Prunes to Manage Bone Health – A Dietitian Review
We’re kicking off the New Year with a focus on bone health. One of the top trends of 2018 is a movement towards plant-based foods, and I have to say, I’m thrilled. I have many clients who are vegan or vegetarian and are often concerned about their bone health. As well, many of my clients with autoimmune conditions, especially celiac, are at risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. They’re looking to maximize their bone health, and want to look beyond calcium as a solution – because they know that calcium isn’t the ONLY nutrient we should be considering to build strong bones! I am so excited to be partnering with the California Plum Board to share with you some really exciting research on preventing, and even reversing bone loss with prunes!
Overview of Bone Health – The Basics
Our bones are primarily made up of calcium. Our bone mass builds up from the time we’re conceived until our early to mid 20’s, when we reach what is called ‘peak bone mass’ – where our bones are the strongest. It’s in our early to mid 30’s that our bone health begins to naturally deteriorate and the bones become more porous.
If the bones deteriorate too much, you can develop osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the weakening of your bones outside of a normal range, to a point at which your risk of fracture goes up. Fractures can be extremely debilitating as we age, affecting our quality of life, ability to stay mobile, and ultimately, whether are able to do the things we love well into our later years. Osteoporosis is a silent epidemic – we often don’t know our bone health has deteriorated until we are older, often after a fracture. Prevention is the best medicine – looking to what we can do to manage bone health in our younger years.
When we think of bone health, our mind often immediately goes to calcium. We require 1000-1200 mg of calcium a day to maintain bone health – typically found in foods like dairy products, fortified dairy alternatives, cooked leafy greens, fish with soft bones, pulses, nuts & seeds, and some soy products.
To best absorb calcium, making sure you have adequate intake of vitamin D is important. While milk and milk alternates are often sources of vitamin D, in Canada we often don’t get enough – so supplementation with 1000 IU is required.
What about other nutrients for bone health?
I often get asked about other nutrients important to bone health. Adequate calcium and vitamin D are important, but research shows that we also other nutrients to contribute to strong bones!
Most North Americans do not consume enough potassium. Potassium is found in our fruits and vegetables. California prunes are a great source of potassium with 1 serving (5-6 prunes) containing almost 300 mg. Adequate potassium helps to ensure we don’t lose too much calcium through regular body metabolism and elimination of waste through urine.
Magnesium is a key nutrient in regard to building strong healthy bones. Magnesium not only helps with calcium absorption, but it also plays a role in hormonal pathways that influence bone metabolism (as is boron – another micronutrient found in California prunes!).
Vitamin K plays a role in actually improving bone mineral density in those with osteoporosis, and reduces fracture risk. Sources of vitamin K include leafy greens, and you guessed it, California prunes!
While bone turnover (bones breaking down and building back up) is normal, copper helps to prevent bone from breaking down too fast, especially as we age.
Other nutrients that are key in bone health include phosphorous, vitamins A, C, and many B vitamins, as well as minerals like iron and zinc.
You might be asking yourself – ok great – but how do I get ALL these things in? At Ignite, we are strong believers that variety, and making sure you have a diet chock-full of fruit and veg is key.
Particularly, one fruit has caught our eye with all the new and exciting research that has come out around its role in bone health: California prunes!
Prunes to manage bone health?
Prunes AREN’T just for managing constipation any more, they’re TRULY the whole package! Research has begun to show that prunes can help with a variety of different health conditions because they’re jam-packed with so many important vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols.
Eating just one daily serving of 5-6 prunes supports bone health by slowing bone loss. A recent study showed that eating two servings of prunes (10-12 prunes) every day for a year even reversed bone loss in post-menopausal women.
Usually when we talk about bone health – we’re trying to figure out ways to reduce the loss of bone – so the fact that prunes were able to REVERSE some of that bone loss is HUGE. Talk about a super food! While we don’t understand the exact mechanism in which this occurs, it’s very likely a synergistic effect of the prune’s great source of bone health nutrients including magnesium, potassium, boron, vitamin K, and copper alongside some powerful polyphenols.
We know that supplementation alone of these nutrients don’t often infer the same health benefits as when we eat foods in their whole form – which is why I always say, I’m a ‘food first’ dietitian. Including prunes in your day is a nutritious and delicious way to take care of your bone health!
How to include prunes in your diet
I personally, am a purist when it comes to snacking on prunes. I like to keep some in my desk for a quick snack in between clients or in my purse when I’m out running errands. They’re full of fibre (3 grams in just 5-6 prunes) and are a great way to get an energy boost – as they’re naturally sweet and only contain naturally occurring sugars – not all dried fruits have that claim to fame – many are sweetened with fruit juices or sugar!
Of note for my low FODMAP clients: prunes naturally high in fructose – so for my IBS’ers – save them until after you’ve completed reintroduction to see how you do. California prunes can be a helpful tool in managing constipation as well, which is what you may typically think of when you think of prunes.
Let me tell you – these aren’t your grandmas prunes – their sweet and chewy consistency makes for the perfect snack!
Some of my favourite ways to use prunes include:
- Using prunes for a bit of sweet & fibre when I make energy balls (recipe below)
- Garnishing my salads with chopped prunes
- Using them as a topping for #ToastTuesday! (have you tried ricotta and prunes on your toast yet? You SHOULD!)
- 2 cups dried pitted prunes
- 1 cup quick oats
- ¾ cup nut butter (I used almond)
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor
- Blend until all ingredients are an even consistency
- Shape into 1" balls
- Keep in an air tight container in fridge for up to 1 week
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post through the California Dried Plum Board. I received financial compensation from the California Dried Plum Board to talk about the new research around plums/prunes and bone health. While the information conveyed may support clients’ objectives, the opinions expressed are my own and based on current scientific evidence. I do not engage in business with companies whose products or services do not match my personal and professional beliefs.