Why You Should Reconsider Prunes
You could say prunes are victims of their own success. While long revered in certain older populations for how they improve digestive health, many younger people avoid them. But the nutritional benefits of this fruit are good for every age group. Plus, if you've never had a prune before, prepare to be surprised at how sweet and delicious they are.
One serving of prunes — or, as they are sometimes called, "dried plums" — comprises four to five prunes and is about 100 calories. This serving provides potassium (which aids in fluid balance and muscle contraction), iron (which maintains oxygen-carrying proteins in the muscles and blood), magnesium (which support bone health) and vitamin K (which supports blood clotting).
Fiber and Digestive Health
But what prunes are most famous for is their promotion of good digestion. A serving of prunes boasts 3 grams of heart-healthy fiber, about half of which is soluble and half is insoluble. The soluble fiber in prunes is beneficial for regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increasing satiety; while the insoluble fiber naturally moves food through the digestive tract. Inclusion of fiber-rich foods in the diet helps to improve digestive health and reduce symptoms of poor gastrointestinal health such as bloating, cramping, constipation and heartburn. Further contributing to the laxative effect of prunes is sorbitol, a sugar-like substance which holds onto water in the digestive tract, thereby reducing constipation.
If you're worried about prunes' potential to be a little too good at promoting bowel function, don't be. Studies show that unless you consume more than 10 to 12 prunes per day, you typically will not experience a significant alteration to your bowel habits. However, if you do not eat fiber-containing foods on a regular basis, it may be a good idea to gradually incorporate prunes into your diet — along with additional fluids — to avoid the potential for constipation that may occur as a result of increasing your fiber intake.
How to Eat Prunes
Unlike some kinds of dried fruits, prunes usually don't have any added sugar. While prunes are easily enjoyed on their own as an energizing snack, they can also be incorporated into a variety of meals and recipes, used just as you would any other dried fruit. Try them in cold cereal, oatmeal, salads and whole-grain muffins.
Colleen Sideck, RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian near Washington, D.C., and is pursuing a master's degree in public health communications and marketing. Read her blog, Colleen in the Kitchen, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.