)
15mg magnesium (4% DV)
0.1mg copper (10% DV)
0.1mg manganese (4% DV)
2. Supports healthy bones
Dr. Hooshmand has been conducting research in the area of bone health and prunes for the past 15 years. In a recent clinical trial, Dr. Hooshmand and her team found that osteopenic for postmenopausal women, eating 5–6 prunes per day for six months was effective in preventing bone loss. "Previous research also found that eating 10–12 prunes per day for one year was associated with increased bone mineral density and improved indicators of bone turnover in postmenopausal women," she says.
3. Lowers cholesterol levels
A serving of prunes meets 11% of the daily value for fiber, which plays a role in lowering blood cholesterol. Initial research from the University of California, Davis found that men with moderately elevated cholesterol were able to reduce both total and "bad" LDL cholesterol after eating about 12 prunes daily.
4. Supports healthy digestion
The fiber content of prunes may be to thank for their laxative effect, but scientists point to the combination of fiber, phenolic compounds and sorbitol within prunes that are likely what does the trick. Research supports that prunes can significantly increase stool weight and frequency, making them a great natural alternative to promote healthy bowel function. California-based registered dietitian Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN, FAND adds that research suggests that prunes are as effective as over-the-counter products to help with constipation.
5. Stabilizes blood sugar levels
The popular dried fruit is rich in fiber and contains a combination of both insoluble and soluble fiber Bonci says. The soluble fiber specifically is slow-moving and can assist in regulating blood sugar levels. Prunes are also naturally sweet without any added sugar, making them a healthier sweetener alternative in baked goods and more.
6. Provides a feeling of fullness
Bonci says that research shows prunes may play a role in enhancing satiety or the feeling of fullness. The researchers from the University of Liverpool found that the group who consumed prunes in conjunction with a structured weight management program experienced greater levels of satisfaction compared to the weight management group without prunes. This may be due to the fiber-rich nature of the dried fruit.
7. Combats inflammation
Since prunes are rich in polyphenols, these antioxidants can help decrease inflammation and protect against DNA damage. Compared to fresh plums, prunes dried at 60 and 85°C may actually have a higher antioxidant activity.
How many prunes should you eat a day?
Dr. Hooshmand says how many prunes you should eat in a day depends on the size of the prunes themselves, but current research recommends 50 grams of prunes per day which is equal to about 5 to 6 prunes. If you're not used to eating prunes or other fiber-rich foods, start slow with 1 to 2 prunes per day and gradually work your way up. "For people who have a low intake of fiber in their diet, in general we recommend introducing prunes gradually, avoid consumption of prunes on an empty stomach and spread the intake throughout the day," says Dr. Hooshmand.
Bonci agrees and recommends to make haste slowly since prunes do contain sorbitol and that can increase the urge to go. Her suggestion is to divide them over the day. "Even for those with IBD and other gut diseases, eating a small amount of prunes is not too much, but again make haste slowly," Bonci says. If you're wondering whether you can eat prunes on an empty stomach, Bonci says you absolutely can and that they are great on their own or can be incorporated into a variety of dishes.
Is prune juice healthy?
Unlike other fruit juices, most popular brands of prune juice do actually contain a good source of fiber per serving. Warm prune juice itself has been long used as a natural constipation remedy as well. "In my opinion, consuming prune juice could probably be effective in terms of bone health to some degree, but we only have data from clinical trials testing effects of whole prunes on bone health," says Dr. Hooshmand.
How to add prunes to your diet:
"There are plenty of different ways to enjoy the prune as part of your diet: from smoothies to salads and soups to savory dinner dishes. Prunes can even be used as a sugar and fat substitute in baked goods," Dr. Hooshmand shares. "[Prunes] can be part of powerful flavor combinations and nutrient amplifications when paired with nuts, or grains, or veggies, or dairy or meats," Bonci adds.
Enjoy this yummy dried fruit by itself or try it in a variety of different ways:
Use prunes alongside your favorite variety of nuts in a healthy homemade trail mix
Add chopped prunes as a topping to oatmeal or yogurt
Incorporate prunes in stews or tagine for a sweet savory twist
Add a prune or two to your morning smoothie
Toss chopped prunes into salad alongside your favorite veggies and vinaigrette
Use prunes for natural sweetness and fiber in energy bites
Bonci suggests adding prune purée to hummus for a naturally sweet plummus
Why Trust Good Housekeeping?
As head of the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab since 2020, registered dietitian Stefani Sassos is dedicated to evidence-based diet and nutrition reporting. She takes the pulse of the latest nutrition research and trends, translating to readers what principles are science-backed and worth incorporating into a healthy lifestyle (and what fads are worth avoiding). She is passionate about incorporating nutrient-dense whole foods like prunes into a balanced diet to support overall health and wellness.
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