How It Heals
Don't wrinkle your nose at prunes. Much like the sweet fresh plums from which they originate, the dried fruits of the Prunus domestica tree are packed with antioxidants. "The phenolic antioxidants in prunes have been linked to brain and heart protection," says Cynthia Sass, RD, author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches. Increasingly called dried plums to help market them to young'uns, these chewy fruits are also a good source of vitamin K. A study published in Diabetes Care in 2010 reported that high intake of vitamin K may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. What's more, prunes provide impressive amounts of fiber, which has been shown to reduce risk of death from heart disease, and potassium, which is "critical for helping control blood pressure," notes Sass. And the rumors are true: a daily dose of prunes is highly effective at promoting regularity, according to a recently published University of Iowa study. "Regularity means a consistent removal of potentially harmful waste products from the body," Sass explains.
Eat It Up
Not just for snacking, prunes can be incorporated into a variety of sweet and savory dishes, such as yogurt, stuffing, bread pudding, braised cabbage, hearty stews, muffins, tagines, and tarts. Use prunes as a base for chutney, or whip up a quick dessert by poaching prunes in fruit juice, wine, or even green tea and serving with frozen or Greek yogurt. Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator, prunes will last for up to six months.
Substituting prune purée for some of the fat and refi ned sugar in baking shaves off calories while adding beneficial fiber and desirable sweetness. To make your own, soak 1 cup pitted prunes in water for two hours; drain, and purée in a food processor. Or add prune juice to smoothies, marinades, vinaigrettes, and glazes. To keep sugar intake in check, Sass recommends looking for brands made with 100 percent juice and diluting with water if you find the flavor overpowering.