Health Benefits of Plums
A plum is a sweet tasting juicy fruit that is available during the warm months of summer. It comes in a variety of colors and flavors and can also be preserved by drying and pickling. Dried prunes are nothing but dehydrated plums. Some European varieties of the fruit are also available during the fall season.
Both plums and prunes have several health benefits and are well known for their high content of phytonutrients that act as antioxidants in the body. Most of the health benefits of plum stem from the two ingredients known as neocholorogenic acid and chlorogenic acid. Also, widely known as phenols, the health benefits of these nutrients are widely documented through years of study and research.
- Antioxidant protection: Perhaps the most well-known benefit of this fruit is its ability to neutralize disease-causing oxygen radicals in the body. These radicals are carcinogenic and can cause a lot of cell destruction and damage to the internal organs. The nutrients present in plums can destroy these oxygen radicals, therefore preventing them from causing any envisaged harm. The particular nutrients present in plums can neutralize the superoxide anion radicals, which can damage fats and neurons in the brain.
- Improved iron absorption: Apart from the antioxidant properties of plum, another great benefit of this fruit is its high vitamin C content. While vitamin C itself is a very vital nutrient and a known antioxidant, it also enhances the body’s ability to absorb bioavailable iron from the foods that we consume. In addition to this, vitamin C also helps improve the body’s natural ability to fight disease and infection. Children, pregnant women, and those who are recovering from long-term illnesses can especially benefit from the extra dose of vitamin C.
- Controlling cholesterol: Another one of plum fruit benefits is that the high amount of vitamin C in the fruit can also prevent oxidized cholesterol from building up in arteries and hardening them. Therefore, plum can be effective in preventing diseases like hardened arteries or arthrosclerosis. Vitamin C can also help prevent other diseases such as asthma, osteoarthritis, colon cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Prevent macular degeneration: Macular degeneration is an age-related condition that affects the eyes. As the delicate tissues of the eyes degenerate due to old age, a person may have compromised sight, or may eventually even become blind. Research has shown that those who consume about three servings of plums regularly are able to prevent macular degeneration. The incidence of this disease in plum-eating populations has been reported as 36% lower than the general population.
- Plums are rich in nutrients: Apart from the many medicinal benefits that plums provide, they are also a rich source of vitamin A. They contain readily available beta carotene, which has its own health benefits, and are also rich in potassium and dietary fiber.
There are several different types of plums available commercially, and most of them come with their own medicinal uses. Most of these medicinal uses have been practiced traditionally by various native tribes.
Wild plum (green plum) and red plum, for instance, have been extensively used by Native American tribes. The blossoms of red and black plum were used as an indicator of the season for planting corn, squash, and beans. The Dakota tribes have used plums as their game pieces for various types of entertainment. But the real medicinal use has been from the bark of the plum tree. These barks are ground and used as cough medicine. The bark is also used to brew a tea that can be useful for warding off bladder and kidney infections. The flesh of wild plum is also used as an antiseptic wash for wounds, cuts and scrapes.
In South America, dried plum leaves are boiled and the extract is eaten to cure diabetes. In the more modern countries, plums juice may be used for the same purpose. In South Asia, the paste and curd of the plum bark are consumed to prevent and treat dysentery. As in South America, Asians also use the bark of plum tree to prepare a tea considered healthy for those suffering from diabetes. In India, the decoction of dried plum bark may be applied topically to soothe and treat venereal ulcers. Indians also consume the leaves of plum to treat leucorrhea. Dried plums are used to reduce fever and are considered antipyretic, while the dried seeds are used to create a decoction for treatment of diarrhea.
In other parts of the world, Japanese and Spanish plums are consumed to treat various gastrointestinal complaints and diabetes. A recent research from the Florida State University has reported that consumption of plums can help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis in menopausal women. In addition, a variety of plum known as Java plum may be used to treat diabetes and reduce the presence of glucose in urine.
While there is no doubt that plums are a nutrient-rich fruit with a lot of health and medicinal benefits, there are some side effects of eating large amounts of plums as well. Plums are among the foods that contain significant amounts of naturally occurring oxalates, which may cause kidney stones. When you consume too many plums, the oxalate levels may become concentrated. These interfere with the absorption of calcium in the body and as a result calcium begins to precipitate in the kidneys. Ultimately, this may cause formation of small or even large stones in the kidneys and the bladder.
This risk of developing these kidney stones is higher among those who do not have a very healthy digestive system and those who do not chew their foods well. Ordinarily, physicians would not discourage you from consuming plums, but if you have a predisposition of developing kidney stones, or if this is a hereditary problem in your family, it is best to avoid consuming plums in large quantities. You may still be able to consume them and enjoy them in smaller quantities during the summer months when they are available.