Pruning the Bowels
By Anna Sachse
And now, thanks to a special proclamation by Governor Schwarzenegger on November 20, 2008, January will forevermore be known as California Dried Plum Digestive Health Month. Huzzah! Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue?
Anyhow, in his proclamation, the Governor (i.e. someone on his staff, maybe a secretary or an intern) stated, “There are many health and economic benefits from dried plums, and I encourage Californians to incorporate them into their meals.” The nod to economics stems from the fact that approximately 99 percent of the U.S. supply and 60 percent of the world’s supply come from California. As to the health benefits, we’re talking soluble and insoluble fiber, potassium, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin K and boron (which are involved in bone metabolism) and polyphenols—antioxidants that may protect DNA, decrease inflammation and prevent cancer. In addition, as is made quite evident by the name of January’s newest honor, dried plums promote good digestive health.
That’s because they are prunes. To clarify, in order to make a prune, you dry a plum. Apparently the old-people-trying-to-stay-regular stigma that came to attach itself to prunes finally forced a name change. On the website, www.californiadriedplums.org, they actually say “You’ve come to the right place to learn about California Dried Plums as they’re called in the U.S. and Prunes, as they’re still known in the rest of the world” (italics are mine). I think this is weird. I never call prunes California dried plums. But in 2000, the FDA let the California Prune Board make it official.
Anyhow, I digress. Despite this marketing/branding/naming flim-flam, prunes really are very good for you. All that soluble fiber mixes with water in the stomach to become more viscous. This results in the stomach emptying more slowly, thus providing a feeling of satiety and aiding in the absorption of important nutrients. But part of the reason the prune people so desperately wanted to change the name is that people link the dark, wrinkly, pellet-like dried fruit with constipation—or, rather, relieving constipation. They’re right. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your poo and pulls water into the intestine resulting in a softer stool that is easier to eliminate. In addition, prunes contain a high concentration of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that not only has a mild laxative effect, it’s also a good medium for the production of desirable intestinal microorganisms (in other words, you’re more likely to have a healthy poo even when you’re not pigging out on prunes).
I’d also like to say at this point that I love dried plums. Sweet, earthy, luscious on the inside and just slightly chewy on the outside, they taste like organic raisins on steroids or little concentrated bites of an expensive ruby port. You can eat them as a snack (six to 10 is pretty good) or mix them into practically any recipe on earth. Try grilling them wrapped in bacon, adding them to oatmeal (thereby celebrating two of January’s honors in one), stirring them into a Moroccan couscous salad or cooking them down into an awesome sauce for roast duck or ribs. Or try saving a few calories by using dried plum purée as a fat substitute in chocolate cakes or as a moisture and taste enhancer in meat dishes like hamburgers or chili.
At approximately 20 calories a pop, you don’t have much to lose. Well, besides the contents of your bowels.