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Ask anyone to name the one food that is best for building strong bones and you will, of course, hear overwhelmingly that it is milk. But not so fast - when it comes to improving bone health in postmenopausal women — and people of all ages for that matter — one researcher says prunes are a superstar for preventing fractures and osteoporosis.
Bahram H. Arjmandi, a Florida State professor and chairman of the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences, tested 100 postmenopausal women over a 12-month period. One group of 55 women was instructed to consume 100 grams of dried plums (about 10 prunes) each day, while the second control group of 45 women was told to consume 100 grams of dried apples. All of the study's participants also received daily doses of calcium (500 milligrams) and vitamin D (400 international units).
The results of the study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that the women eating prunes had significantly higher bone mineral density in the ulna (one of two long bones in the forearm) and spine, compared to the dried apple group. Arjmandi attributes the effect in part to the ability of prunes to suppress the rate of bone resorption, or the breakdown of bone, which tends to exceed the rate of new bone growth as people age.
Arjmandi recommends eating up to 10 prunes a day. After years of comparing them to other fruits including figs, dates, strawberries and raisins, he says prunes are exceptional in their effect on bone mineral density. That's not a surprising statement considering that his research was funded in part by the California Dried Plum Board. But is it really true?
The real bone magic in prunes is their high concentration of polyphenols. These are powerful antioxidants that can help reduce bone loss. And prunes are a good source of boron and copper, two trace minerals important in the formation of bones.
But many other fruits are also rich in polyphenols including apples, blackberries, cantaloupe, cherries, grapes, pears, pomegranates, raspberries, and strawberries.
And some of them might be better than prunes for another reason. Prunes (along with cranberries and blueberries) are one of the few fruits that tend to shift your blood pH from alkaline to acid. When that happens too much and acid levels are too high, your system can leach calcium from your bones to bring itself back to a healthy acid/alkaline balance.
That's not to say that you shouldn't eat prunes, cranberries or blueberries. It's all about moderation and balance. Bone health requires a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as bone-building fish, meat and stocks.
So, yes, prunes are good for your bones. But keep in mind that just eating 10 prunes a day, even if you love them, is not a quick fix for building a strong skeleton.
For more about feeding your bones a healthy diet, research the hundreds of natural compounds that have been studied to support bone health, and read Dr. Annemarie Colbin's The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones: A Holistic Approach.