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Plums and Prunes: Nature's Laxative

Plums are close relatives to peaches, nectarines, and almonds. Like these other fruits, plums contain a hard pit, or stone, in its center surrounded by the soft fruit, all of which is contained inside a thin skin. Plums vary in size, shape, and color depending on the variety, with some as small as a cherry and others as large as a peach. The skins of the plums can be purple, blue-black, red, green yellow, or amber, and the meat, or fruit portion, is typically yellow, green, pink, or orange. While there are approximately 2,000 varieties, the most common ones are American, Japanese, Damson, ornamental, wild, and European. Plums are native to China, America, and Europe. Today, the main producers of commercially grown plums are in China, Russia, Romania, and the United States.

When plums are dried, they are called prunes. The process of drying plums to make prunes originated near the Caspian Sea, in the same area where European plums originated thousands of years ago. California, the leading producer of prunes worldwide, enhanced the plum-drying process in 1856 after a man named Louis Pellier brought a grafted plum tree from his homeland of France. To produce prunes, plums are dehydrated in hot air at 85–90 degrees Celsius for about eighteen hours. Then the prune can be processed into juice, pureed, or used to make other products.

Plums and prunes are often used for their laxative effects, with prunes being more effective than plums. Prunes have three different ingredients that work together to help keep the digestive system working optimally. First, prunes are high in insoluble fiber, an essential part of good elimination and in helping to prevent constipation. Because insoluble fiber isn't absorbed by the body, it stays in the digestive tract, and because the digestive tract is very absorbent, the fiber soaks up large amounts of water which make the stools bigger and easier to pass. The insoluble fiber in prunes is also food for the good bacteria in the intestines, and when the good bacteria eat or use this insoluble fiber, they make butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that is the main fuel for the cells in the intestines to maintain a healthy colon tract.

Prunes also contain soluble fiber, the type of fiber linked with lowering cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Eating just five prunes gives one about three grams of fiber, which is about twelve percent of the daily value.

Second, prunes have a natural sugar called sorbitol. Like fiber, sorbitol soaks up water wherever it can find it. While many fruits contain some sorbitol, most only have a small amount, usually less than one percent. Prunes on the other hand have about fifteen percent sorbitol, part of what makes prunes so great at bulking up stools and helping to relieve constipation.

The third part of prunes that make them a great laxative food is dihydroxyphenyl isatin, which helps to stimulate the intestines and make them contract. It’s a process that is essential for moving stool along the intestines and out of the body. It is also important to know that you do not need to consume prunes all day to get these benefits; one daily serving, about five prunes, is all most people need to help stay regular.

Prunes are also a good food for boosting overall health. This is because prunes have a high amount of many different vitamins, minerals, and other healthy compounds. They are also a great source of concentrated energy because they lose water during the drying process, which means you get a lot of energy and nutrients in a small amount of fruit. Prunes contain antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber, iron, and vitamin A. They’re a great source of beta-carotene in particular, which is particularly beneficial for promoting strong vision and preventing macular degeneration and cataracts. Furthermore, prunes are high in potassium, an essential mineral for helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure level.

Plums are a very good source of vitamins B1, B2, B6, and C, phenolic compounds, and fiber. They are also good sources of neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid, which are two phenols that are very strong anti-cancer and antioxidant compounds. These compounds also help reduce the "bad" LDL cholesterol and therefore promote heart health.

When purchasing plums, they should yield to gentle pressure, especially at the opposite end of the stem. Good quality plums, when ripe, should have a distinct, sweet "plum" smell. While plums will ripen when left at room temperature, overly hard plums should be avoided because they will not ripen into their full natural flavor or texture. Also make sure to avoid plums that are mushy or have discoloration or skin damage.

Plum Pie ~ a Raw and Vegan Pie Recipe
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3 plums, sliced thinly
  • 3 tablespoons coconut butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut nectar
  • banana ice cream
  • blackberry puree
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