The Power and Benefits of Pomegranates
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The Power and Benefits of Pomegranates
When I think about pomegranates, I remember sitting at our holiday table decorated with winter squash, pomegranates, chestnuts and persimmons. But what stands out most in my memory were those dark red pomegranates symbolizing holiday cheer. Although not the easiest fruit to eat, as you cut open the outer shell, you will find as many as 600 seeds, called arils, that contain a multitude of antioxidants and nutrients. There is nothing more satisfying than opening up this luscious fruit, revealing an abundance of seeds that are juicy and somewhat messy. As a kid, I loved eating pomegranates. Many were the day during the fall and winter seasons that I went to school with red stained fingers because I just couldn’t get enough pomegranate seeds. Looking back, I’m sure my body was craving the many antioxidants and nutrients they contained.
Thought to be 3,000 years old, the pomegranate (Punica granatun) originates from Iran to the Himalayas, and was cultivated throughout the Mediterranean culture. Finally in 1769, Spanish settlers brought the pomegranate tree to California. The name “pomme garnete” means seeded apple, and is known by many in the Chinese culture as the Chinese apple. Many scholars actually believe that the pomegranate tempted Eve, NOT the apple!
In ancient times, pomegranates were considered by many to increase fertility and longevity. King Tut was buried with pomegranates with hopes of another life. And many paintings depicted both Jesus and Mary holding pomegranates. But why was this fruit so revered?
Chock-Full of Nutrients
1 cup of pomegranate seeds contains 7 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and half the RDA requirement for your daily dose of vitamin C. It is also packed with minerals such as copper, potassium, and manganese, and is a good source of folate and pantothenic acid (B5).
Strong Antioxidant Effects
Pomegranates are most recognized for their extraordinary antioxidant content. In a study that compared the top 10 polyphenol-rich fruit juices 1, pomegranate juice scored the highest of all. When compared with blueberries, acai and Concord grapes, pomegranates were approximately 20 percent higher in antioxidant activity. This is because they contain all 3 potent polyphenol antioxidants: tannins, anthocyanins and ellagic acid.
Antioxidants defend your body from free radicals that can cause widespread cellular damage both inside and outside the cell. If you don’t get enough antioxidants, you are vulnerable to oxidative stress caused by everyday exposure to a myriad of chemicals and pollutants. Because pomegranates are rich in polyphenols, they can reduce tissue inflammation anywhere in your body, and are especially relevant in the gastrointestinal tract.
The gut is not the only area of the body that benefits from the antioxidant qualities of the pomegranate. Polyphenols not only help to protect brain cells from the ravages of cellular damage resulting in Alzheimer’s: they may slow the progression of behavioral and cognitive decline present in this dreaded disease 2.
In addition, the pomegranate’s high flavonoid content can help enhance memory and improve short-term memory. Interestingly enough, one of the most common complaints after heart surgery is short-term memory loss. A study including post surgical heart patients showed that short-term memory loss was greatly reduced over a 6-week period with intake of pomegranates, while the placebo group suffered memory deficit 3.
Joints and Osteoarthritis
It goes without saying that inflammation is at the root cause of all diseases. When patients suffer from joint pain and/or osteoarthritis, it is very important to determine the root cause of these health complaints. However, it is also important to reduce inflammation for more immediate relief.
In a study published in the Israeli Medical Association Journal 4, pomegranate antioxidants lessened the destruction of joint cartilage that cause stiffness and pain in those diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Another study showed that these antioxidants actually blocked the production of an enzyme integral in destroying cartilage 5.
Baby Boomers Take Note
As we age, many are concerned about aging bones. We look to calcium, magnesium, strontium, boron and Vitamin D to keep our bones health and strong.
But an animal study published in the European Journal of Nutrition revealed that pomegranates could increase bone health by decreasing osteoclasts (cells that break down bone) and increase the production of osteoblasts (cells that form bone). Thus, pomegranate extract or juice may have a protective effect against bone loss in those with osteoporosis 6.
Granatin B and Punicalagin (polyphenol compounds), along with the above-mentioned tannins found in abundance in pomegranates, are important components that scavenge damaging free radicals, thus reducing risk of heart disease. We have all read about the serious consequences of atherosclerosis (deposits of fatty material plaque in the arterial walls). Unchecked, it can increase our risk for heart attacks and stroke.
In 2 controlled studies 7, 8, both mice and human patients drank pomegranate juice for one year and the clogging of plaque in their carotid arteries was reduced by 30 percent. In the group without the pomegranate juice, blockages increased by 9 percent. Regular intake of pomegranate juice can also improve arterial blood flow and lower systolic (top number) blood pressure. And because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it can also help to lower cholesterol.
Cancer Risk Reduced
We have established that the antioxidant content of the pomegranate has far reaching positive effects for overall health. However, noteworthy is the polyphenol’s ability to protect us from cancer cell growth and proliferation. The antioxidants contained in the arils (seeds) may stop the progression of cancer invasion, inhibit rapid cancer cell division, and may help support cancer cell death called apoptosis.
One study 9 showed the pomegranate’s polyphenol potential to block the reproduction of human breast cancer cells by increasing apoptosis. Men with prostate cancer increased the time it took for PSA levels to rise from 15 months to 54 months, all by drinking daily pomegranate juice 10.
Clearly, there is a multitude of contributing factors in a cancer diagnosis, but the antioxidants found in pomegranate juice may prove helpful.
How to De-seed the Pomegranate:
The process of de-seeding the pomegranate is easier than it looks. First, cut off the crown at the top and then cut the pomegranate into sections. For easier extraction of the seeds, submerge the sections in cold water and roll out the arils with your fingers (that will cut down on the red finger stains as well).
Although many of the studies talk about drinking pomegranate juice, I would suggest eating the seeds instead. The fiber content in the seeds will ensure that you are not overdoing the fructose (fruit sugar) content. You can eat the seeds alone as a tasty snack, or put them in salads or cooked dishes, or use as a garnish. The seeds can be crunched in your mouth to extract the juice (you can spit out the seeds), but I prefer to eat them whole. Tis the season to enjoy the many benefits of pomegranates. Enjoy this fruit to your good health.