Prunes have an enviable reputation as a laxative and it now seems they may protect you from colon cancer, too.
Researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of North Carolina have found that consuming dried plums maintains a healthy balance of bacteria within the lower colon which is associated with a lower bowel cancer risk.
However, weight loss seemed to speed up in the prune group towards the end of the study.
Despite their unattractive brown, wrinkled appearance, prunes have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruit. Made by drying certain varieties of plum, of which the most popular is the d’Agen sugar plum, it takes around 3.5kg fresh plums to produce 1kg prunes.
As a result, prunes are a concentrated powerhouse of antioxidants originally present in the fresh plums. They are also an excellent source of soluble fibre, which fuels the growth of beneficial, probiotic bowel bacteria.
The latest research, presented at the September 2015 Experimental Biology conference in Boston, suggests that prunes boost the growth of one particular group of beneficial bacteria (Bacteroidetes) while, at the same time, suppressing the growth of another type (Firmicutes) associated with bowel inflammation. By promoting a healthier balance of bowel bacteria, eating prunes is associated with fewer precancerous cell changes in the colon linings.
Interestingly, the laxative action of prunes doesn’t come from its fiber, but from a substance called hydroxyphenyl isatin (once prescribed as a laxative drug) which stimulates secretion of fluid into the bowel and stimulates intestinal contraction. So, if you want the laxative action – drink prune juice or eat whole prunes; if you want the bowel cancer protection, stick to whole prunes.
Try soaking prunes overnight in green (or black) tea and serving them sprinkled with ground flax seeds, dried cranberries and a few shavings of dark chocolate. You can add some honey-flavored Greek yoghurt, too.
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