Prunes are no joke

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2012

The scientific name for plum is the Latin prunus and jokes about prunes and bowel regularity have probably been circulating since Roman times. The industry has become rather touchy about it and now refers to prunes as dried plums. What seems to be common knowledge didn't stop the EU (European Union) from issuing a declaration that prunes do not have a laxative effect and it has banned producers from claiming that they do.

Perhaps to put things in perspective, the EU's European Food Safety Authority itself became a joke when it ruled in November 2011 that bottled water companies cannot claim that water prevents dehydration.

It isn't just the fiber in plums and prunes that helps bowel function. Sorbitol is an indigestible sugar that attracts water and contributes to the bulk of bowel contents. A substance in prunes called diphenylisatin also has a laxative effect.

Fiber, a constituent of all plant foods, is important for other reasons. The insoluble fiber in prunes does contribute to bulk and thus to bowel regularity but the soluble fiber, present in nearly equal amounts, is a source of energy for the friendly bacteria that live within our intestines. These contribute to our immune system, block harmful germs, supply a few extra calories, improve the absorption of calcium, lower cholesterol and form small amounts of some vitamins. That's a pretty good nutritional return on investment.

A couple of prunes provide us with a day's needs of boron, a mineral that contributes to the hardness of bone. Considering the seriousness of osteoporosis in the modern world, it is one more benefit for the senior population. Vitamins A and C are present in substantial amounts. The potassium content of prunes is high and the sodium content low, a very healthy combination. Modern processed foods are just the opposite. As suggested by their rich color, plums and prunes are rich in antioxidants.

If there is a downside to prunes it is that they are high in sugar and hence in calories. A single medium-sized plum, one serving, contains about 5 grams of sugar; a standard serving of ten dried plums contains, as expected, about ten times as much. It's unlikely that a person would eat ten plums in one sitting. Even though it's considered a serving, ten prunes might be overdoing it as well.

Joking aside, prunes are among nature's best nutrient values.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.