What Are the Health Benefits of Prune Juice?
When most of us think of prune juice, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s the beverage of choice for grandparents, right? I know when I was a kid, my gran would force me to drink it as a constipation remedy. That alone made it the least “cool” drink possible in my young, immature mind!
Now that I’m older, I wanted to give gran’s favourite drink a second chance, and I think you should too! Prune juice benefits much more than just your digestive system. Read on to learn about the many reasons to drink prune juice and some tasty recipes too.
What is Prune Juice?
Let’s start at the beginning, what is a prune, and what is prune juice? A prune is a dried plum, of any variety. The most commonly used plum for prune juice is the European variety, or “prunus domestica” (source).
All plums and therefore prunes have a hard pit surrounding their seeds. Manufacturers often remove this to make them easier to eat. Their flavour is intensely sweet and they have a sticky, chewy texture. (source)
The idea of drying plums is believed to have originated thousands of years ago between the Middle East. It spread throughout Europe and finally the world. Today, California claims the top spot for prune production.
Many prune manufacturers have started marketing their products as “dried plums” rather than plums lately to avoid the stigma linked with the latter. Some people even associate the wrinkles of a prune with the wrinkles of old age! What an unfortunate fruit.
To make prune juice, the prune is pulverized and dissolved in hot water (source). Then they are strained to remove pits, skin and seeds. Check out this video for a more in-depth look at the process.
Prune Juice Controversy
Prunes contain a small amount of a substance called “acrylamide”. Acrylamide is a known neurotoxin and likely carcinogen - i.e. it’s thought to cause cancer. It also has negative effects on fertility. This compound doesn’t occur naturally in foods, however it forms during cooking at temperatures above 100 °C.
Prunes aren’t usually dried at temperatures this high, yet high amounts of acrylamide have been reported in prunes. It follows that acrylamide would also be present in prune juice.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization states that the amount of acrylamide needed to observe neurotoxic and fertility effects was more than 500 times the usual intake. However, they couldn’t confirm that it was safe from a carcinogenic point of view. (source)
Personally, it’s my understanding that we encounter hundreds of different carcinogenic sources every day. It’s the nature of modern living. From junk foods to chemicals in skin care products and environmental pollutants - it’s impossible to eliminate them completely.
So, I am happy to consume prunes and prune juice in moderation, in order to receive the health benefits. It’s up to you to make your own decision on what you put into your body.
Top 7 Prune Juice Benefits for Health
Now that we know the basics when it comes to prunes and prune juice, let’s look a little deeper into prune juice benefits for health.
1. Relieves Constipation
We’re all familiar with prune juice’s powers as a laxative. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, prunes have a high fiber content. More than half of this is so-called “soluble fiber” such as pectin, hemicellulose, cellulose and lignins. Soluble fiber increases stool size, triggering increased bowel movement. Drying plums actually increases their fiber content. (source)
Fiber doesn’t work alone, otherwise prunes wouldn’t be any better than other fruit and veggies. Prunes also contain a type of sugar called “sorbitol” which acts as a laxative in its own right. Sorbitol isn’t absorbed by your body at all - it stays in your bowl and sucks water into your stool. This leads to a softer consistency and more frequent bowel movements.
A Korean study entitled “Effect of Prune Supplementation on Dietary Fiber Intake and Constipation Relief” measured just that. It was found that participants suffering with constipation had an increased number of bowel movements per week when they consumed prunes and prune juice daily.
There was also a decrease in time needed for a bowel movement, softer stool consistency and less discomfort during bowel movements.
Even if you’re not suffering from constipation, it’s a good idea to drink prune juice regularly. Softer and more frequent bowel movements are good for your digestive system. In fact, it decreases your risk of developing colon cancer and hemorrhoids. For me, this fact alone is worth it, as colon cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. (source)
Check our 10 safe and effective cures for constipation here
2. Good Source of Iron & Increases Iron Absorption
Prune juice contains a significant amount of iron. Iron is an essential mineral for development of red blood cells and subsequent transportation of oxygen around your body.
Prune juice is an especially good option for preventing anaemia in vegetarians and vegans. Anaemia is just another word for iron deficiency. All iron of plant origin is what we call “nonheme type”. Nonheme iron needs vitamin C to be absorbed by your body. And, guess what? Prune juice contains a large amount of vitamin C too. (source)
Plums and prunes increase your overall ability to absorb iron - even from other foods. In addition, vitamin C helps strengthen your immune system and may reduce the length of a cold or flu infection when you catch it. (source)
3. Feeds Your Good Bacteria
Prune’s insoluble fiber acts as food for the “friendly” bacteria in your gut. These bacteria also known as “gut flora” are vital for intestinal health (source)
The “good” bacteria ferment insoluble fiber to produce a substance called “butyric acid” which is a fuel for your intestinal cells. They also produce fuel for your liver and muscles.
Another benefit of keeping your gut flora healthy and plentiful is that they crowd out disease-causing bacteria. This means that there are literally so many good bacteria in your intestine that there’s no space for nasty ones to get in. In a practical sense - this means you’ll be less prone to catching tummy bugs such as food poisoning. (source)
Most of the insoluble fiber has been removed from commercially available prune juice, and the same goes for prune juice made with a home juicer.
The best way to feed your gut flora is either to make your own prune juice by simply dissolving the prunes in hot water and then diluting it with more water and refrigerating or by adding the pulp left by your juicer back into the juice. You can also eat the prunes whole if you like.
4. Helps Fight “Bad” Cholesterol & Heart Disease
Prunes and prune juice are high in antioxidant compounds - six times more so than their fresh counterparts, the plum. These antioxidants protect against heart disease by stopping oxidation of LDL (so-called “bad”) cholesterol. (source)
Another substance present in prunes called “propionic acid”, inhibits HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme involved making cholesterol in the liver. Lower cholesterol production means lower blood cholesterol levels.
Finally, soluble fiber in prunes increases cholesterol binding to bile acids. Once the cholesterol gets stuck to bile, it’s removed from your body via the feces. (source)
Studies have proven this effect in humans and rats. The science speaks for itself. If you have have high cholesterol or want to prevent this condition developing in the future, a glass of prune juice a day may just keep the doctor away.
5. Balances Blood Sugar
Unlike many other sweet treats, eating prunes doesn’t cause a drastic rise in blood sugar. This makes prune juice a decent option for diabetics - in moderation. The reason behind this is thought to be the high fiber, fructose, and sorbitol content. (source)
The soluble fiber in prunes also slows sugar absorption from other foods. It does this by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach following a meal. Soluble fiber also increases insulin sensitivity - there’s a possibility that this can play a role in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. (source)
6. May Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
You may be thinking, didn’t I just say that prunes contain a compound that causes cancer? Yes, we discussed acrylamide above but there are also some compounds that may prevent cancer. Let’s look at the evidence.
One study took an extract from prune juice and tested it on human colon cancer cells. It was found to suppress growth of and trigger death of the cancer cells. The exact mechanism is not yet understood, and cell studies often don’t carry results through to full human scale so watch this space.
Another study looked at a substance called “protocatechuic acid” in prunes and other fruits. It’s thought that protocatechuic acid can prevent malignancy in different tissues. It’s believed to work via antioxidant activity including scavenging of free radicals. Again, more research is needed in this area to reach a solid conclusion.
7. May Help Prevent Osteoporosis
Prune juice is a great choice for strong bones and prevention of osteoporosis. It contains a high concentration of two minerals - selenium and boron - both of which are known to preserve bone mineral density.
A study in rats found that inclusion of prunes in diet reversed bone loss. It’s theorised that antioxidant compounds in prunes increase the activity of bone-building cells, as well as decreasing inflammation. (source)
How Much Prune Juice Should I Drink?
An 8-ounce glass of prune juice (approximately 1 cup) contains around 182 calories. This 1 cup portion also packs 1.56g of protein, almost no fat and 45g of carbohydrates. Of these carbohydrates, 2.6g are fiber and 42g are natural sugars (source).
Drinking more than 1 cup per day will likely increase your calorie intake too much. Anyway, variety is the spice of life and the key to a healthy, balanced diet, so you shouldn’t limit yourself to drinking only prune juice.
Final Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Prune Juice
I really believe it’s worth giving prune juice a second chance. It’s really been a victim of poor marketing in past decades and it doesn’t deserve its bad rep. It tastes delicious and you have learned that prune juice benefits are wide-ranging, including:
- Constipation relief
- Iron source
- Boosts gut flora
- Lowers cholesterol
- Balances blood sugar
- Reduces cancer risk
- Increases bone strength
So, go on, give it a try. Let me know if you have a favourite recipe using prune juice, or if you’ve used it to cure any other ailments naturally. I’d love to hear about your experiences!