Cranberries And Prunes: A Lesson In Continence
This past weekend I went to visit my father at the senior community -- or retirement home, if you will -- into which he moved several months ago. Over the course of my stay, we had breakfast together twice in the dining room. There was quite a selection of the usual breakfast foods for the residents, but I noticed that a big bowl of stewed prunes was one of the featured items -- and a very popular item at that. And prune juice had its place proudly beside the apple, tomato, and orange juices at the breakfast fountain. Everywhere I looked, the seniors were either having a bowl of prunes, putting prunes on top of their oatmeal (which was also a featured item at the buffet stations), or drinking their prune juice down in measured sips.
Then, at the table adjacent to my father and myself, I noticed an elderly gentlemen with two women seated beside him as his audience making quite a production of scattering dried cranberries over his oatmeal. It was almost as if he were conducting an episode of a cooking show on the Food Network. I'll paraphrase him as he harangued the women: "They say cranberries are good for the urinary tract, you know. I'm not sure if it's true, but I've been eating these for quite a while now, and I've been having no trouble."
The ladies, mesmerized as if watching David Copperfield make an entire dining room disappear, nodded their white heads slowly, smiling pleasantly. Meanwhile, an article for PoopReport began swirling around in my brain.
It's no secret that seniors are frequently preoccupied with regularity, continence, and other bodily functions. As we age, our systems may become stodgier, with peristalsis and muscle control becoming a dicey proposition. Some of this may be due to improper diet -- factors like not getting enough water or fiber in the daily intake. But I thought it would be interesting to examine the facts about prunes and cranberries as regards bowel and bladder health.
First, here's what Wikipedia says about cranberry juice in this regard. "There is potential benefit of cranberry juice consumption against bacterial infections of the urinary system. While much of the evidence is equivocal, hypotheses suggest that an effect occurs from a component of the juice (which) competitively inhibits bacterial attachment to the bladder and urethra, allowing the bacteria to be flushed out more easily ... cranberry juice components also show efficacy against formation of kidney stones."
All of which seems to indicate that the cranberry magician at the next table was well-informed and on the right (urinary) tract.
What about prunes? Are they all they're butt-trumpeted to be? They are, of course, dried plums, which themselves have a well-known laxative effect due to their high fiber content.
Here's some further input from Wikipedia. "Prune juice is richer in fiber than plum juice and is often marketed as a remedy for constipation, and it helps with kidney stones. There began in the United States in 2000 an effort to market prunes as dried plums to appeal to a younger market which associates prunes with elderly people."
(There is, in fact, a definition in the American Heritage Dictionary for prune as follows: "A stupid, ill-tempered person." Hardly a positive. No wonder they're rebranding.)
Perhaps the most intriguing item on Wikipedia to this reporter was the statement that "there is an urban myth that prune juice is an ingredient of Dr. Pepper". Dr. Pepper is the only soft drink I have ever liked or consumed with any regularity (an apt term there), but I have never experienced any unwanted rush, so to speak, from such consumption.
So there you have it. The nutritionists who plan meals for all those seniors know what they are doing, and the gentleman who made a vaudeville act of his cranberry sprinkling knew what he was talking about. Cranberries and prunes are, in fact, good medicine, both actual and preventative; and you don't have to be drawing Social Security checks to avail yourself of their benefits. It might be a good idea to include some version of them in your diet now to ensure that your golden years are also nicely yellowish-brown.