Want a cheap, portable and healthy treat for the busy days of summer? Nutrition experts say to stock up on dried plums. Sweet, earthy and luscious on the inside and slightly chewy on the outside, these half-dollar-sized dark, wrinkly nibbles are like organic raisins on steroids or little concentrated bites of an expensive ruby port.
For those thinking that this description is awfully reminiscent of that other oft maligned dried fruit, the prune, that’s because they’re one and the same.
To clarify, in order to make a prune, a plum is dried. But after the old-people-trying-to-stay-regular stigma that came to attach itself to prunes led to a decade of falling sales, in 2000 the FDA let the California Prune Board (now the California Dried Plum Board) make the fresh-faced name change official.
In other countries, plump prunes have long been prized for their vibrant flavor and year-round availability — they frequently appear in Asian and Middle Eastern snacks, side dishes and entrées, for example, and in France they’re commonly featured in desserts.
“Prunes have excellent benefits for people of all ages,” says Sandra Harrison, the Clinical Coordinator, Clinical Nutrition Services at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
She adds that dried plums are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and potassium, an essential mineral that helps prevent high blood pressure and promotes bone health. In addition, recent studies have found that, thanks largely to the phytochemicals that produce their deep purple/blue/black pigment, dried plums have the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit, gram-for-gram, including blueberries. These antioxidants help protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses by mopping up harmful free radicals.
“If you want to get your fill of prunes or dried plums you have several options,” says Laura Serke, a registered dietician at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. “The fruit now comes in easy-to-store, individually wrapped packages. Prune juice is also a great option. If you just don’t enjoy the taste of prunes, try mixing the juice with other juices you do enjoy; try a plum jelly spread on your toast; you can even have fun making your own at home.”
About 60 percent of their dietary fiber is a soluble variety called pectin, which mixes with water in the stomach to become a viscous gel. The result is that the stomach empties more slowly, providing a feeling of satiety, helping to regulate blood-sugar levels, contributing to lower LDL cholesterol levels and aiding in the absorption of important nutrients. The rest of the fiber is insoluble — it works mainly in the large intestine (the colon), adding bulk and water to your stool so that it becomes softer and moves through your system quickly.
“Some studies indicate that eating prunes to relieve constipation is more effective than soluble fiber options,” Harrison says. “Adding natural fibers, like prunes, to your diet is an easy and recommended first line of defense against constipation.”
Earlier this year, new research (funded by the California Dried Plum Board but conducted independently at the University of Iowa) found that dried plums are more effective than psyllium (the key ingredient in Metamucil) in combating constipation.
story by ANNA SACHSE