Michelle Savage, student dietitian, Queen Margaret University.
[/author

 

Plums are well known from the nursery rhyme ‘Little Jack Horner’ and as the traditional Christmas desert – Plum Pudding. However, nowadays many Christmas puddings do not contain plums at all, despite the name. This is because back in the 17th century, plums were referred to as raisins and other dried fruits. Plums are one of the most popular fruits in the world. They are a delicious sweet and juicy fruit that belong to the genus Prunus of the Rosaceae family which also includes peach, nectarine and apricots. They are considered ‘Drupes’ as they contain a hard stone pit surrounding their seeds. The plum is the fruit of a plum tree which requires high moisture content for optimal growth 1. There are over 2000 known varieties of plums. The 5 main types are European, Japanese, American, Damson and ornamental, with the European plum being the most common.

Plums may be oval or round with an outer smooth edible layer of skin. Not all plums are plum coloured (purple) they may be yellow, green, red or blue. Dried European Plums are commonly known as prunes. Prunes are generally firmer and have a higher sugar content.

Plums are available all year round but the most common varieties eaten in the United Kingdom are in season during the Autumn months, August to October 2,3. It is recommended that we consume 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day and two plums contribute to one of your 5 a day4. Table 1 provides an overview of some of the important nutrients found in the recommended portion of plums and includes the recommended nutrient intake for each nutrient5 6.

Table 1: Nutritional Composition of an average portion of fresh raw plums and the recommended intake values for adults, adolescents and Children.

Nutrient Amount RNI of Nutrient
    Adults

(Over the age of 17)

Adolescents

(11-16years)

Children
(5-11 years) (2-5 years)
Energy (kcal) 28.8
Carbohydrate (g) 7 ­-
Protein (g) 0.48
Fat (g) 0.08
Fibre (NSP)* 1.28 30g 25g 20g 15g
 
Vitamin C (mg) 3.2 40 mg 35-40mg 30-35mg 30mg
Vitamin A (µg) retinol equivalent 50.4 600-700 µg 600-700 µg 400-500 µg 400 µg
 
Potassium (mg) 192 3500 mg 3100-3500mg 1100-31000 800-1100mg

*AOAC value unavailable (McCance and Widdowson’s)

Macronutrients

Plums are a low calorie fruit with only 28.8 calories per portion. They are also very low in fat. As they are sweet in flavor, they will definitely curb any cravings and it is far better to reach for two plums over a biscuit to avoid empty calories and fat! Plums are considered to be a low glycemic index food, meaning although they are sweet, they are not likely to cause spikes in blood sugar levels7. They contribute towards a healthy balanced diet and provide a range of micronutrients. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015) recommended 30g of fibre per day as there is strong evidence that increased intake of dietary fibre is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer8. A portion of plums contributes to approximately 4% of an adults recommended fibre intake.

Micronutrients

Plums contain a range of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Potassium, however this list is not exhaustive. Plums contain modest amounts of Vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid, and a portion contributes to approximately 8% of an adults daily requirements. Vitamin C has many roles in the body, it performs as an antioxidant by defending against free radicals and protects body tissues from oxidant stress. Protecting against free radicals is important as excess amounts can cause damage to DNA and cellular structure which contributes to the ageing process and the development of diseases such as heart disease and cancer 9. Vitamin C is important for the formation of collagen, which is the structural protein from which connective tissues such as scars, ligaments, tendons, and the foundations of bones and teeth are made9. Vitamin C is well known to many for its role in the prevention of scurvy, protecting the immune system and its ability to fight off infections10. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron from non heme sources11. It is a water soluble vitamin that can not be stored in the body and therefore is required daily. It also can easily be destroyed by exposure to oxygen, light and heat. However with a healthy balanced diet, reaching the recommended amount of Vitamin C is achievable.

Consumption of two plums contributes to approximately 7.2-8.4 % of an adults recommended intake for Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat soluble versatile vitamin that is mostly stored in the liver. It is required for the maintenance of normal vision through helping maintaining a clear cornea and it is involved in the conversion of light energy into nerve impulses in the retina which can relay visual information back to the brain. Vitamin A not only has a role in vision, it is also important in protein synthesis and cell differentiation which is important in ensuring the maintenance of healthy skin and lining of body parts. As well as that it also aids the body’s immune system in fighting infections12.

Potassium is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in the body. A portion of plums provides an adult with approximately 5% of their requirements. Potassium is necessary for the maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance, it assists nerves in sending signals to the brain, helps muscles contract and is involved in heart function13.

Uses

Plums can be bought fresh, frozen, dried (prunes) or canned and are all equally delicious and nutritious. When buying fresh, avoid brown or shriveled plums, look for unbruised smooth and firm plums. Once ripe, plums can be stored at room temperature for 3-5 days, they also taste their best and sweetest when eaten at room temperature. If cutting the plum, use a sharp knife to cut in half following the line of the dimple, then gently twist the two halves in opposite directions, pulling them apart and remove the stone. Not only can plums be eaten as a nutritious snack throughout the day but they also make a great desert served with other fruit or yoghurt. They can be poached, stewed, roasted and baked in pies and crumbles. Combine chopped plums with feta cheese to a simple salad for a unique taste. Plum sauce used in Chinese cuisine is a great accompaniment to duck. Experimenting with different methods of cooking plums can be exciting and adds variety which is important in the diet.

 

References

  1. Royal Horticultural Society (2017).Grow your own. Plums. [online] [viewed 20/03/2017]. Available from: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/grow-your-own/fruit/plums.
  2. Vegetarian Society (2017), Seasonal UK Grown Produce. [online] [viewed 29/03/2017] Available from: https://www.vegsoc.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=525
  3. BBC Good Food (2017).[online] [viewed 29/03/2017]. Available from: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/glossary/plum.
  4. Diet nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a joint FAO/WHO Expert consultation, Geneva. World Health organization. 2003. (Who Technical Report Series, No. 916).
  5. McCance, R.A., Widdowson, E.M., 2015. Royal Society of Chemistry. Information Services, Public Health England, Institute of Food Research & Great Britain. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,McCance and Widdowson’s the composition of foods, 7th summary edn, Royal Society of Chemistry
  6. Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom. (1991). 1st ed. Great Britain, Department of Health.
  7. Diabetes UK (2017). Glycaemic Index and Diabetes. [online] [viewed 27/03/2017]. Available from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Enjoy-food/Carbohydrates-and-diabetes/Glycaemic-index-and-diabetes/.
  8. SACN, 2015. Carbohydrates and Health, London: TSO and Blackwell.
  9. Ehrlich, S.D. (2013). Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid). [online] [Viewed 27/03/2017] Available: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-c-ascorbic-acid.
  10. CHAMBIAL, S., DWIVEDI, S., SHUKLA, K.K., JOHN, P.J., and SHARMA, P., 2013. Vitamin C in Disease prevention and cure: An overview. Indian Journal of clinical Biochemistry. October, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 314-328.
  11. HALLBERG, L., 1981. Bioavailability of dietary iron in man. Annual review of nutrition. 1, pp. 123-127.
  12. British Nutrition Foundation, 2017. Vitamins- Vitamin A page 3. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/vitamins.html?limit=1&start=2.
  13. British Nutrition Foundation, 2017. Minerals and Trace Elements- Potassium page 8. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/nutrients-food-and-ingredients/minerals-and-trace-elements.html?limit=1&start=7