The Health Benefits of Prunes You Never Saw Coming
TBH, prunes aren't exactly glamorous. They're wrinkly, squishy, and often associated with constipation relief, but in the realm of nutrition, prunes are actual superstars. Ahead, learn about the health benefits of prunes, plus tasty ways to eat prunes at home.
What Is a Prune?
Prunes are dried plums, aka stone fruits related to cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots. And while all prunes are dehydrated plums, not all fresh plums can become prunes. According to the journal Nutrients, prunes are dried forms of a specific variety of plum called Prunus domestica L. cv d'Agen, or the European plum. This type of plum has a naturally high sugar content, allowing the fruit to dry (pit and all) without fermenting.
Prune Nutrition Facts
The humble prune might not look like much, but it packs a nutritional punch. Prunes are teeming with fiber and vitamins A, C, and K, as well as a cocktail of minerals, including calcium, zinc, magnesium, and potassium, according to BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. "While bananas usually steal the spotlight as a high potassium fruit, 1/3 cup of prunes has about the same potassium content as a medium banana," says Jamie Miller, a registered dietitian at Village Health Clubs & Spas in Arizona. Potassium is essential for a wide range of functions in the body from blood flow to muscle contractions, she says.
Prunes are also rich in antioxidants. (Quick refresher: Antioxidants prevent cell damage and inflammation by removing free radicals, which protect the body's tissues against oxidative stress, says Miller.) She adds that prunes especially high in anthocyanins, an antioxidant and plant pigment that gives plums their reddish blue-purple color.
Here's the nutrient profile for a serving of five prunes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- 96 calories
- < 1 gram protein
- < 1 gram fat
- 26 grams carbohydrate
- 3 grams fiber
- 15 grams sugar
The Health Benefits of Prunes
As a high-fiber food, prunes are widely known for their laxative effect. "Prunes contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help prevent constipation," says Erin Kenney, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., H.C.P, founder of Nutrition Rewired. Fiber increases the weight of your stool by absorbing water. The result is bulkier and softer stool, which is easier to pass. In fact, a 2019 study published in Clinical Nutrition found that prunes are excellent for boosting stool weight and frequency in people with irregular bowel movements.
But fiber doesn't work alone. Prunes are also high in sorbitol and chlorogenic acid, which can increase stool frequency, explains Kenney. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that's naturally found in plums and prunes, while chlorogenic acid is a phenolic acid, a type of plant compound. Both substances soften the stool, according to Clinical Nutrition, further easing constipation woes.
May Reduce Colon Cancer Risk
The prune benefits for digestive health don't stop with constipation. The anthocyanins in prunes may also decrease your risk of colon cancer (aka colorectal cancer). According to a 2018 article in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the antioxidant effect of anthocyanins combats oxidative stress, the biological state that allows cancer cells to grow and spread. Anthocyanins also disrupt the division of colon cancer cells while initiating apoptosis, or cell death. What's more, prunes contain manganese and copper, which have antioxidant properties and further protect healthy cells from damage, according to Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., spokesperson for the California Prune Board.
Helps Weight Management and Loss
Dried fruit usually isn't recommended for weight loss or management because it's high in calories, according to Kenney. (See: Is Dried Fruit Healthy?) Still, there's some evidence that the fiber in prunes may help control weight by increasing fullness, as shown in research published in the journal Eating Behaviors. Research in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism also reports that fiber suppresses appetite by reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin. Basically, prunes can help you feel fuller for longer between meals, making them some of the best foods for preventing hanger, says Bonci.
Supports Bone Health
Prunes contain vitamin K and boron, two key nutrients for bone health, says Miller. "Vitamin K plays an important role in the formation of osteocalcin, a protein that helps calcium bind to bones," she notes. Meanwhile, boron increases the bioavailability of vitamin D, a nutrient necessary for the absorption of vitamin K, according to an article published in Integrative Medicine. The potassium in prunes lends a hand, too. "Potassium can reduce bone loss by [decreasing] the bone-depleting acids in your body," says Megan Byrd, R.D., founder of The Oregon Dietitian. (These acids are associated with diets rich in animal protein and increase calcium excretion in the urine, according to the journal Endocrine Practice.) Ultimately, vitamin K, boron, and potassium in prunes all help calcium protect your bones.
That said, in a small 2019 study, prunes decreased bone resorption (aka the breakdown of bone) in healthy postmenopausal women. This is noteworthy because bone resorption naturally increases with age, increasing your risk of osteoporosis and fractures, according to Current Osteoporosis Reports. A 2016 study found similar results in older women who already have osteoporosis, suggesting it's never too late to reap the bone health benefits of prunes.
Promote Heart Health
High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are two of the main risk factors for heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And as it turns out, the nutrients in prunes can help manage both. In terms of blood pressure, the potassium in fruits such as prunes can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range by reducing the tension and pressure in the arterial walls, explains Byrd. Similarly, anthocyanins found in prunes relax the arteries and lower high blood pressure, according to the journal Nutrients.
As for high blood cholesterol, the fiber and anthocyanins in prunes have your back. "The soluble fiber binds to cholesterol particles [in your gut] and prevents them from entering your bloodstream," shares Miller. The cholesterol then leaves your body through feces. Fiber also lowers LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol, adds Byrd. Meanwhile, anthocyanins increase HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) while protecting heart cells from oxidative stress, according to and article published in the journal Protein Cell.
Potential Risks of Prunes
Though prunes are super healthy, it's possible to overdo them. Eating too many prunes can potentially cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea due to their laxative effect, according to Kenney. Miller recommends starting with 1 to 2 prunes per day and noting how your body feels before adding more to your diet. (See: What Happens If You Eat Too Much Fiber?)
Overeating prunes can also make your blood sugar spike, so it's crucial to limit your daily intake if you have insulin resistance or diabetes, adds Miller. You might also want to skip out on prunes if you're allergic to birch pollen — an allergen that's associated with some foods including plums, cherries, and almonds — according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
How to Buy and Eat Prunes
In the grocery store, prunes (with or without pits) are sold in the dried fruit section. Depending on the brand, they may be labeled as "prunes" and/or "dried plums." You can also buy canned prunes, sometimes called stewed prunes, in juice or water. There's also prune jam, butter, concentrate, and juice, i.e. Sunsweet Prune Juice (Buy It, $32 for 6 bottles, amazon.com). If you're lucky, you might even find prune powder (ex: Sunsweet Naturals Suprafiber, Buy It, $20, walmart.com), which is often used for baking, drink mixes, and even seasoning, according to the California Prune Board.
When shopping for simply dried prunes, "check the ingredient list and opt for prunes that have no added sugars, artificial ingredients, or preservatives," suggests Kenney. "Ideally, the label should contain prunes and nothing else." Try: Food to Live Organic Pitted Prunes (Buy It, $13 for 8 ounces, amazon.com). Other forms of prunes, as in jam and juice, typically have additional sweeteners and preservatives — so look for a product with minimal extra ingredients.
On their own, prunes make for a solid grab-n-go snack, but if you'd like to get more creative, check out these tasty ways to eat prunes:
In energy balls. "In a food processor, add 1 cup prunes, 1/3 cup nut butter, 1/4 cup protein powder, and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder," shares Miller. Add water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture becomes sticky and the ingredients are combined. Roll into energy balls, store in the refrigerator, and eat as a pre-workout snack — or when your sweet tooth acts up!
In a smoothie. Prunes are perfect for naturally sweetening your smoothies, says Miller. Try her peanut butter and jelly-inspired protein shake by blending two prunes, 1 cup frozen berries, several handfuls of spinach, 1 scoop protein powder, 1 tablespoon nut butter, 1 cup milk, and ice. Boring smoothies, no more.
In salads. Add chopped prunes to salads for a touch of sweetness and chewiness, suggests Bonci. Use them in salads that call for dates or raisins. Salads with feta, almonds, and dark leafy greens tend to work well with prunes. Think: this quinoa pilaf with spinach, feta, and almonds salad.
As prune butter. Though you can buy prune butter in stores — i.e. Simon Fischer Lekvar Prune Butter (Buy It, $24 for 3 jars, amazon.com) — it's super easy to make at home. Simmer prunes and water for roughly 15 minutes, then blend with vanilla extract, a dash of salt, and a bit of brown sugar (if you'd like) until smooth.