Which is better, prunes or prune juice for constipation? And what are the health benefits of prune juice?
Both prunes and prune juice have been used for centuries to relieve constipation.
Prunes contain not just one but at least three different ingredients that work together to help keep your digestive system on track.
For starters, prunes, also called dried plums, are high in insoluble fiber, which is perhaps one of the reasons they help prevent constipation.
And because it's incredibly absorbent, insoluble fiber soaks up large amounts of water, making stools larger and easier to pass, decreasing transit time.
The insoluble fiber in prunes also provide food for "good" bacteria in the large intestine. When the good bacteria use this insoluble fiber, they produce butyric acid, which is a short-chain fatty acid that is the primary fuel for intestinal cells to maintain a healthy colon.
These bacteria also form other short-chain fatty acids, such as acetic and propionic acid, that are used as cellular fuel in the liver and muscles.
Prunes also contain soluble fiber, that helps lower cholesterol and with it the risk of heart disease. Prunes may also decrease the damage of cholesterol on the arteries through the action of phenolic compounds, such as neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids which act as antioxidants to "bad" LDL cholesterol.
Just 5 prunes contain almost 3 g. of fiber, or about 12% of your Daily Value (DV).
So just from the fiber point of view it would be better to have whole prunes than prune juice for constipation.
But countless people can attest to the effectiveness of prune juice for constipation. How come? What else can explain the laxative effects of prune juice for constipation apart from the fiber content?
Prunes contain a natural sugar called sorbitol. Like fiber, sorbitol soaks up water wherever it can find it, says Mary Ellen Camire, Ph.D., professor in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine in Orono.
Most fruits contain small amounts (usually less than 1%) of sorbitol. Prunes, however, are about 15% sorbitol, which explains why they're such a potent bulking agent and are often recommended for relieving constipation.
Another reason why people who have used prune juice for constipation may have had very good reasons to do so, is the discovery of another compound in prunes and prune juice that acts as a chemical laxative.
This compound, called dihydroxyphenyl isatin, reportedly stimulates contraction of the intestinal wall and increases secretion of fluid, making the stools softer.
So the use of prune juice for constipation has a lot of scientific backing.
Prunes and prune juice are also very rich in magnesium.
During a study, USDA researchers yanked magnesium out of prunes and the fruit's laxative properties dropped to almost zero.
But when they fed the purified prune magnesium alone to mice, not much happened either.
It seems that the famous prune chemical works only when it's in the prunes.
Dr. Sydney Marsi, who worked on the study, believes the magnesium is "chelated", or locked together, with other chemicals in prunes that potentiate the laxative effect.
But the benefits of prune juice as well as prunes don't stop at constipation.
As with most fruits, prunes contain generous amounts of a variety of vitamins, minerals and other healthful compounds. In fact, they're a concentrated source of energy because they lose water during the drying process.
One of the most healthful compounds in prunes is beta-carotene, which is a very powerful antioxidant, helping to neutralize harmful oxygen molecules in the body.
Prunes and prune juice also contain generous amounts of potassium, a mineral that's essential for keeping blood pressure down. Studies have shown that when potassium levels decline, even for a short time, blood pressure rises.
Only 5 prunes contain 313 mg. of potassium, which is about 9% of the DV.
In fact, when Harvard School of Public Health researchers tracked 41,000 nurses for 4 years, they found that those who ate the most prunes, apples, oranges and grapes had the lowest blood pressure levels.
Although prune juice has less fiber than the whole fruit, it's a more concentrated source of vitamins. For example, 5 whole prunes contain more than 1 mg. of vitamin C, while a 6-ounce (170 g.) glass of juice contains almost 8 mg.
But the whole fruit is much more powerful than fruit juice for constipation. If you want to keep regular, eating whole prunes is more recommended because of their high fiber content.
But, as you've seen, even drinking prune juice can be very effective in preventing constipation!
Apart from drinking prune juice for constipation, you can try these serving suggestions to include more prunes in your diet:
TRY MAKING THIS FABULOUS JAM
This jam is full of fiber and so easy to make. You'll need:
- 1 cup of prunes, cut up in pieces
- 1 cup of other dried fruits such as figs, apricots or dates also cut up in pieces
- 2 cups of boiling water
Put all ingredients in a saucepan and cook gently until the water is absorbed or about 15 minutes.
Pour in a jar while still hot and put the lid on tightly.
It can keep out of the fridge for a while or you can use it straightaway and make it as you run out of it, as dried fruits can be found all year round.
Eat a heaped tablespoon of it every day on a rice cake or wholemeal bread, it'll do wonders for your intestinal transit!
Having considered the benefits of prune juice for constipation now you may want to consider other foods that are also very good at solving the problem.
Best Foods for Constipation (Part 1) - Discussing apples, beans, berries, flaxseed and dried fruit.
Best Foods for Constipation (Part 2) - Discussing dark leafy greens, ginger, honey, rhubarb, squash and coffee.
1) Carper, J., (1988) The Food Pharmacy: Dramatic New Evidence That Food is Your Best Medicine, London: Simon & Schuster Pty Ltd.
2) Duke, J.A., Ph.D., (2008) The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods: Proven Natural Remedies to Treat and Prevent More Than 80 Common Health Concerns, New York; Rodale.
3) Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., (2005) The Encyclopaedia of Healing Foods London: Time Warner Inc.
4) Yeager, S., (2007) The Doctors Book of Food Remedies, New York: Rodale Inc.
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