Prunes: Are There Health Benefits?

Prunes are plums that have been dehydrated for preservation purposes. Sometimes called dried plums, prunes are deep red-brown with a chewy texture and a savory-sweet flavor. 

Unlike fresh plums, prunes can last in your pantry for about six months. When stored in the fridge in a sealed container, they remain edible for up to a year.

The many plum varieties originate from two main types: the Japanese plum and the European plum. Fresh Japanese plums are larger and juicier, ranging from yellow to medium red. Fresh European plums are smaller and denser with dark blue or purple-red colorations.

When brought to North America by settlers, both types of plums were used to cultivate the popular varieties we enjoy today. Research now supports the varied health benefits of eating these dried plums.

Nutrition Information

A serving of five prunes contains:

  • Calories: 114
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 30 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Sugar: 18 grams 

Prunes are a good source of: 

Prunes are also rich in potassium, a mineral that helps your muscles, nerves, and heart function properly. Eating four to five prunes gives you about 280 mg of potassium or around 12% of your daily recommended intake.

Potential Health Benefits of Prunes

Prunes and plums generally offer the same vitamins and minerals. However, many studies focus on dried plums when seeking to validate the positive effects of ingesting the fruit.

Here are some research-backed potential health benefits of eating prunes:

Gastrointestinal Health Improvement

Prunes are a good source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps keep your bowel movements regular, while soluble fiber helps to moderate digestion and absorb nutrients from your food. Dried plums also contain sorbitol and chlorogenic acid, which can increase stool frequency.

Eating a serving or two of prunes can help you maintain gastrointestinal health through promoting regular bowel movements.

Bone Health Support

The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of prunes may help prevent bone loss and aid in maintaining healthy bone density and formation, according to clinical studies. The higher amounts of vitamin K in prunes also help to improve bone health.

Antioxidant Protection

Prunes are rich in antioxidants, especially two caffeoylquinic acids — neochlorogenic acid (3-caffeoylquinic acid) and chlorogenic acid (5-caffeoylquinic acid). These may help to lower your blood glucose and LDL cholesterol levels (“bad cholesterol”), while protecting your cells from the damage that can lead to diseases.

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Potential Risks of Prunes

While the potential health benefits of eating prunes are encouraging, there are also risks. Consult your physician and consider the following before making dried plums a regular part of your diet:  

Increased Risk of Diarrhea

Eating too many prunes and other dried fruits, like raisins and figs, can lead to or worsen diarrhea due to their high fiber and sorbitol content. Both can have a laxative effect on the body.

Increased Risk of Gastrointestinal Distress

In some people, ingesting polyalcohol sugars such as sorbitol can also lead to intestinal bloating, gas, mild nausea, moderate to severe stomach cramps, or vomiting. Prunes have 14.7 grams of sorbitol per 100 grams, with as little as 5 grams of sorbitol potentially causing bloating. Consuming 20 grams or more of sorbitol could result in severe cramping.

Increased Exposure to Acrylamide

Acrylamide is a chemical that can develop naturally in foods when they’re heated at a high temperature. It forms from the interaction of sugars and a certain amino acid called asparagine. The chemical acrylamide, when ingested, can increase cancer risk. You can reduce exposure to acrylamide by reading labels carefully or choosing prunes dried at lower temperatures.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Ask USDA U.S. Department of Agriculture: “How long are dried fruits safe?”

Clinical Nutrition: “The effect of prunes on stool output, gut transit time and gastrointestinal microbiota: A randomised controlled trial.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Prunes, dried.”

Food Additives & Contaminants. Part A, Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure & Risk Assessment: “Formation of acrylamide at temperatures lower than 100°C: the case of prunes and a model study.”

International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: “Nutrition Strategies for Managing Diarrhea.”

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Chemical Composition and Potential Health Effects of Prunes: A Functional Food?”

Journal of Food Quality: “Polyphenolic Content and Antioxidant Capacity in Fruits of Plum (Prunus domestica L.) Cultivars “Valjevka” and “Mildora” as Influenced by Air Drying.”

Gastroenterology: Sorbitol Intolerance: An Unappreciated Cause of Functional Gastrointestinal Complaints.”

Nutrients: “Dried Plums, Prunes and Bone Health: A Comprehensive Review.”

Osteoporosis International: “The effect of two doses of dried plum on bone density and bone biomarkers in osteopenic postmenopausal women: a randomized, controlled trial.”

The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Plums and Prunes.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: “Plum.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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