What is a pomegranate?
Originating in what is now Iran and the northern Himalayan region of India, pomegranates have been cultivated since ancient times along the Mediterranean coast. Based on extensive archaeological excavation, it is believed to be one of the oldest fruits in cultivation. Pomegranate trees are relatively small and can grow up to 8 meters and survive for 200 years, so its cultivation can be very profitable.
Pomegranates are almost as packed with lore and symbolism as they are with stellar nutrients. Throughout history, from the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Persians to the medieval rulers of Spain, pomegranates have played an important symbolic role. They were used as representations of the afterlife, fertility and strength, just to name a few.
When looking at the health benefits of pomegranates, it is easy to understand why they have held a near-mythological status throughout history. These little juicy seeds, distinguished by their crunchy texture and vibrant red juice, are packed with nutrients that research shows can help prevent or treat various disease risk factors.
Pomegranates are best known for being antioxidant powerhouses. It is one of the fruits with the highest number and variety of antioxidants. These are molecules that can help prevent cell damage. You may have heard about free radicals, which are harmful molecules able to cause damage to our cells or DNA - and lead to a variety of illnesses, including cancer. Antioxidants are the body’s weapon to kill these free radicals and protect the body from damage (check out our post on antioxidants to learn more about these important nutrients).
Why are pomegranates good for you?
Proven health benefits of pomegranate are:
- Fighting cancer: studies have shown that so-called punicalagins (a type of antioxidant in pomegranates) can reduce prostate cancer(1) (the leading cancer for men in the US) and help to inhibit or fight breast cancer(2) in women.
- Increasing the production of a molecule called nitric oxide(3) which can reduce inflammation, boost immunity and improve cardiac health. It also helps to fight bacterial infection and intracellular parasites including leishmania and malaria.
- Boosting cardiovascular health(4): a special type of fatty acids (punicic acid) found in pomegranate seeds are able to increase HDL (High-Density Lipoproteins) which play an important role in cardiovascular health. High HDL levels are strongly associated with decreasing accumulation of atherosclerosis (the number one cause of death and disability in the developed world - in atherosclerosis arteries get narrowed by a plaque and eventually blocked totally what leads to stroke or heart disease). These fatty acids of pomegranate seeds can furthermore decrease triglycerides (fatty acids) which also have been linked to atherosclerosis.
- Reducing arthritis and joint pain(5): another type of antioxidant present in pomegranate are flavonoids. Flavonoids are plant compounds that may reduce inflammation in the joints causing pain and stiffness.
- Reducing high blood pressure(6): pomegranates include polyphenols, another type of antioxidants, which is also present in red wine. Polyphenols have been reported to promote cardiovascular health, including healthy blood pressure levels.
- Improving memory health(7): the antioxidants in pomegranates have been shown to improve memory health and to delay the onset or slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Natural aphrodisiac(8): pomegranates have also been shown to increase testosterone levels (one of the sex hormones). Increased levels of testosterone lead to heightened moods and increased sexual desire. Studies on the impact of pomegranates on animals showed improved blood flow and improved erectile response.
How do you eat a pomegranate?
Pomegranate season is between September and February in the Northern Hemisphere. Ripe pomegranates make a metallic-like sound when tapped, and they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
For all of their nutritional wonders, pomegranates do have a bad side: they are notoriously messy to eat. Removing the seeds from the white, spongy membrane can be annoying. Plus, pomegranate juice is often used to dye hair and textiles, so it stains clothing and countertops easily.
To open a pomegranate, you will need a sharp knife and a soup plate.
Cut off about 2 cm (1/2 inch) of the top (crown) of the pomegranate, taking care not to cut off too far below the crown. The pomegranate has different sections you can distinguish from outside. Make a shallow cut in the pomegranate skin from the top to the base in each of these sections. Do not cut too deep into the pomegranate. Just below the outer skin is best. Repeat this process so that you have about five evenly spaced cuts. Open the pomegranate and turn it over the plate so the seeds will eventually fall down. Take a spoon and knock on the pomegranate unit all seeds have come out.
For the visual learners out there, here is a helpful YouTube video that shows how to eat pomegranates in as mess-free a manner as possible.
If that sounds too labor intensive, there are a variety of other ways to add pomegranates to your diet. Of course, we are fans of the powdered version of pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice is also very common on the market, just be careful to choose 100% pomegranate juice without added sugar. Pomegranate-infused oil is also easy to find in specialty grocery stores, as are fresh pre-shelled seeds.
Pomegranate nutrition facts
Pomegranate seeds have a very high nutrient density, which means it is packed with vitamins and minerals while being low caloric and low glycemic. They are loaded with fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C and potassium.
One serving (87 grams) of pomegranate seeds contains:
- 72 calories
- 16.3g carbohydrates
- 1.5g protein
- 1g fat
- 3.5g fiber
- 11.9g sugar
- 14.3mcg vitamin K (17.9% DV)
- 8.9mg vitamin C (14.8% DV)
- 33mcg folate (8.3% DV)
- 205mg potassium (5.9% DV)
- 0.07mg vitamin B6 (3.5% DV)
- 31mg phosphorus (3.1% DV)
Source: USDA Food Composition Database
Pomegranates are a red sweet and juicy fruit that offers a wide range of health benefits. They are full of antioxidants, which are important warriors in the body’s ongoing battle against diseases. Pomegranate has a high nutrient density with low calories and low sugar. Pomegranate seeds can be eaten on their own or added to delicious recipes.
Need ideas for adding more pomegranate power to your diet? Check out some of our pomegranate recipes.