The health benefits of plums include relief from indigestion, influenza infection, and anxiety-related problems. The antioxidant power of plums helps in treating ailments such as osteoporosis, macular degeneration, cancer, diabetes and obesity. It helps in maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol, cardiovascular health, cognitive health, immune system strength, cellular health, electrolyte balance, the nervous system and aids in skin care and blood clotting.
Plums are juicy and delicious fruits that belong to the genus Prunus of the Rosaceae family which also includes peaches, apricots, and nectarines. They exist in diverse colors and shapes with over 2000 different varieties. They are broadly divided into the following three groups: European-Asian (Prunus domestica), Japanese (Prunus salicina) and Damson (Prunus insititia). China is the leading harvester of plums, followed by the United States, Serbia, and Romania. Within the US, major production of plums happens in California. Along with the hand-picked, fresh variety, plums can also be dried or canned. These fruits are then referred to as prunes.
Plums are small deciduous trees which grow to a height of about 10-15 m and bears fruit with different characteristics based on the country of origin. They are drupes or stone fruit with a smooth pit and a crease running down on one side. It contains juicy pulp varying from creamy yellow to crimson red. The color of the outer skin may vary considerably from yellow or dark red to purple or black.
Nutritional Value of Plums
Plums contain an assortment of healthy components, vitamins and minerals. They are an excellent source of vitamins such as vitamin A, C (ascorbic acid), folate and vitamin K (phylloquinone). They are also a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B-6 and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol). The minerals present in plums include potassium, fluoride, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, calcium and zinc. They also supply dietary fiber and offer very low calories without any harmful fats.
Health Benefits of Plums
Plums are packed with an immense range of phenols and flavonoids, which offer an impressive range of health benefits.
Antioxidants: Plums contains vitamin C and phytonutrients such as lutein, cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These components possess effective antioxidant qualities which help in preventing the damage caused by oxygen radicals called superoxide anion radicals. The phenols present in plums also extend their protective effect on the essential fats in the neurons and cell membranes against any injuries caused by oxidative stress.
Obesity: Plum extracts are valuable for treating obesity and other complications associated with obesity. Studies have shown that consumption of stone fruits such as plums helps in fighting metabolic syndrome, due to the presence of bioactive compounds. The flavonoids and phenolic components such as anthocyanins, chlorogenic acids, quercetin, and catechins present in plums exert anti-obesity and anti-inflammatory effects on the different bodily cells, including the fat cells, and they also help in preventing obesity-related problems such as cholesterol disorders, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Diabetes: Plums exert anti-hyperglycemic effects and help in combating diabetes. Studies have shown that the consumption of plum extracts aids in the reduction of blood glucose and levels of triglyceride in the body. The flavonoids present in plums exert protective effects against insulin resistance and help to enhance insulin sensitivity in the body.
Osteoporosis: Consumption of dried plums exerts anabolic and anti-resorptive actions, which aid in maintaining healthy bones. Flavonoids such as caffeic acid and rutin that are both present in plums help in inhibiting the deterioration of bone tissues and prevent diseases such as osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Polyphenols, along with the potassium content present in dried plums, encourage the formation of bones, enhances bone density and prevents bone loss caused by ovarian hormone deficiency. Research has demonstrated that regular consumption of dried plums helps in the restoration of bone density that has already been lost due to aging.
Digestion: Plums are a good source of dietary fiber, along with the components sorbitol and isatin, which help in regulating the digestive system. According to research studies, dried plums or prunes are more effective in treating digestive disorders such as constipation as compared to other remedies such as psyllium husk. Sorbitol and isatin have a laxative effect and encourage the secretion of fluids in the bowels and promote the efficient flushing of waste through the colon.
Cognitive Health: Studies have shown that the flavonoids present in plum juice are effective in providing protection against age-related cognitive impairment. The beneficial phytonutrients present in plums help in reducing the inflammation in the neurological areas to improve learning and memory functions. Regular consumption of plums also helps in preventing age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Nervous System: Plums contain vitamin B-6, which helps in the transmission of nerve signals and aids in the smooth functioning of the nervous system. They also help in the normal growth of the brain and assist in the formation of mood influencing hormones. Tryptophan, an amino acid present in them, helps in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays an important role in the sleep, appetite and concentration.
Cardiovascular Health: The consumption of plums helps to maintain cardiovascular health. Research has provided supporting evidence regarding the fact that the regular intake of dried plums helps in promoting fluidity of blood in the arteries. This protective effect aids in the prevention of various cardiac disorders, including the development of atherosclerosis and the reduction in chances for heart attacks and strokes.
Immune System: Plums are beneficial in strengthening the immune defense of the body due to the presence of high vitamin C content. It promotes the body’s resistance against various infections and inflammations. Research has shown that oriental plums have immunostimulatory constituents that encourage the production of nitric oxide in the body, impede the metastasis of tumor cells, and are valuable in preventing various diseases.
Healthy Cholesterol Levels: Dried plums or prunes help in preventing hypercholesterolemia and hyperlipidemia. A comparative study has proven the efficacy of prunes over grape-juice in maintaining healthy levels of plasma and liver cholesterol. The fiber content present in plums also adds to the protective effect of the heart by reducing LDL cholesterol and helping to elevate the levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).
Cellular Health: Plums contains essential iron and copper which assists in the formation of red blood cells and facilitates blood purification and healthy circulation. The copper in plums acts as an antioxidant and is essential for nerve health and aids in the formation of collagen. Consumption of copper-rich plums also helps in the absorption of iron and prevents various diseases such as anemia and osteoarthritis.
Anxiety: Regular consumption of plums help in reducing anxiety. Studies have provided supporting evidence regarding the anxiolytic effects and antioxidant properties of chlorogenic acids present in plums, which help in curing anxiety-related behaviors and damage caused by oxidative stress.
Influenza: Japanese plums are effective against the infection caused by influenza A virus. Studies have shown that concentrated juice of Japanese plums contains lectin-like molecules which help in inhibiting and treating the infections caused by human influenza A virus.
Pregnancy: Plums and plum products are beneficial during pregnancy, due to the abundance of numerous vitamins and minerals. These beneficial components are vital for eye-sight, development of bones and tissues, and cellular health for the mother and the growing baby. The fiber content aids in preventing constipation and improves digestion. The inclusion of plums as a part of balanced diet helps in fighting various infections and maintains overall health. However, one should be careful regarding the choice of commercially available plum juices as they might contain high amounts of sugar.
Cancer: Plum extracts have been proven beneficial in the treatment of cancer. Studies have shown that the component epicatechin, present in plums, helps in inhibiting the growth and proliferation of malignant cancer cells and induces apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cancer. They are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, including chlorogenic acid and neo-chlorogenic acid which have a curative effect against breast cancer cells, without harming the normal healthy cells of the body.
Electrolyte Balance: Plums contain abundant quantities of potassium, which is an electrolyte and is required for the efficient functioning of cells and tissues of the body. Consuming potassium-rich plums helps in regulating muscle contractions and regulating the acid-base balance of the body.
Skin Care: Plums are rich in vitamin C, along with other antioxidants, which help to maintain healthy, radiant and youthful skin. The consumption of plums helps in reducing dark spots and wrinkles due to the presence of anti-aging nutrients. Plum extracts are used in various skin care products such as face wash and packs.
Macular Degeneration: Plums contains vitamin A and beta-carotene, which are beneficial in maintaining healthy eye sight and preventing age-related macular degeneration. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin present in them reside in the macular tissues of the retina and provide protection against the damage caused by UV radiation.
Blood Clotting: Plums and prunes contain vitamin K, which helps in normal clotting of the blood and promotes bone health. Deficiency of vitamin K in the body can result in excessive blood loss and other health concerns such as weak bones.
Culinary Usage: Plums are widely used in food items due to their sweet and tart flavor, as well as their pleasant aroma. They can be enjoyed fresh and can also be added to puddings, jams and jellies. Plum juice is used in the preparation of alcoholic beverages. Prune juice concentrate works deliciously well as a filling for candies and confectionery products, and as a binding agent for cereal bars. Plum chutney or dip is famous in Indian cuisine and is served along with stuffed Indian bread. It is also relished as a condiment along with the meat delicacies.
Other Uses of Plum Products
Plum Blossoms: Plum blossoms have been historically used in the treatment of loose teeth, mouth ulcers and sore gums. It is an effective ingredient in the manufacturing of mouthwashes and helps in curing bad breath and soothing sore throats.
How to Select and Store Plums?
Select plums with a slight whitish bloom, which indicates no over-handling. Avoid the soft ones with bruises. Ripe and ready to eat plums yield to slight pressure and have a sweet aroma. They can be stored in the refrigerator. Slightly firm plums can be kept in a paper bag at room temperature until they ripen. Prunes can be kept at room temperature for a few days.
Plums: A Word of Caution
Plums and plum products offer a variety of health benefits, barring a few exceptions which should be considered and taken care of while consuming plums.
Oxalates: Plums contain oxalates that can accumulate and crystallize, resulting in health concerns such as kidney or gall bladder complications. People who are already suffering from such conditions should avoid the usage of plums.
Sulfites: Dried plums or prunes are treated with sulfites to prevent them from oxidation of phenols in the prunes which can darken the fruit and turn it brown. People who have sensitivity towards sulfites should be careful regarding their intake of prunes, as they might trigger allergic reactions, including severe anaphylactic attacks.
Carcinoid Tumor: Carcinoid tumors elevate the levels of serotonin in the blood. They contain substantial amounts of serotonin. Consumption of plums before the diagnostic test for carcinoid tumors may result in a false-positive result.
Plums are also effective in curing irregular menstruation and helping to detoxifying the stomach. They contain calcium, which is valuable for maintaining dental health. According to Ayurvedic medicine, plums possess cooling properties which helps in pacifying excess heat in the body.
Add some plums to your diet and enjoy all the health benefits!