Prunes & Digestion

by Sandi Busch

A bowl of prunes on a wooden table.

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When plum growers began marketing dried plums, or prunes, in single-serving packages, they made it easy to carry the fruit with you and enjoy it any time of the day. This is more beneficial than mere convenience. With 24 grams of carbohydrates and only 91 calories, four prunes deliver a boost of energy without blowing your diet. They’re also packed with fiber and nutrients that support your digestive system as well as your overall health.

Fiber for Digestive Health

Four prunes and 1 cup of prune juice each provide about 2.6 grams of fiber, or 10 percent of the daily value based on consuming 2,000 calories daily. Because insoluble fiber is not digested, it adds volume to digestive waste. It also binds with water as it travels through the large intestine, which adds moisture to stool. These actions work together to keep your bowel movements regular and to prevent gastrointestinal problems such as diverticulitis. Fiber's bulk also pushes against the intestinal wall, activating muscles that propel stool through the intestinal tract.

Sorbitol as a Laxative

Prunes contain a natural sugar, sorbitol, which is different from other simple sugars because it’s not fully digested. When it reaches the large intestine, it has an osmotic effect, so it pulls extra water into the intestine. As a result, stools become loose and are quickly eliminated. While fiber and sorbitol both prevent constipation, sorbitol is credited for prune's laxative effect, especially in prune juice, reports the Baylor College of Medicine. Prune juice contains about half the amount of sorbitol as the whole fruit.

Nutritional Support

You'll get 10 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A from eating four prunes. Vitamin A is essential for producing cells that form the gastrointestinal barrier. The barrier lines your digestive tract, where it helps protect you from disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, according to the June 2012 issue of "Neurogastroenterology and Motility." Prunes also have a smaller amount of B vitamins, such as thiamine, niacin and riboflavin. All three are used to convert food into energy. Riboflavin supports the lining of the digestive tract, reports MedlinePlus. One cup of prune juice contains more B vitamins than the dried fruit, but the juice barely contains a trace of vitamin A.

Digestive Side Effects

If you add too many prunes to your diet, the boost in fiber may be more than your body can handle. When that happens, you may experience gas, cramps and diarrhea. Increasing fiber slowly gives your body time to adjust and reduces the chance of side effects. As your fiber intake goes up, be sure to drink six to eight glasses of water daily. Sorbitol has the potential to cause gastrointestinal side effects other than diarrhea. As the sugar is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, enough gas is generated to cause discomfort.

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About the Author

Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.