What are plums and prunes good for?

The many boons of plums and prunes
Scientific name: Prunus domestica

Plums and Prunes Nutrition Facts

Two types of plums, the European and the Japanese variants, originate from two different countries. The former was first documented in the Caucasus, with Pompey the Great being known to have cultivated the trees as early as 65 B.C., while Japanese plums have been documented in China, with Lao Tse believed to have been born under the tree.1 Plums are a member of the rose family, Rosacea, and are related to peaches, apricots, nectarines and almonds.2

America’s early settlers are responsible for introducing European plums to the terrain, eventually replacing the wild plums native to the land.3 There are over 2,000 varieties of plums typically grown in temperate regions, such as China, Romania and the U.S.4

Varieties include the Santa Rosa, Satsuma, Bartlett and Maynard.5 Their smooth skin, which contains valuable antioxidants, comes in varying shades of yellow, white, green and red.6

Fruit-bearing plum trees typically grow white rose-shaped flowers in April. However, collectors are specifically interested in plum cultivars that grow double-flowered plums, such as the Canadian plum.7

As a stone fruit, plums can be assigned into three categories: clingstone, semi-clingstone and freestone. These divisions vary mainly on the separation of the flesh from the stone, or the pit. Clingstone plums have flesh that adheres to the stone, while freestone plums have flesh free from the stone.8

While prunes are usually described as dried plums, not all plums can be processed into prunes. Prunes are specifically produced with the Prunus domestica cultivar because its sugar content keeps it from fermenting during the drying process.9

While prunes and plums come from the same plant, their nutritional components largely differ. For example, one cup of sliced, raw plums contains only 76 calories, while the same amount of prunes contains a whopping 418. Fresh plums are high in sugar with 16 grams per serving, while the dried variety takes it over the top with 66 grams.10,11

Because of the high sugar content of prunes, it would be best that you consume this dried fruit in moderation. While it may offer many benefits, it may also open doors to numerous health problems when eaten in excess. If you’re trying to limit your fructose levels, some alternative fruits you can consume are blueberries, grapes, apples and pears, which were found to decrease the risk for Type 2 diabetes.12

Luther Burbank, a pioneer in agricultural science, tirelessly conducted cross-breeding experiments on plums to produce a tree with all the right attributes, such as "stability, novelty, variety, hardiness, beauty, shipping quality and adaptability.” It was his belief that a prune wouldn’t dry into a marketable fruit unless the plum contained a minimum sugar concentration of 15%.13

To choose a ripe plum, hold it in your hand and make sure it’s hefty. Its flesh should slightly give at the bottom end of the fruit. Harder plums can be softened by storing them in a brown paper bag at room temperature, but unfortunately, this will not increase its sweetness.14

Plums, apricots, apples, pears and peaches contain a chemical called amygdalin, which may be converted into glucose, benzaldehyde and cyanide.15,16 It’s a controversial substance used to make the patented drug Laetrile (Amigdalina B-17 or vitamin B17).17

Laetrile was first used in Russia in 1845 as a cancer treatment and was eventually adopted in the U.S. in the 1920s. While it was widely marketed as a cancer treatment, it showed little to no effect on cancer in animal studies and human clinical trials.18

Health benefits of plums and prunes

The significant amounts of flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants in plums, such as lutein and cryptoxanthin, may help fight aging and disease by combating free radicals and reactive oxygen species.19 Red blood cell-formulating iron, heart- and blood pressure-regulating potassium and fat- and carbohydrate-metabolizing B vitamins, such as niacin, B6 and pantothenic acid, are important components in both plums and prunes.

Vitamin A and zeaxanthin in plums are eye-protective, because they absorb into the retina and filter ultraviolet light.20 In addition, the vitamin C content of plums may help protect LDL from oxidation, which is especially beneficial for people at risk for atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries).21

Classified as phenols, neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid are two unique phytonutrients in plums and prunes, and have been the subject of numerous clinical trials in recent years.22 This is because of their antioxidant effectiveness, especially against one of the most damaging free radicals – superoxide anion radical.23

Both fresh and dried plums are known as a natural laxative, mainly due to the high sorbitol content they contain.24 The fiber in plums and prunes may also play an important role in feeding the good bacteria in your gut. In a 2018 animal study out of Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers found that dietary fiber treatment may help improve gut health by promoting microbiota changes.25

Plums nutrition facts

Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 46  
Total Fat 0 g  
Saturated Fat 0 g  
Cholesterol 0 mg  
Sodium 0 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 11.42 g  
Dietary Fiber 1.4 g  
Sugar 9.92 g  
Protein 0.70 g  
Vitamin A 345 IU Vitamin C 9.5 mg
Calcium 6 mg Iron 0.17 mg

Studies on plums and prunes

There have been numerous studies conducted regarding the potential health benefits of prunes and plums as separate food products. Because of their numerous active components, it’s no surprise that plums are linked to the preservation of numerous bodily systems. In a 2017 comprehensive review, researchers found 24 different studies that pointed to plums and prunes’ enhancing effect on bone formation and bone loss inhibition.26

A 2013 review also showed that the active compounds that plums and prunes contain may also increase satiety, which may help fight obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A 2002 study links Asian plum juice concentrate, or Bainiku-ekisu, to lowered risk of cardiovascular disease due to its effect on reactive oxygen species and human blood fluidity.27

In terms of brain health, the phenolics in plum juice was found to help slow down the cognitive decline that typically accompanies aging. In a 2009 animal study, rats were given plum juice and dried plum powder to determine which had a more pronounced effect. The plum juice-fed rats showed better working memory than the dried plum powder-fed group.28

Healthy plum recipe:
Ginger plum tart

Plums and Prunes Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups almond meal (purchase or
process your own)

5 tablespoons organic coconut oil

2 tablespoons raw honey

1 organic pasture-raised egg

¼ tsp. Himalayan salt

For the filling:

4 cups plums, pitted and sliced

5 tablespoons arrowroot powder

2/3 cups honey

¼ tsp. Himalayan salt

3 tablespoons grated ginger

Juice from half a lemon

1 tablesoon grass fed butter

 

Procedures:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Place crust ingredients into a medium mixing bowl, mix until moist, then transfer it to the tart pan. Using your hands, press it into an even layer over the bottom and sides.
  3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together the arrowroot powder, honey, sea salt, lemon, and ginger. Stir in the plums until just coated. Pour the fruit filling into the crust and arrange into a single layer. Dot the top of the fruit with the cold butter.
  4. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes until the crust is deeply golden. Check during the last ten minutes to make sure the top edges don’t burn. Cool completely before slicing.

(Adapted from SarcasticCooking.com)29

Plums and prunes fun facts

Luther Burbank conducted some incredibly inventive experiments with fruits, including the plum. An example is the “plumcot” – half plum and half apricot. He also produced the pluot, which was 75% plum and 25% apricot and the aprium, a 75% apricot and 25% plum mix.30

Summary

Their natural sweetness and versatility make plums one of the best fruits to have on hand all year round. Raw plums can be eaten fresh or dried, sliced and added to garden salads. Meanwhile, prunes — simply the dried version of plums — are a great snack by themselves, and can be added to breads, cookies or muffins.

Plums and prunes will not disappoint you, nutrition-wise. Loaded with free radical-scavenging antioxidants, vitamins A and C, zeaxanthin, potassium, fat and fiber, these two treats offer numerous health benefits such as helping maintain cardiovascular health, bone structure and digestive health.

Whether it’s fresh plums or dried prunes you crave, make sure you consume these in moderation, as they both contain high amounts of sugar.