Pomegranates are called a “superfruit” because of all the antioxidants they contain. The pomegranate, or Punica granatum, is a shrub that is categorized as a berry. The pomegranate fruit is about 2–5 inches in diameter. It looks kind of like an apple. Pomegranates have glossy leaves, leathery red skin and a floral crown (or calyx) at the top. The flavor and juiciness improves after several months of cool, preferably dark storage.
The inside of the fruit is filled with ruby-red arils, or seed sacs (600 of them on average) separated by thin, bitter and white membranes. The skin of the pomegranate is thick and inedible.
Pomegranates have an impressive nutrient profile. One cup of arils contains:
- Fiber: 7 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
- Vitamin C: 30% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 36% of the RDI
- Folate: 16% of the RDI
- Potassium: 12% of the RDI
The pomegranate arils are also very sweet, with one cup containing 24 grams of sugar and 144 calories.
Pomegranates contain punicalagins and punicic acid, unique substances that are responsible for most of their health benefits. Punicalagins are extremely potent antioxidants found in pomegranate juice and peel.
They’re so powerful that pomegranate juice has been found to have three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea.
Pomegranate extract and powder is typically made from the peel, due to its high antioxidant and punicalagin content.
Punicic acid, found in pomegranate seed oil, is the main fatty acid in the arils. It’s a type of conjugated linoleic acid with potent biological effects.
Test-tube studies have shown that pomegranates can reduce inflammatory activity in the digestive tract, as well as in breast cancer and colon cancer cells. Regular intake of pomegranate juice has been shown to lower blood pressure levels in as little as two weeks.
One 12-week study in people with diabetes found that 1.1 cups of pomegranate juice per day lowered the inflammatory markers CRP and interleukin-6 by 32% and 30%, respectively.
One study conducted on pomegranates proposed that its juice may help inhibit cell proliferation, invasion and promote apoptosis (cell death) in various cancer cells, particularly against prostate cancer. Preliminary evidence indicates that pomegranate juice can potentially inhibiting cancer growth and lowering the risk of death. Pomegranate extract may inhibit the reproduction of breast cancer cells, even killing some of them.
Laboratory studies suggest that pomegranate extract can block enzymes that are known to damage joints in people with osteoarthritis.
Several human studies have shown that pomegranate can have benefits against heart disease. It improves your cholesterol profile and protects LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage. Punicic acid, the main fatty acid in pomegranate, may help protect against several steps in the heart disease process.
A 4-week study in 51 people with high triglyceride levels showed that 800 mg of pomegranate seed oil per day significantly lowered triglycerides and improved the triglyceride-HDL ratio.
Another study looked at the effects of pomegranate juice in people with type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. They noted significant reductions in LDL cholesterol. Pomegranate juice has also been shown to protect LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation, one of the key steps in the pathway towards heart disease.
Pomegranate has antibacterial and antiviral properties which may be useful against common gum diseases and yeast infections. The plant compounds in pomegranate can help fight harmful microorganisms. For example, they have been shown to combat some types of bacteria as well as the yeast Candida albicans. The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects may also be protective against infections and inflammation in your mouth. This includes conditions like gingivitis, periodontitis and denture stomatitis.
Some evidence shows that pomegranate may improve memory in older adults and post-surgery. In addition, studies in mice suggest that it may protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Pomegranate is rich in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to improve exercise performance.
A study in 19 athletes running on a treadmill showed that one gram of pomegranate extract 30 minutes before exercise significantly enhanced blood flow, delaying the onset of fatigue and increasing exercise efficiency.
How to Buy
Look for fruits that are hard on the outside and feel heavy for their size; pass on any that have cracks or bruises. Rind color, which ranges from bright pink to red to brick, indicates variety, rather than ripeness. Choose the largest fruits you can find. The bigger the pomegranate, the juicier it will be.
How to Store
Whole fruits can be kept at room temperature for a week, or in the fridge for two. Or remove the seeds and seal them in an airtight container; they’ll keep for five days in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer.
How to Cook
Pomegranates are easily eaten by removing the crown with a paring knife and scoring through the tough rind. It’s also helpful to immerse the fruit in a bowl of cool water, holding it under the surface to gently break apart and separate the arils, which will fall to the bottom. The floating bits of rind and membrane can then be skimmed from the surface. (This will keep your shirt from getting red stains!)
For a fresh glass of pomegranate juice, place a few handfuls of arils into a bag and flatten them gently with a rolling pin. Pour from the bag, strain the seeds and enjoy!
Pomegranates can be added to marinades, sauces and salsas. They can be sprinkled onto squash, rice, and any sweet breakfast for a burst of tartness.