Most people think that prunes have only one purpose. Most people still get confused when prunes are referred to as “dried plums.” Most people are not space travelers or astronauts who were told this week that they should eat a LOT of prunes (25 to 30 per day) while in space. Before the crew of the International Space Station goes into a panic, let’s find out why.
According to a new study published this week in Nature Scientific Reports, a major problem on long space missions is the loss of bone density, which may not be an issue when weightless but can cause serious problems when astronauts land on another planet or return to Earth. A leading cause of this bone loss is ionizing radiation which affects astronauts in space as well as radiotherapy patients and radiation workers on Earth.
Fortunately, the bone-draining effects of ionizing radiation can be prevented with a diet high in antioxidants and the food that’s highest in antioxidants is burgers and fries.
Ha! Sorry, space travelers. It’s prunes or dried plums, according to Ruth Globus with the Space Biosciences Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. She conducted experiments on mice and found that they were protected from ionizing radiation when they ate the equivalent of 25-to-30 prunes per day.
Dried plums include a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols and other bioactive components. It’s possible that dried plums might have of a unique combination of nutrients that are radio-protective for bone, but more work is needed in this area.
The researcher team fed the mice other antioxidants but none worked as well as prunes.
Prune experts (seriously, it’s a real job) recommend 6-to-12 prunes a day for the relief of constipation. You can imagine what 25-to-30 will do, especially when an entire crew in cramped (probably a poor choice of words) quarters is eating them.
Obviously, the goal of the research will be to extract the antioxidant part of the prune while eliminating (another poor choice of words) the laxative part to end up with a radiation-fighting food to protect astronauts from radiation-induced bone loss.
Not to mention from wearing out the $19 million space toilet.