Why Do Prunes Make You Poop?

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Elsewhere in the world, prunes occupy the head of the table. Here in America, they’re often the butt of jokes. The shiny, sweet dried fruits are both exploited and ridiculed for their laxative properties. But do they really make you poop?

Conventional wisdom and scores of older folks insist that eating prunes will hasten the excretory process. Meanwhile, the European Union says they won’t. In a 2010 ruling, the European Food Safety Authority decreed that it was dishonest to sell prunes as laxatives [PDF]. The ruling, which cited “insufficient evidence” of prunes’ poop-moving properties, was met with incredulity and derision.

One miffed Parliamentarian challenged the ruling. “Most of our constituents do not require a scientific test,” Sir Graham Watson said. Watson then challenged the commissioner of health and consumer policy to a prune-eating contest, inviting the man to “see for himself.”

There actually is a good amount of scientific evidence to prove the power of prunes. In a recent post on his Compound Chemistry blog, chemist Andy Brunning noted that studies in 2008 and 2011 concluded that prunes do indeed make effective laxatives.

Like many fruits, prunes are high in insoluble fiber, which adds bulk to food in the process of digestion while also helping it pass through the system faster. Prunes also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that's used to sweeten things like chewing gum. It appears naturally in prunes, though it's often used as an artificial sweetener in "sugar free" chewing gum. Sorbitol is a laxative, which is why you should be mindful of how much sugar-free gum you chew.

The sorbitol isn’t working alone, Compound Chemistry's Andy Brunning says. Prunes are naturally laced with neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids—the same chemicals that can help send you to the bathroom after finishing your morning coffee.

So yes, prunes can ease the passage of certain personal parcels. But they’re also delicious—a fact often overshadowed by their functionality. That’s why, in 2000, the prune lobby launched a massive rebranding effort. Hit up the dried-fruit section of your supermarket and you will likely find “dried plums" instead of prunes.

“Ninety percent of consumers told us that they'd be more likely to enjoy the fruit if it were called a dried plum instead of a prune,” the newly renamed California Dried Plum Board said in a press release titled “You Won’t Have Prunes to Kick Around Anymore.”

Under any name, "dried plums" still have the power to move you—no matter what the European Union says.

Watch a 'Pasta Granny' Prepare This Rare 'Duchess's Little Snails' Dish

Courtesy of Vicky Bennison
Courtesy of Vicky Bennison

By some estimates, Italy has over 350 different kinds of pasta—and that’s only counting the different shapes. You’ll find twisted strozzapreti (literally “priest stranglers”), shoe-shaped ravioli, “swaddled baby” ravioli, and ear-shaped orecchiette.

While some of these variations can be found all throughout Italy, others are prepared only in certain regions, mostly by elderly women who may not have taught these family recipes to the next generation. One of the rarest types of pasta is su filindeu (which translates to “God’s wool”), and only a few people in the world know how to make it.

Vicky Bennison, the creator of the Pasta Grannies website and YouTube channel, wants to change that. By documenting these women (and sometimes men) doing what they do best, she hopes to preserve these centuries-old recipes.

Take, for instance, Anna Faggi, whose signature lumachelle della duchessa (literally “the duchess’s little snails") can only be found in the Pesaro Urbino region of central Italy.

According to the Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita, legend has it that lumachelle was invented inside the royal court of the Duke of Urbino, a walled city in Italy’s Marche region. The duke’s kitchen servants carried the recipe beyond the palace, where it became popular among nuns in the region.

The dough contains cinnamon and nutmeg, and the preparation is rather time-consuming, making it a dish that’s only prepared for weddings and other special occasions.

After preparing and slicing the dough, Faggi wraps the strips around a bulrush reed to create tiny tubes. Next, she rolls the tubes over a comb to create ridges in the pasta. It’s served in chicken stock, and while it’s traditionally topped with chicken stomach, you can do what Faggi does and add Parmigiano cheese instead.

See how it’s made in the video below:

A Low-Carb Diet Could Shorten Your Lifespan

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iStock

The Atkins, Paleo, and Keto diets may have different gimmicks, but they all share a common message: Carbs are bad and meat is good. Yet a new analysis reported by New Scientist suggests that anyone who buys into this belief may later come to regret it. According to the paper, published in The Lancet Public Health, people who eat a moderate amount of carbs actually live longer than those who avoid them.

For their study, researchers analyzed data previously collected from 15,400 participants in the U.S. They found that people who received about 50 to 55 percent of their calories from carbohydrates had the longest lifespans, roughly four years longer than those who got 30 percent or less of their energy from carbs.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the key to a healthy diet is to stock your pantry with pasta and croissants. The study also showed that people who got up to 70 percent or more of their energy from carbs died one year earlier on average than subjects in the 50 to 55 percent group. A closer examination at the eating of habits of people who ate fewer carbs revealed another layer to the phenomenon: When people avoided carbohydrates in favor of meat, their chances of early death rose, but the opposite was true for people who replaced carb-heavy foods with plant-based fats and proteins, such as nuts, beans, and vegetables.

These numbers point to something dietitians have long been aware of: Eating a diet that's based around animal products isn't ideal. Getting more of your protein from plant-based sources, on the other hand, can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risks of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Nonetheless, fad diets that forbid people from eating carbs while letting them eat as much steak as they want are still popular because they're an easy way to lose weight in a short amount of time. But as the research shows, the short-term results are rarely worth the long-term effects on your health.

[h/t New Scientist]

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