Your grandmother was right about this old folk remedy
March 9th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
Familiar Folk Remedy Gets a New Name,
Keeps Its Cancer-Fighting Power
There’s a “new” cancer-fighting fruit in town — but when you bite into one, you may notice it looks and tastes the same as a dried fruit you’ve known about for years … one commonly believed to keep people “regular.”
Enthusiasts have given this old folk remedy a new name, but that doesn’t change its great taste or nutritional power.
Plus, scientists are discovering this sweet dried fruit is also a portable cancer fighter, thanks to being chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins, and gut-healthy prebiotics.
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Did you guess I’m talking about dried plums? You might be more familiar with them as prunes – the fruit your grandmother probably used to stimulate regular bowel movements.
Why the new name? I have to say, it’s pretty obvious. Plums sound a lot more delectable than prunes. And just plain nicer. Who wants to eat a laxative?
But there is a story behind this. . .
A few years ago, the California Dried Plum Board conducted a survey and found that people (especially women ages 25 to 54) responded more favorably to the name “dried plums,” so they changed the name.1 Outside the United States the name “prune” is still used.
No matter what name you choose to call them, these sweet, sticky treats are still great for your blood sugar, digestive tract, and waistline.
Perhaps best of all, they’ve been shown to reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
Waste elimination is essential to cancer prevention
Keeping your digestive tract cleansed and moving along smoothly is important to your overall health. If old food and bacteria aren’t flushed out of your system regularly they create an environment where cancer cells thrive.
Dried plums have long been the “go-to” fruit for relieving constipation and keeping the digestive tract regular. The reason for this is twofold:
- Dried plums are very high in fiber
- Dried plums are high in sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol that acts as a laxative
Just a half-cup serving of dried plums contains a little more than six grams of fiber and 12 grams of sorbitol.
Prune juice has about 15 grams of sorbitol per 8-ounce glass, which is why a glass or two of the juice is more often recommended to ease colon blockage than a handful of the dried fruit. It’s far gentler than over-the-counter medications, but still effective.
Dried plums boost your gut bacteria
Dried plums help keep your colon healthy in more ways than one. Besides supporting the muscle movement that brings on elimination, dried plums have also been clinically shown to improve the amount of healthy bacteria – called flora — in the gut.
A healthy balance of gut flora is so important that researchers found they could predict a person’s risk of colon cancer just by looking at the microbiome – the full collection of microbes in the colon.2
If you recall, I discussed the importance of keeping a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut in issue #539, and how eating prebiotic and probiotic foods work to keep the good bacteria alive and thriving.
Sorbitol in dried plums is another excellent prebiotic, meaning it provides food for the healthy bacteria in your gut.
In a study performed at Texas A&M University, researchers fed a group of rats a high-prune diet and discovered the animals had more beneficial bacteria in the distal colon (last part of the colon) than the control group that didn’t eat prunes.
Researchers also discovered these rats had significantly fewer aberrant crypts. These are precancerous lesions that can be an early indicator of colon cancer.3
This wasn’t the only research to discover a link between high consumption of dried plums and reduced colon cancer risk.
Researchers published the results of a study in the journal Nutrition and Cancer that showed rats eating a diet high in dried plum powder had lower amounts of unhealthy bacteria as well as an increased oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), meaning these rats had a greater ability to neutralize free radicals and stop oxidation in cells.4
Dried plums are full of phytonutrients
Dried plums are rich in other phytonutrients that not only reduce colon cancer risk specifically, but boost cell health and reduce your overall cancer risk.
- Antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and restore cell health
- Vitamin A, an antioxidant that helps vision and immune system health
- Vitamin K1 helps in blood clotting
- Boron staves off osteoporosis. One serving provided the RDA.
- Copper reduces inflammation throughout the body
- Potassium (745 mg per serving) keeps your heart healthy5
Dried plums are also rich in phenolic compounds such as neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids, which have been shown to destroy breast cancer cell lines.6 A half-cup serving of dried plums contains 184 grams of these cancer-killing compounds.
And even though dried plums are sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth, eating them – so I’m told — doesn’t spike the blood sugar levels like refined sugar, possibly due to the combination of fructose, fiber and sorbitol.
The same phenolic compounds that kill cancer cells also help delay glucose absorption, making dried plums a healthy snack for just about anyone.
Reap the benefits of dried plums
Incorporating dried plums into your diet is easy, and safe for nearly everyone. However, if you’re diabetic or have had other insulin problems, talk to your doctor about how the fructose in dried plums may affect your blood sugar.
What does this mean for your health? Researchers for Consumer Reports reviewed the arsenic levels of more than 3,600 people who were taking part in National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to see if rice consumption was linked to higher arsenic levels in the body. NHANES consists of data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics. It includes findings based on physical examinations, personal interviews, blood samples and urine tests.
A serving of dried plums is only a half cup, or about 10 of these tasty fruit nuggets. Mix them with raw nuts for a snack, add a few to a smoothie for sweetness and fiber, or drink prune juice instead of other super-sugary fruit juices with breakfast.
Just be aware that if you choose juice you don’t get the benefits of fiber, so make sure you’re boosting fiber intake elsewhere. I also suspect that fiber-free prune juice will boost blood sugar levels in an unhealthy way, compared to the fiber-rich whole dried plum.
Another bonus of dried plums is that they aren’t full of the usual preservatives and sulfating agents one has to be aware of when eating dried fruits.
According to the California Dried Plum Board, only potassium sorbate, a naturally occurring preservative compound, is used. And because dried plums are already dark in color, they don’t have sulfating agents, which are used to prevent darkening.7
So go forth, boost your health, reduce colon cancer risks and maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria by adding prunes, dried plums — or whatever you want to call them — into your diet. Who knew this little sweet fruit could pack such a nutritional punch?
1 Why was the name prunes changed to dried plums?
2 The human gut microbiome as a screening tool for colorectal cancer.
3Dried plums modify colon microbiota composition and spatial distribution, and protect against chemically-induced carcinogenesis.
4 Effect of dried plums on colon cancer risk factors in rats.
5 Dried plums and their products: composition and health effects–an updated review.
6 Identifying peach and plum polyphenols with chemopreventive potential against estrogen-independent breast cancer cells.
7 Are preservatives used in processing dried plums/prunes?