Stewed prunes have long endured a bad reputation as food for “old people” with bowel problems. In fact, the word “prune” is sometimes used in a negative connotation for referring to an older person. With so many bad feelings and thoughts associated with prunes, it’s no wonder the fruit is often shunned from our diets and is used only reluctantly to help treat constipation. However, prunes offer a number of benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Characteristics of Constipation
Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements or the production of very hard and dry waste matter. Constipation also makes it generally painful to have a bowel movement. Constipation can also lead to decreased appetite, stomach pain, and irritability. The excessive straining and pushing necessary to remove waste can also lead to hemorrhoids. In more severe cases of constipation, waste can become impacted and thus require surgery for removal from the digestive system.
Eating Prunes to Prevent Constipation
By following a diet including prunes, you can help prevent constipation from developing. But, should constipation occur, you can also use prunes to help get things moving again.
Stewed prunes are beneficial to the digestive system for many reasons. For starters, prunes, like most fruit, contain high levels of fiber. Fiber is great for the digestive system because it can’t actually be digested. As a result, fiber remains in the colon and absorbs ambient water into bowel movements to make them looser and easier to pass. Also, fiber adds bulk to waste for easier transportability.
You can derive fiber from just about any fruit, so what makes prunes so special? The main benefit of prunes versus other fruit is the fact they contain a mild colonic stimulant. Many chemical laxatives stimulate the colon as well but in a different way. These laxatives work by stimulating the muscles in the colon and small intestine, which in turn causes the organs to operate more quickly, sort of like injecting a racehorse with steroids.
Stimulant laxatives also increase the amount of water in your stool. This occurs because laxatives either cause more water to be secreted in the small intestine or because they reduce the amount of water absorbed by your colon. Therefore, stimulant laxatives ultimately cause dehydration from the diarrhea effect they promote to “clean” out your colon. This is one of the major benefits of stewed prunes – they utilize only a very mild stimulant effect. So, unless you consume an extremely large amount of prunes, you should not experience these negative effects.
Concerns About Using Stewed Prunes as a Laxative
As with any stimulant, abusing prunes for their laxative effect can cause constipation whenever you’re not eating them. Stimulant laxatives can cause damage to the colon as well. Since stewed prunes work in much the same manner, eating too many could theoretically lead to the same problems. Therefore, you should not regularly use prunes to stimulate bowel movements.
This is not to say it’s unsafe to eat prunes. In fact, they provide a number of vitamins and can help lower cholesterol. Therefore, it’s a good idea to save them a place on your menu. Just avoid eating prunes in excess (just as you wouldn’t eat 50 eggs to win a bet) and you should be alright.
Prunes also contain oxalates, which occur naturally in plants and animals. If oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. Therefore, if you are suffering from an untreated gallbladder or kidney problem, avoid eating large amounts of stewed prunes because the oxalates interfere with normal calcium absorption.
Further Suggestions for Proper Digestion
In addition to adding stewed prunes to your diet, try a few more dietary and lifestyle changes to assist proper digestion. First, drink plenty of water. You should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. This is particularly important when increasing your fiber intake, as fiber absorbs water from your digestive tract. Aside from prunes, you can increase fiber in your diet by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercising on a regular basis also aids digestion. So, take the stairs or try a new hobby and your bowels will thank you. So don’t be afraid to add a batch or two of stewed prunes or a glass of pure prune juice to your weekly meal plan!