Prunes support heart health in two ways: protecting arteries and reducing damage from oxidative stress, even in diets that are not considered healthy.
While fiber is commonly associated with lower cholesterol—and countless studies have looked at how high-fiber foods, such as oat bran, lower blood-cholesterol levels—there’s more to the story, specifically when it comes to soluble fiber.
In the 2003 Los Angeles Atherosclerosis study, researchers observed that consuming pectin, a soluble fiber, slowed the thickening of artery walls caused by plaque formation. Prunes, which are already well-known for being a high-fiber food, also happen to be rich in pectin.
Plus, prunes support heart health by reducing damage from oxidative stress, even in diets that are not considered healthy. In a 20-week study on rats prone to developing plaque build-up, the rats that were fed a high-cholesterol diet containing prune powder had their plaque lesions reduce even though their cholesterol stayed high. So prunes may slow the development of atherosclerosis even when the rest of the diet is unhealthy.
Plus, one small study on men with cholesterol concerns also found promising results. In this case, the subjects were divided into two groups: men who were given prunes to eat and men who were given grape juice to drink. The men in the study with mildly high cholesterol who ate prunes decreased their LDL cholesterol levels while the men who drank grape juice saw their LDL levels rise. (Though as noted before, this was a small study and more research is needed on the effects of prunes on cholesterol.)
These results go back to the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With prunes, it’s the combination of fiber as well as antioxidant phenolic compounds and other minerals that enables prunes to offer holistic health benefits, including cardiovascular health.
Wu, H., Dwyer, K., M., Fan, Z., Shircore, A. Fan, J., and Dwyer, J. H. (2003). Dietary fiber and progression of atherosclerosis: The Los Angeles Atherosclerosis Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 78: 1085-1091.
Tinker, L., Schneeman, B. O., Davis, P. A., Gallaher, D. D., and Waggoner, C. R. (1991). Consumption of prunes as a source of dietary fiber in men with mild hypercholesterolemia. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53: 1259-1265.
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