Christmas is just around the corner and it’s a time when we turn to fruit cake, fruit and nut slices, nuts, dried fruit … which makes me think of prunes.
One of the loveliest of all dried fruits, prunes are one of my favourite snacks and ingredients. There’s something so appealing about their flavour, it’s one that teams with pork and lamb as well as homely compotes to serve with custard or creamy rice. And they’re the ideal snack when you crave something sweet but don’t want lollies or chocolate. And they are really dried plums, usually from D’Agen or Moyer varieties, and are one of the more nutritious dried fruits and deserve to be included in your meals.
Laxative reputation: Prunes have long had a reputation as a gentle laxative and digestive aid. Obviously they’re high in fibre – a serve of prunes gives you 4 grams of fibre, as much as from two slices of wholemeal bread.
However their laxative effect is not just due to their fibre. Prune juice, which has little fibre, is equally as effective. Nutritionists believe it’s due to a combination of three unusual prune components – high levels of sorbitol (a natural sweetener found also in pears and apples), dihydroxyphenyl isatin and chlorogenic acid. All three have an ability to stimulate intestinal movement.
Fibre can help keep hunger pangs at bay. Most of the fibre we eat isn’t absorbed, so it doesn’t contribute kilojoules/calories which is why high-fibre foods feature so prominently in weight loss diets. Plus, 6 prunes have just 400 kJ or 95 calories!
Photo courtesy Aus Prunes
Good for nutrition: A serve of 5 or 6 unpitted prunes (around 50 g or nearly 2 oz) makes a quick healthy nibble. They have virtually no fat and 22 g carbohydrate (of which 16 g are sugars which accounts for their natural sweetness). They have a low GI of 40 so they’ll stick with you for longer and help you manage your blood glucose levels. You also get a healthy dose of beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body, plus a number of minerals notably potassium and boron, plus a little iron.
Weight for weight, prunes have more potassium than bananas. Studies have shown potassium helps prevent hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke. Their high potassium content also protects the heart and kidneys from damage by too much salt. The average diet in countries like Australia, NZ, the UK and the US and Canada has too much sodium and not enough potassium.
Prunes score high for antioxidants too – at least equal to that of well known antioxidant-rich blueberries. Antioxidants help to slow the oxidative damage to our bodies and may slow the aging process
Seems I’m not the only person to love them. Last year, according to the Australian Prune Industry Association, Australians spent more than $30 million on prunes and consumed a staggering 3500 tonnes of them.
BBQ prunes with poached oysters
This recipe from Aus Prunes is the perfect finger food for a festive feast – you can whip them up in just 15 minutes. And if you are calorie counting at this time of year, 1 serving has 48 calories 200 kilojoules.
12 small fresh oysters
Juice ½ lemon
1½ cups chicken stock
12 large pitted prunes
6 slices prosciutto, fat trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
Drizzle the oysters lightly with lemon juice. Heat the chicken stock until simmering. Poach oysters gently for 1½–2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and cool. Place a poached oyster in the centre of each prune. Roll a slice of prosciutto around each prune and secure with a tooth pick. Spray lightly with oil and sprinkle with a few rosemary leaves. Place prepared prunes on hot BBQ with a few sprigs of rosemary and cook for 3–5 minutes.
Energy: 200 kJ/ 48 cals; Protein 4 g; Fat 1.5 g (includes 0.5 g saturated fat and 14 mg cholesterol); Carbs 4 g; Fibre 1 g
Catherine Saxelby is an accredited dietitian and nutritionist and runs the Foodwatch Nutrition Centre. For more information and delicious recipes the whole family will love, visit foodwatch.com.au.