Six is officially the new magic number when it comes to how many prunes a day provide bone-building benefit. The recently published clinical trial confirms the preliminary results I reported earlier — and makes getting enough prunes in our daily diet a real possibility!
Here is more about the study findings along with two great Thanksgiving side dish recipes that include prunes:
Clear findings: prunes are good for bones
Researchers ran a 6-month trial comprising 48 women in their late 60s/early 70s who were identified as having osteopenia, in which 16 participants ate 50 g, or roughly 6 prunes, 16 others ate 100 g, or 9-10 prunes, and the remaining 16 was a control group and ate dried apples instead. (Watch an interview I conducted with researcher Dr. Shirin Hooshmand while the study was ongoing.)
The researchers measured the participants’ bone mineral density in the hip, lumbar spine, and ulna (forearm) and examined specific bone health indicators in the blood at the start of the study and again 3 months and 6 months later. They also analyzed participants’ nutrient intake to account for all other potential factors affecting bone health, like vitamin D status, calcium intake, exercise, and overall nutrition.
In the apple-eating control group, BMD stayed unchanged or decreased. But in both groups of women who ate prunes, spine bone density increased, while forearm and hip BMD remained the same. Those who ate 100 g of prunes had a slightly greater increase in vertebral BMD than the 50-g group, but the difference between the two groups wasn’t significant — and in both groups (but not the control), a specific marker of bone resorption called tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP-5b) was significantly lower at both 3 months and 6 months into the study, indicating that eating either amount of prunes had a positive, long-lasting impact on bone turnover.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that the lower prune intake — 50 g or 6 prunes — was adequate for most women to get the benefits.
Two hearty prune recipes to be thankful for
If you’re losing bone and want a simple way to improve your bone health, the message here is quite simple: aim to include 2 prunes at each meal.
There are many interesting recipes out there that incorporate prunes alongside alkalizing vegetables. Here are two of my favorites — and both just happen to be perfect additions to your Thanksgiving menu. You can even share with your guests that besides being tasty, these side dishes are also helping them build stronger bones!
Shredded butternut squash with prunes and pistachios
1 medium butternut squash (1 ½ pounds)
2 medium shallots, finally chopped
1/3 cup shelled natural pistachios, coarsely chopped
3 large prunes, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp preferred cooking oil
2 tsp mint (finely shredded fresh or dried)
1 to 1 ½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
Peel and chop butternut squash (sized to fit in tube of food processor). Using the food processor shredding disc, shred squash (about 3 ½ cups). Heat cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add shallots and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add shredded squash, turn up the heat to medium high, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring, until the squash is tender, like a purée. Stir in the pistachios, prunes, mint, and lemon juice. Add salt and cayenne to taste. Serves 6.
– Recipe created by Sara Moulton, author, Home Cooking 101 via sunsweet.com.
Savory prune stuffing
2 tbsp olive oil
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into 1-inch pieces (4 cups)
1 1/4 cups chopped celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 ounces pitted prunes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sherry or vermouth (or warm water to avoid alcohol)
6 cups (1/2-inch) white bread cubes (soft Italian or French bread)
2 large eggs, beaten to blend
2 tsp crumbled dried sage
1 tsp chopped thyme
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Large pinch ground cloves
Large pinch grated nutmeg
1 cup (+/-) either beef, chicken or vegetable stock
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toast bread cubes at 350 degrees for 15 minutes (or just leave out uncovered overnight to dry). Soak prunes overnight (or at least 2 hours) in sherry (or vermouth). Sauté leeks and celery until softened (approx. 10 minutes). Add garlic, saute for 2 more minutes. Add apples and continue to cook until softened (approx. 10 more minutes). Add prunes and the soaking liquid to the mixture
In large bowl combine eggs, sage, thyme, parsley, cloves and nutmeg, whisk until evenly combined. Add egg mixture to the leek and prune mixture, gently combine with the toasted bread cubes. Use broth to moisten the mixture if needed. Place the stuffing mixture into a large baking dish and bake in oven for approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour at 350 degrees.
To make a heartier stuffing cook off ¾ pound of either ground pork or sweet Italian sausage (casings removed) and add it to the stuffing mixture before the final baking.
Roasted chestnuts also make a great addition to this recipe (whether you roast your own or use prepared ones). I would suggest using approximately 10 oz and either halve or quarter the nuts.
Substituting corn bread for the bread cubes will give an interesting texture and depth to this recipe.
Gluten free is easy enough with the substitution of gluten free bread cubes.
Hooshmand S, Kern M, Metti D, et al. The effect of two doses of dried plum on bone density and bone biomarkers in osteopenic postmenopausal women: a randomized, controlled trial. Osteoporos Int 2016;27:2271–2279.
Share these recipes with a friend!
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.