Prune are died plums of any type. Many cultivars exist today but the most common is the European plum, scientific name Prunus domestica. The term is no longer used for raw plums, except for those especially cultivated for drying.
One of the main differences between the plums grown for raw consumption and prunes is how easy can the pit be removed. It can easily be removed from prunes (named freestone cultivars for this reasons), while fresh prunes are known as clingstones.
Plums are some of the most suited fruits for drying, which is one of the oldest and most effective methods of food preservation. The typical look of a prune has led to the words pruned or pruney in modern English.
Dried prunes are delicious to eat, with a sweet taste and some moisture still remaining. They have a typical wrinkled appearance and can be dark blue or black in color. They can be dried naturally, by the sun, or using special machines. However, they are partially rehydrated before consumption, which makes them less dry than other fruits.
Prunes are considered to be very healthy and their medicinal benefits have been known for a very long time. They have been traditionally used to stimulate bowel movements and counter constipation. This is caused by the extremely high content of dietary fibers, with a cup of prunes providing about half of the total daily required amount. In addition, prunes are a great source of potassium, vitamin A and beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant.
Prunes are usually consumed raw but it is also possible to stew them, which will partially recompose the fruit. Prune whip and stewed prunes with cream or half and half used to be very popular desert choices back when fewer options were available.
Due to their powerful package of nutrients, prunes reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular ones. They are especially rich in phenols and other phytonutrients. Two unique phytonutrients found in prunes are neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid, which have been proven to be very potent antioxidants. They appear to shield the cells from oxidative damage, in particular the lipid compounds. Lipid molecules make up most of the cell membranes in our body, as well as the brain cells, so this is an extremely valuable effect. Other studies have revealed that these two acids can protect LDL cholesterol against oxidation, which protects the heart from its very dangerous effects.
Both prunes and plums are packed with soluble fibers. These can balance the levels of sugar in the blood, preventing diabetes and the complications caused by obesity. Fibers also slow the transit of food through our digestive system, regulating the flow of sugar to the blood and preventing dangerous spikes. They also make insulin more effective.
Another known effect of soluble fibers is the sensation of fullness. This decreases the risk of eating too much and eliminates the little snacks between the main meals.
Dried prunes are rich in boron, a rare mineral that plays an important role in the structure of bones and muscles. This explains why they become stronger if prunes are consumed regularly. This mineral also seems to improve mental functions such as coordination.
A special benefit of prunes seems to be the protection of bone structure against radiation effects. According to the results of a very recent study on animals, dried plums in both raw and powder form are able to shield bone marrow from radiation, preventing bone density loss.
The effects of prunes on bone health go even further and they might be useful against osteoporosis. Another recent study has found that prunes reduce the risk of losing bone mass for females who are vulnerable to osteoporosis after their menopause. Osteoporosis is the biggest health problem for women during their menopause years and afterwards. Several research studies on animals have concluded that a diet rich in prunes can increase bone mass and limit the effects of osteoporosis.
Perhaps the best known and most widely used medical property of prunes is to cure constipation. Constipation is the most common problem related to bowel movement and many people experience it. You are constipated if you only have two or three bowel movements per week. Constipation comes with other related problems as well, usually stomach pain and bloating but also poor appetite or headaches. If ignored for a long time, the symptoms can become more and more serious.
The ability of prunes to relieve constipation has been known for a very long time. It is mainly explained by the high content of dietary fibers. Fibers are not easily digested by the human stomach, so they usually reach the colon and mix with the other food waste. This makes the stool bulkier and heavier, so it becomes easier to excrete. Fibers also absorb the excess water in the digestive tract, making the stool slippery. If you eat prunes to get rid of constipation, it is also a good idea to drink plenty of water.
A lesser known benefit of prunes is their ability to protect the heart from a wide range of diseases. They are packed with antioxidants, which stop the oxidation of cholesterol. As a result, cholesterol can't form the dangerous plaque deposits that clog our arteries. In addition, prunes are a major source of potassium, a mineral that dilates blood vessels and reduces high blood pressure. It is possible that prunes include some rare antioxidants, not found in other foods, which are being investigated by researchers at the moment.
Two daily servings of prunes offer about half of the requirement of vitamin A, which is a very high amount. Vitamin A plays many roles in human health and is especially known for its benefits for the skin. It is a powerful antioxidant compound that acts at skin level, neutralizing the toxins and free radicals that are to blame for wrinkles, fine lines or even acne. This vitamin is also a natural cosmetic agent and in large amounts it can keep the skin well hydrated. It is also known for its role in visual acuity. As an antioxidant, vitamin A also provides a boost to the body's immune response in general.
We need a daily supply of vitamin A for proper eye health. Prunes are very rich in this essential compound and a single fruit provides around 3% of the required daily amount. A lack of vitamin A can seriously impair vision and cause problems such as cataracts, dry eyes, poor night vision and accelerated macular degeneration.
Since they are so rich in dietary fibers, prunes are a great choice in weight loss diets. These fibers give the sensation of fullness and stop you from eating too much, at the same time preventing the snacks between meals that are a main cause of obesity.
They are also excellent for hair health, due to their high iron content. Iron is a key structural element in human hair and a lack of it will make it dry, discoloured and fragile. Eating prunes can make your hair much healthier and prevent baldness.
These fruits also provide a great package of vitamins and minerals for skin maintenance. These nutrients and bioactive compounds act like a natural cosmetic, preventing the appearance of fine lines or wrinkles and slowing down aging.
Few people are aware that prunes are actually among the fruits with the highest content of antioxidants. They might even be richer in antioxidants than blueberries. This was the conclusion of a recent study performed by scientists at the Tufts University in Boston. An antioxidant is a substance that is able to neutralize free radicals and stop them from damaging tissues. Prunes include many compounds with a strong antioxidant action, such as phenolics or the minerals iron and manganese.