Pomegranate is one of the oldest fruits in our history and as such it holds tremendous ancient lore and appeal. Add that to the health benefits of pomegranate, and it's easy to see why the fruit is starting to become so very popular.
Some people even go as far to suggest that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate and not an apple. This perspective is a strong indication of the lore and mythology that is behind this fruit.
Indeed, pomegranates have a history of more than 4,000 years (that we know of) and have frequently been considered as symbols of prosperity and abundance. Pomegranates even have a role in marriage in some cultures, with the number of seeds acting as a symbol of children and fertility.
Pomegranates - the super fruit.
Modern marketing would have you believe that this fruit can cure just about any ill and extend life along the way. But, what is the actual science behind pomegranate health benefits and how many of those health benefits are actually real?
In this article, we'll answer those questions and find out the truth behind pomegranates.
First off, the term pomegranate refers to the fruit of the tree Punica granatum. This species is a small tree or shrub that grows between 16 and 26 feet tall and is in season late summer to early winter.
Pomegranates have been cultivated throughout history, beginning in ancient times in a range of places, including Persia, India and Mesopotamia.
Pomegranates have become highly popular in recent years, partially as the result of marketing by companies like POM Wonderful, which have highlighted on the potential health benefits of pomegranates.
As a result, there has been considerable growth in the number of pomegranates cultivated in Northern American and in Europe in recent years. The fruit is also widely cultivated in other parts of the world.
While some of the marketing has been misleading and exaggerated, pomegranate remains a highly important fruit and offers significant health benefits.
For people who have never tried pomegranate before, its structure can seem a little confusing. The fruit part of pomegranate is the little red pearls that you can see in the first image.
Commonly these are referred to as the seeds of the pomegranate, although this isn’t the correct term.
Instead, these are the arils and they are little sacs that contain the small white seed of the pomegranate along with the sweet-tart juice of the pomegranate. The entire aril is edible, and many people choose to eat the seeds along with the arils, although spitting them out is also an option.
As with most fruits, pomegranate has a complex chemical makeup, including many natural compounds whose role and health benefits are largely unknown.
One of the key nutritional elements of pomegranate is its ability to act as an antioxidant and this strongly contributes to pomegranate health benefits. This comes from a range of different compounds, including vitamin C and some phytochemicals.
Some of the other nutrients represented in pomegranate include vitamin K, folate, thiamin and vitamin B6 as well as manganese and copper.
In addition to these nutrients, pomegranate also has a large range of plant compounds, which we will talk about in more detail later. These compounds play a strong role in the benefits that pomegranates offer.
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Health Benefits of Pomegranate – The Research
Pomegranates are heavily promoted for their health benefits and they do have the potential to help improve health. Research into pomegranates has covered a number of different areas, although some topics have been researched more heavily than others.
The ability to fight inflammation is a desirable trait in fruit, especially as there is a wide range of health conditions that are associated with inflammation. Inflammation itself is an immune response that occurs in the body and it needs to be kept in constant balance.
One of the key factors in inflammation is circulatory cytokines, which can result in an increase in the production of other factors involved in the inflammation pathway (1).
If too much inflammation occurs in the body, then it can lead to a range of health conditions, including arthritis and cancer. Because inflammation can be painful, potentially damaging to health and often persists for extended periods of time, there is a lot of interest in reducing inflammation.
In fact, this is what one of the main classes of painkillers does – the NSAIDs. That category covers drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin and actually stands for Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.
Nevertheless, reducing inflammation naturally is always more desirable than using medication.
For researchers, one of the challenges in reducing inflammation is working out when inflammation is occurring. A key test that is used is examining the level of C-reactive protein. This protein is produced in the liver in response to factors released by other cells, including fat cells and macrophages.
This mechanism means that C-reactive protein is produced when inflammation occurs – and acts as a marker of inflammation. By testing levels of C-reactive protein, researchers and medical professionals can determine whether a patient is experiencing inflammation.
However, the test is non-specific and it cannot be used to pinpoint where the inflammation is occurring or its cause.
One extensive review on pomegranate found that pomegranate can have anti-inflammatory impacts within the gut, potentially resulting in protection against ulcers (2).
There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that pomegranate may be highly significant as an anti-inflammatory agent. One of the reasons for this is the way that pomegranate is able to inhibit the activation of the NF-KB inflammatory pathway as well as other inflammatory pathways (3).
Pomegranate, Inflammation and Diabetes
Recent research is beginning to find a connection between inflammation and the development of type 2 diabetes.
One of the key risk factors for the development of type 2 diabetes is obesity and obesity can lead to significant levels of internal inflammation. It is believed that this inflammation can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes as well as some other chronic diseases (4).
This perspective suggests that the use of anti-inflammatories and an anti-inflammatory diet may help to reduce the risk of diabetes or may even play a role in treating the disease.
One study on this topic looked at pomegranate juice consumption in patients with type 2 diabetes.This study used a randomized double-blind design with 50 patients. The patients were assigned to either a treatment or a control group.
After 12 weeks of either pomegranate or placebo treatment, the authors found that inflammation markers were significantly lower in the treatment group compared to the group that had the placebo (5).
The treatment did not have any impact on the level of plasma glucose or on insulin resistance.
This is important, as it indicates that pomegranate has positive rather than negative outcomes for patients with diabetes, despite the high levels of sugar in pomegranate.
In fact, there is growing evidence that some of the compounds in pomegranate may be beneficial for blood sugar levels (6).There has even been a movement to patent processes for treating diabetic symptoms using pomegranate juice (7).
Another study looked at the use of pomegranate juice on a range of diabetic variables. The authors found that three hours after consumption, pomegranate juice was able to significantly decrease insulin resistance, improve the function of β-cells and improve fasting glucose levels (8).
Although these two studies seem to contradict one another that really isn’t the case.
Instead, the first study offers an indication that pomegranate juice does not have a long-term impact on insulin resistance or fasting glucose level. However, the second study shows that pomegranate juice can have a short-term impact on these outcomes.
This makes pomegranate very relevant for diabetes if it is consumed regularly.
Likewise, a third study looked at outcomes for 28 patients and found that the consumption of fresh pomegranate juice was able to reduce some of the key cardiovascular risk factors in patients who were overweight or obese.
The authors of the study argued that this effect could be through a reduction in the ratio of cortisol to cortisone in the body as this pattern was seen in the study (9).
Changes in cortisol/cortisone ratio after pomegranate juice consumption. Data from Tsang et al., 2012
Pomegranates can inhibit the NFK-B inflammatory pathway and can reduce inflammation in people with diabetes and healthy people
As an Antioxidant
Of all the pomegranate health benefits that are present, the fruit’s ability to act as an antioxidant is the one that it is most well-known for.
That is largely because of the marketing that has surrounded pomegranate, but nevertheless, there is significant scientific evidence to back up pomegranate’s role as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants are important because they have the potential to reduce the prevalence and development of a number of chronic diseases (10).
Despite the importance and emphasis on antioxidants, the amount of antioxidants consumed in the modern Western diet is actually decreasing, which is a significant cause for concern (11).
One study on the topic looked at the role of pomegranate juice on oxidative stress. Specifically, the authors considered the issue of hemodialysis. This is a medical procedure that is necessary in some cases but can cause significant oxidative stress.
The authors hypothesized that giving patients a single dose of pomegranate juice would be able to significantly reduce their oxidative stress.
The outcomes of the study indicated that this was the case, and the patients who received pomegranate juice did not see the increase in oxidative stress typically associated with hemodialysis (12).
A randomized placebo-controlled study on the topic found that pomegranate supplementation improved immunity in the long-term and lowered oxidative stress and inflammation in the short-term (13). Another study looked at supplementing with a combination of pomegranate and grape juice, and also found that this reduced oxidative stress (14).
An alternative way to test for impacts on oxidative stress is to induce it through exhaustive exercise. One study did this in a sample of 28 young men using a test group and a control group.
In that study, the test group received pomegranate juice daily while the control group received water. The authors found that the group that received pomegranate juice had higher levels of antioxidant capacity compared to the control group.
The authors argued that this outcome means that the test group had higher protection against oxidative damage from of exercise (15).
One of the reasons for this pattern may be the presence of polyphenols in pomegranate as these have been linked to protection against oxidative damage (16).
Marketers often refer to pomegranate as an antioxidant, but there is scientific evidence to support this claim
Pomegranate has also been associated with improved cardiovascular outcomes, especially in relation to blood pressure.
In particular, pomegranate juice has been shown to significantly reduce levels of blood pressure, suggesting that it may play a role in the treatment of high blood pressure (17).
The study examined outcomes in 51 adults, age between 30 and 50 years. Participants either had a control drink or pomegranate juice (330 ml/day) for four weeks, after which outcomes were measured.
The authors found that pomegranate juice was able to improve short-term measures of blood pressure, but had no impact on pulse wave velocity, which is a longer-term measure (18).
Likewise, a second study also looked at pomegranate juice and blood pressure.
This study used 21 hypertensive patients who received either pomegranate juice (150 ml/day) or water for a period of two weeks.
Another study looked at pomegranate supplementation in 13 participants with hypertension.
The participants were given 150 ml of pomegranate juice per day following a 12-hour fast. The patients experienced a significant reduction in both their systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels (20).
However, much more research is needed in this field, as the majority of clinical research on the topic made use of small sample sizes.
Additionally, much of the research on pomegranate and heart health is more than five years old, suggesting the need for more up-to-date research with larger sample sizes.
Pomegranates can decrease blood pressure and improve cardiovascular risk factors, although more research is needed
Pomegranate and Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the scariest diseases in modern times is Alzheimer’s disease, but a compound in pomegranate may play a key role in fighting the disease.
A characterizing element of Alzheimer’s disease is the development of Aβ plaques, which form in the brain. These plaques hinder cognitive function and contribute to many of the outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease (21).
This aspect of Alzheimer’s disease also makes the disease very challenging to develop treatments for – because it isn’t possible to directly visualize the plaques in a living brain.
As such, researchers have to look for indications of the plaques presence and use these indications to try and work out whether the disease outcomes are improving or getting worse.
Historically, the compound punicalagin has been associated with reductions in the level of inflammation associated with Parkinson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Punicalagin is a powerful antioxidant and can play a role in reducing oxidative stress and damage. This is one of the key reasons for its potential health benefits (22).
Now there is growing interest in the use of this same compound as part of drugs to treat inflammation that is occurring within the brain.
This type of inflammation is important because it can result in damage to brain cells – making the symptoms of people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease significantly worse.
Animal research indicates that punicalagin is indeed able to inhibit some neuroinflammation by interfering with the NF-KB signaling pathway that plays a role in inflammation (23). In doing this, punicalagin acts in a neuroprotective way, potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (24).
Likewise, supplementation with pomegranate has been shown to play an anti-inflammatory role in the brain and may help to curb the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (25).
Another way that pomegranate can help in fighting Alzheimer’s is through its antioxidant function.
Oxidative stress is thought to play a significant role in Alzheimer’s disease, and reducing this stress may result in improved outcomes.
There is considerable support for this perspective because high levels of oxidative stress can induce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in animal models (26).
A study on mice suggested that supplementation with 4% pomegranate was able to significantly reduce the oxidative stress and alter the activities of enzymes in the brain (27). A second study found similar outcomes (28).
Studies directly on pomegranate have also highlighted on its potential to act as a preventative factor or even a form of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
For example, one study looked at dietary supplementation of mice with pomegranate as part of their feed.
The mice who were on the pomegranate supplemented feed showed significant improvements in a range of outcomes, including memory, locomotor function, learning and levels of anxiety (29).
Another study used pomegranate supplementation and looked at key indicators of Alzheimer’s disease, including the levels of specific proteins, which can suggest Alzheimer’s disease progression.
The authors found that there was no difference in cognitive performance across the control and sample group. However, pomegranate supplementation did result in improvements in markers of Alzheimer’s disease (30).
Additionally, pomegranate supplementation has been shown to reduce the accumulation of amyloids in animal models (31).
By the actions of punicalagin and reducing oxidative stress, pomegranate may be a preventative factor for Alzheimer’s disease
Pomegranate and Cancer
Another area that pomegranate health benefits have been linked to is a decrease in the risk of cancer, especially prostate cancer (32).
Prostate cancer, in particular, is an area of major emphasis for cancer research, especially as it is the second major cause of death from cancer in males in the United States (33).
Research suggests that extract from pomegranate or pomegranate itself may play a key role in inhibiting the growth of a range of different type of cancer cells in culture (34).
This includes against skin, lung, prostate and colon cancer (35).
Although research is still in the early stages, the outcomes provide a strong indication that pomegranate may have the potential to help fight cancer, especially by inhibiting the progression of cancer (36).
Chemical compounds in pomegranate have been linked to stimulating cell differentiation and decreasing the risk of mutations that can lead to cancer development. The chemical components of pomegranate have also been linked to a range of other anti-cancer roles (37).
Likewise, some polyphenolics from pomegranate have been linked to disruption of two key pathways in the development of breast cancer (38).
There has also been a focus on determining the roles of different compounds in pomegranate in fighting the progression of prostate cancer and the research in this area is still ongoing (39).
One key emphasis of future research will be determining therapeutic mechanisms for pomegranate in fighting cancer (40).
The polyphenols in pomegranate have been linked to this role, as polyphenols, in general, have linked to favorable outcomes for patients with prostate cancer (41). This is thought to be through interaction between genes and nutrients as well as the antioxidant impacts of the phytochemicals (42).
Early research suggests pomegranate may reduce cancer risk, especially for prostate cancer
Other Pomegranate Health Benefits
Pomegranate juice has also been linked to improvements in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is another term for prostate enlargement.
One animal study found that the use of pomegranate fruit extract was able to improve a range of outcomes for a group of rats with induced BPH (43).
A study on humans found that pomegranate juice was able to act in a preventative manner in the development of BPH (44).
While this isn’t an area that has been studied in depth, it is an important area of consideration because prostate enlargement can be frustrating and painful. So, anything that potentially helps offer some relief is worth trying.
Pomegranate has also been associated with health benefits for people with osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
This outcome may be connected to pomegranate's potential as an anti-inflammatory agent.
A review on the topic identified 35 studies on the topic with eight that met the study’s inclusion criteria.
Despite this outcome, the molecular mechanism behind the improvements has not yet been determined, suggesting a need for further research.
Pomegranate has also been associated with potential treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease because of the compound punicalagin.
In particular, pomegranate may play a significant role in reducing risk factors by decreasing levels of inflammation and oxidative stress (46).
Pomegranate has also been associated with improvements for prostate enlargement, arthritis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Skin and Hair Benefits
This isn’t an area that is frequently researched, but many people argue that pomegranate offers significant benefits for the skin and for the hair.
For example, the antioxidant role of pomegranate has been linked to fighting the aging process, with suggestions that a diet rich in antioxidants may decrease cell damage and even some of the visible signs of aging, such as wrinkles (47).
Pomegranate may also play a significant role in the regeneration of cells, particularly in the skin. This may help in healing wounds and even in protecting the skin from sunburn.
Pomegranate has also been associated with improving skin texture and helping to cleanse the skin overall. This includes both drinking pomegranate juice or using it in a face mask.
In a similar way, pomegranate juice has been associated with improvements in hair health, including strengthening hair follicles and making hair look healthier overall.
Pomegranate may also help in improving skin appearance and hair health
Compounds in Pomegranate
As with many fruits, pomegranate contains a wide range of biologically active compounds (48).
Many of these chemicals have the ability to promote healthy outcomes in humans and may play a role in pomegranate health benefits overall.
Three particularly important groups of compounds in pomegranate are ellagitannins, phytochemicals and phytophenols.
Phytochemicals is a general term for a large group of chemicals that naturally occur in plant species.
These chemicals perform a variety of functions within their host plant species, such as being responsible for the color or smell of some plants (e.g. the color of blueberries).
However, many of them also have biological significance for humans and have been associated with potential health benefits.
Historically, plants have long been associated with health treatments. Many of these treatments are little more than folklore and offer no practical benefit, but that isn’t the case for all of them.
Indeed, there is a growing recognition that specific phytochemicals may significantly contribute to improvements in human health and may even play a role in the treatment of some diseases or as preventative factors.
Nevertheless, for the most part, phytochemicals are not recognized as essential for human health and as such are not classified as nutrients.
The large number of different phytochemicals also makes it very difficult to identify the mechanisms behind how they promote health.
Estimates suggest that there are around 124 phytochemicals in pomegranate alone although there may be more yet to be discovered.
Ellagitannins, on the other hand, are a smaller group of chemicals, but they have been the subject of significant research, especially for their potential as strong antioxidants, antiviral agents and anti-cancer agents (49).
Pomegranates are a rich source of these ellagitannins and these may be the reason for many of the health benefits associated with pomegranates (50).
However, some research suggests that the way that ellagitannins are metabolized means that they are unlikely to be significant antioxidants in the body. This may mean that other components of pomegranate are responsible for some of its health benefits (51).
The third class of significant chemicals in pomegranate are polyphenols. In particular, three types of antioxidant polyphenols are especially important in pomegranate, these are ellagic acid, anthocyanins and tannins.
Overall, there are a number of compounds in pomegranate, including the phytochemicals and the ellagitannins that may be responsible for the health benefits of the fruit.
Additionally, it is very possible that some compounds are responsible for specific health benefits while other compounds are responsible for different ones.
Certainly, research into the health benefits of pomegranate overall has been very limited and research into the mechanisms behind these health benefits is even less comprehensive.
So there is a long way to go in research before we will truly know what it is about pomegranate that is so healthy, yet, it is clear that pomegranate really does offer significant health benefits.
Additionally, it seems that as with many plants, the action of the different components of pomegranate together is much more significant than any individual component on its own (55).
There is a range of natural compounds in pomegranates, including ellagitannis, phytochemicals and phytophenols
Pomegranates and Sugar
Like other fruits, pomegranates tend to be high in natural sugars.
A 100 g serving of pomegranate arils (a bit over half a cup) contains 10.1 g of sugars. This is quite high although there are some fruits that are higher.
However, the saving grace of pomegranate is in its seeds. The seeds of the fruit are high in fiber and this helps to reduce the impacts that this sugar has on blood sugar.
This is the main reason that pomegranates are so much better than pomegranate juice. Despite the sugars, 100 g of arils only amounts to 83 calories, contains 4 g of fiber and has a glycemic load of 6 (56).
While the juice does have a range of health benefits the amount of sugar in it (and the lack of fiber) is a major disadvantage. Additionally, when you have the juice, you tend to get a spike in sugar, while this doesn’t happen when you eat the fruit itself.
Interestingly, despite the high sugar levels in pomegranate juice, research has indicated that the juice does not have a negative impact on blood parameters in diabetic patients (57).
Furthermore, the authors of that study noted that pomegranate juice resulted in positive antioxidant effects that could benefit the patients (58).
Pomegranates tend to be high in sugar, but the fiber in the pomegranate seed can offset this
Pomegranate Snacks and Drinks
The potential health benefits of pomegranate have become pretty well known in recent years and this has led to a large amount of different products on the market.
However, many of the products out there aren’t actually good for your health at all.
Pomegranate is a distinctive flavor and this means that juices only need to contain a very small amount of pomegranate to actually taste like it. Additionally, the labeling on juices is based on distinctive flavors, not on the proportions of actual juice in the bottle.
Because of this, many of the pomegranate drinks out there actually don’t contain all that much pomegranate.
One example of this is the Cranberry Pomegranate juice that is part of the 100% Juice line by Ocean Spray. The bottle for this particular product implies that you are getting juice from cranberries and pomegranates only, but that isn’t actually the case.
Instead, the following types of juices make up the drink (in order of prevalence):
- Apple juice
- Grape juice
- Plum juice
- Pear juice
- Cranberry juice
- Pomegranate juice
So, there isn’t actually all that much cranberry or pomegranate juice in the bottle, despite its name. The use of filler juices like apple and grape is very common and you’ll find a similar pattern on the back of a lot of different juice products.
There is a second issue with the concept of 100% juice. Many products that claim to be 100% juice are made from concentrate and they will say this somewhere on the packaging.
There is a huge difference between 100% juice and 100% juice from concentrate, and the first one is much healthier than the second.
One issue with juice from concentrate is that you never fully know what is in it – and the companies don’t actually have to list this information.
Often the concentrate will contain additives and flavorings
The biggest name on the market for pomegranate juice is POM Wonderful. This is a company that has a lot of customers but has also drawn its share of controversy.
The company has taken advantage of the health benefits of pomegranate in the marketing for its product, often overselling them in advertisements like this:
Ironically, that particular ad actually ended up being banned because of how misleading it was (59).
Realistically, the marketing for the product is most of the reason that it is so popular and most consumers don’t even know the science behind pomegranates.
The real question is, is POM Wonderful actually healthy? In its favor, POM Wonderful doesn’t use any filler juices and its pure pomegranate juice product is basically what it claims to be.
However, even then, the drink is from concentrate and contains natural flavoring, as well as whatever additives are in the concentrate itself. So, you aren’t looking at a fully natural juice.
The most popular size of POM Wonderful is the 16 oz bottle. That’s the one in the ad above and in the image on the right.
This particular size actually contains two 8 oz servings, each containing 160 calories. If you were to drink the whole bottle (which many people do), you would be drinking 320 calories and somewhere around 17 tablespoons of sugar.
Now, this is natural sugar, so it isn’t as bad for you as added sugar, but it is still a lot to be taking in – especially if you are having one bottle per day as the brand implies that you should.
Like most juices, POM Wonderful is more of a treat than a health elixir. If you like the taste, by all means, enjoy it. Plus, there really are some significant health benefits that can be had from pomegranates.
However, the health benefits of actual pomegranate are always going to be better than what you get from the juice.
That’s true for virtually any fruit versus fruit juice.
When fruit is juiced, you lose many of the important nutrients that come from the original fruit, particularly the fiber.
In its place, you typically end up with a product that contains a high level of sugar. It’s also very easy to over-consume juice, but much more difficult to over-consume the fruit.
Snack food is another area where people have really latched on to the concept of pomegranates and their potential health benefits.
For many companies, pomegranates have become a great way to get extra sales – because customers tend to assume that anything with pomegranate will have the same health benefit.
That’s not the case though – especially not when it comes to snacks.
One good example of this is the Brookside series of chocolates. The series has a pomegranate flavor as well as flavors from other ‘superfruits’.
Even though the packaging never actually states it, the implication is that you are buying chocolate covered pomegranate – which isn’t the case at all.
The actual term for the interior of the candy is ‘sweetened real fruit juice pieces’. In essence, these are gummies sweetened with fruit juice. However, there is no indication of just how much pomegranate juice is in the mix.
The ingredients list for the product does give some clues, listing a large range of different components and additives, including a range of different types of fruit juice concentrate.
It is likely that there is only enough pomegranate juice in the candies to give the center their flavor, and not enough to offer any real health benefit.
Additionally, the product also gives no indication about the chocolate that surrounds the center. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, dark chocolate can offer some health benefits, but only specific types and only for cocoa concentrations of 70% and above.
In this case, the cocoa powder is alkalized (which removes most potential health benefits) and there is no indication of the cocoa percentage.
Another concerning thing about this product is the nutritional information. For a serving of just 1/4 cup the product includes 26 g of sugar and 180 calories. That is a whole lot of sugar and calories for a pretty small portion.
This particular product and many like it are fine for a sweet treat every so often but don’t be fooled into thinking they are going to help your health in any way.
Realistically, eating a serving of this particular product is no different than a candy bar with a similar amount of calories and sugar.
If you do want health benefits from dark chocolate and pomegranate, then the best answer may simply be to make a similar snack yourself by mixing melted dark chocolate with pomegranate arils.
Read the Labels
As you can see from these examples, there is a lot of misleading advertising going on in relation to pomegranate.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to take the time and read the product labels.
Product labels really do have a lot of information on them and they can help you figure out whether a product is as good as it sounds or not.
Pomegranate drinks and snacks often aren’t what they seem to be
Pomegranate drinks and snacks often aren’t what they seem to be
Including Pomegranate in the Diet
As a fruit, you can include pomegranate in the diet simply by eating its seeds or by drinking pomegranate juice.
However, pomegranate is also pretty versatile and there are a lot of different ways that you can include it in your diet.
Personally, I love the taste of pomegranate arils and often eat them as snacks. They are also great additions to salads as well as in some side dishes.
Once you get the hang of it, deseeding pomegranates is a relatively easy task, and it doesn’t take much effort to permanently have a bag or two of the arils in your fridge or freezer for easy access.
This is also great if you are short on time, because once you have the fruit deseeded, you can use it as-is.
In fact, you can even keep the arils frozen and use them straight from the freezer, which saves time.
Juicing and Blending
One approach for using pomegranate is to either juice or blend the fruit yourself.
This tends to be less expensive than buying products like POM Wonderful and you also have the advantage of knowing exactly what is in the juice.
You can juice a pomegranate in much the same way that you would juice a citrus fruit, using either a hand-press juicer or an electric juicer.
If you do use an electric juicer, you do need to be careful, because you don’t want to accidentally juice the white membrane along with the arils. If you did that, it would ruin the taste of your juice.
Once you have finished juicing the pomegranate, you can simply strain out the seeds.
An alternative approach is to roll the whole pomegranate. With this approach, you don’t open or cut the pomegranate in any way.
Instead, you gently roll the pomegranate across a hard surface. When you do this, you should hear cracking, which is the seeds breaking.
When the cracking stops you can pierce the rind of the fruit and squeeze out the juice. Alternatively, some people choose to drink the juice directly out of the fruit using a straw.
However, if you are juicing a pomegranate specifically to drink the juice, then be aware that pomegranates don’t tend to have a lot of juice in them.
On average, a medium-sized pomegranate will have about a quarter of a cup of juice. This is enough for many recipes, but you may want to consider buying the juice directly if you were wanting to drink it each day.
The alternative to juicing is to blend the arils. Blending pomegranate arils is just as simple as blending any other type of fruit. You can then strain the blended product to get rid of the seeds.
However, this isn’t strictly necessary and if you want the fiber from the seeds you might choose to avoid straining the final product.
There are lots of different types of smoothies that you can make using blended pomegranate, such as a mixed berry smoothie.
Because pomegranate has such a strong flavor, you will find that it significantly contributes to the flavor of any smoothie that it is included in - and including too much pomegranate can overpower other flavors.
Pomegranate Recipe Ideas
There are a lot of different options for using pomegranate from the simple to the complex.
Perhaps the most common use of pomegranate is as a garnish. Pomegranate arils have a fantastic color that can complement many different dishes well.
Additionally, they are self-contained sacs of juice. This makes them a fantastic way to add a little bit of tart-sweet flavor to a meal without overpowering it or having the juice run everywhere.
Many of the recipes for pomegranate involve using the arils as they are, rather than extracting the juice from them.
Because of this, they are typically added towards the end of the recipe so there is little risk of puncturing the skin.
For example, some salads will use pomegranate arils and toss them through.
Some other examples include using pomegranates as a garnish on sesame chicken, on enchiladas or on a kale salad (there is a fantastic list here).
The Pomegranate Council also has a large list of different recipes that you can make with pomegranates, including main courses as well as desserts. You can also sprinkle pomegranate arils on top of yogurt, and the flavor works particularly well with Greek or skyr yogurt.
There are many options for including pomegranate in the diet, including juicing, blending, eating the arils whole or using pomegranate in recipes
Selection and Storage
To get the best health benefits out of any fruit, it’s important that you are careful in your selection of the fruit and how you store it.
With pomegranate, selection is relatively simple, and the fruit can be stored for quite some time without issues.
The key factor in selecting pomegranates is working out whether the fruit is ripe.
The pomegranates that you find in the grocery store should already be ripe, but if you are getting them from another source, knowing what to look for can help.
A ripe pomegranate will tend to be heavy because of the amount of juice that is in it. The skin will tend to be taut and firm, and the color will range from a medium to a deep red.
There are a few different ways to store pomegranates.
The first way is to simply store them in the pantry, the same way that you would any other type of fruit.
The second way is to refrigerate them. This can significantly improve their shelf life without really affecting their quality.
In fact, pomegranates can even improve after being stored for a while, increasing the amount of juice they contain and in their flavor. This is because the fruit will continue to ripen as you store it.
You can sometimes see this process by changes in the shape of the fruit and in how soft it is.
The ideal temperature for storing pomegranate is between 32°F and 41°F, and at that temperature, a pomegranate will last for around seven months or so.
You can also freeze the seeds of a pomegranate and this makes them last much longer. In fact, frozen pomegranate arils actually make a nice snack on their own in the middle of a hot summer. They are also good additions to smoothies.
Some people also choose to freeze the fruit in its entirety. You can certainly do this, especially if you don’t want the work of deseeding it prior to freezing.
However, if you are freezing the entire fruit, you have to thaw it completely before you are able to do anything much with it.
While there hasn’t been much research directly on freezing pomegranate arils, it is clear that freezing any fruit or vegetable will alter its chemical composition (60).
This is true even for snap-frozen foods and it is especially true for foods that you freeze in a household freezer. So, if possible it is better to use pomegranates fresh rather than freezing them.
However, you do still get many of the health benefits of pomegranates even if they are frozen, so frozen pomegranates are a better alternative than none at all.
Pomegranates do store for a long time, but it’s best to avoid freezing them if possible
Are Pomegranates a Superfood?
The term superfood is a marketing term and basically refers to foods that have a higher-than-normal amount of nutrients and may offer some benefit for medical conditions. The same is true for the term superfruit.
Some superfoods, like pomegranate, do have proven health benefits, but other superfoods don’t.
So, the label itself doesn’t mean anything, but yes, pomegranate does tend to be considered a superfood. And, many so-called superfoods do offer significant health benefits.
Can You Eat Pomegranate Seeds?
Pomegranate is a very seed heavy fruit, which can make it seem unappealing.
The red jewels that you see are known as arils. They contain juice surrounding a small white seed.
The seeds are rich in fiber and you can certainly eat them without any issues at all. In fact, the fiber in the seeds is very good for you, and I recommend that you do eat the seeds.
However, if they bother you, you can spit the seeds out.
How do you get the Arils Out?
The biggest challenge with eating a pomegranate is actually getting the arils out of the fruit in the first place.
The simplest way to achieve this is to cut open the pomegranate and simply eat the arils out of it directly.
This is the most common way to eat a pomegranate, but it isn’t very useful if you want to use the arils in cooking or if you want to store them for later.
One way of getting the seeds out is to cut the fruit into sections and then hold a section upside down.
Once you have done this, you can beat on the back of the fruit using a wooden spoon (beat gently!). This should make most of the arils detach and fall to the surface below.
Another approach is to cut the pomegranate into sections then place those sections in water.
Once they are in the water, you can use your fingers to roll out the arils into the water. Then you simply strain out the water.
However, you get the arils out, make sure you are careful with handling them, as the juice can stain very easily.
What about the Rest of the Fruit?
Generally speaking, most people don’t eat the skin of pomegranate or the white pieces (membrane) that surround the arils.
These pieces are both very bitter and unappealing.
The white membrane is kind of like the white pith under the orange peel – you can technically eat it, but you really wouldn’t want to.
When Can You Get Pomegranates?
Pomegranates are a seasonal fruit and the best time to get them is when they are in season (late summer to early winter)
Traditionally, pomegranates were only available in North America during this period, although some varieties of pomegranate do start to be available as early as August.
However, with the growing popularity of pomegranates their availability has also increased, with many stores choosing to import them in the off-season.
Theoretically, this means that you can find pomegranates during any season.
Nevertheless, they do tend to be more difficult to find and more expensive in the off-season.
How Long do Pomegranates Last?
Ultimately, how long you can store pomegranates for depends on the approach you take to storing them.
The whole fruit will generally last a week or two when stored at room temperature.
If you store them in the refrigerator (as long as the refrigerator is set at a ‘normal’ level) then pomegranates will last much longer, as much as one or two months.
Finally, you can freeze the arils of pomegranates. After all, they are essentially just little sacs of juice.
The best way to do this is to lay out the arils in a single layer on something like a cookie sheet. Once they are frozen, transfer them to an airtight container or bag.
Stored like this, frozen arils will still be of good quality in up to 10 to 12 months’ time.
This is a fantastic way to have pomegranate at hand all year round for cooking and eating.
Can I Grow my Own?
The popularity of pomegranates has made it easy to get pomegranate trees and you should be able to find them at just about any nursery.
Growing your own pomegranates is very feasible and the trees are low maintenance.
They grow best in climates that are hot and dry, although they will survive in wetter and colder climates.
However, the plant can be damaged by temperatures below 12°F, and will only grow outdoors as far north as Utah, Washington D.C. and Washington County. Even then, in Washington D.C. and Utah, the tree will not bear fruit.
You should water the trees occasionally (careful not to overwater) and lightly prune once every year or so. It takes around three years before a young tree will produce fruit.
Are Pomegranates Worth the Hassle?
People often get turned off by pomegranates because you have to go through quite a bit of work to actually get to the arils.
Honestly, eating pomegranates isn’t as hard as people often think, although it isn’t quite as simple as just picking up the fruit and eating it.
If you plan on eating the pomegranate directly, then there really isn’t that much work involved. After all, you can just eat the arils straight out of the fruit.
However, if you want the seeds separate or if you plan to use them in dishes, then yes, a bit more work is involved.
The effort involved in getting the arils out isn’t really as bad as it seems. It also gets easier as you get more experienced at the process.
While pomegranates might involve more effort than most other fruits out there, they certainly are worth that effort. After all, there are a huge amount of pomegranate health benefits and the fruit makes for a tasty snack at the same time.
What About Ready-to-Eat Seeds?
POM Wonderful actually sells ready-to-eat arils at the grocery store. There are other brands that do this too, including one on Amazon that sells flash frozen arils.
This can be pretty tempting if you don’t want the work of getting the arils out on your own (although, as I mentioned before – this isn’t as hard as it seems).
The packaged seeds are good for convenience’s sake, but they work out pretty expensive.
A four-ounce container of the arils costs around $4 from the grocery store while pomegranates typically range from $2 to $3 each.
Additionally, you would tend to get more arils from a single pomegranate than you do from the packaged seeds.
So, you should only turn to the packaged seeds if deseeding a pomegranate yourself really isn’t an option or if you really don't want that many arils.
If you are including anything new in your diet, especially anything that you plan to eat a lot of, being aware of any potential issues is always an important step.
Because pomegranates and pomegranate juice are natural products rather than medicinal, there is no recommended daily dose. However, generally speaking, eating or drinking a dietary amount of pomegranate is considered safe.
This amounts to between 8 and 12 oz of pomegranate juice (there is somewhere around 1/4 of a cup of pomegranate juice in a medium-sized pomegranate).
Amounts of the juice have varied considerably, with some studies ranging from around 1 oz per day up to 8 oz per day or higher.
Even though pomegranates may offer significant health benefits to people with diabetes, it is important to talk to your physician prior to adding pomegranates or pomegranate juice into your diet.
Additionally, people with diarrhea should not drink pomegranate extract or juice.
Interactions with Medication
Although the research isn’t conclusive, there is some evidence that pomegranates may interact with medications in a similar way to grapefruit juice.
Because of this, you should tell your physician about your planned pomegranate consumption if you use any of the following types of medication:
While the evidence for these possible interactions isn’t all that strong, it’s always better to take the more cautious approach when it comes to medication.
Limitations of Research
Research is always an ongoing process and the amount of knowledge we have about a given topic tends to grow and change over time.
The studies discussed in this article are the main research studies that have been conducted on pomegranates and pomegranate juice at the time of writing.
It’s likely that there are also studies that haven’t been discussed here because there is a lot of different studies out there and some are better than others.
In the case of pomegranate, research is still relatively limited and scientists have largely avoided investigating the fruit in depth (61).
This is often the case with supplements or anything perceived as alternative medicine.
It is an ironic situation because alternative medicine generally refers to approaches that do not have scientific backing.
Yet, because treatments are thought to fall into this category they do not get the research that is needed to get them out of the category. This can be seen in the studies I reviewed in the article, as many of them use small sample sizes or are not randomized.
The reason for this is that studies with small sample sizes are easier to do logistically and financially.
This issue limits how many conclusions we can make about pomegranate juice and its health benefits.
Nevertheless, the outcomes of the studies that are out there show that pomegranates do have a lot of potential for health benefits and in some cases supplementation with pomegranate juice has shown significant health improvements.
As there is little risk associated with the fruit, there is no reason not to take it regularly, even if the research is still catching up.
There is a lot of marketing behind pomegranate and pomegranate juice, so it is tempting to believe that the health benefits are nothing but hype.
This isn’t the case though.
As you can see from this (rather long) post, there are many pomegranate health benefits that are backed by scientific research.
On top of all of that, pomegranate is a good tasting fruit in its own right and the arils make for fantastic snacks.
Even if you are a little bit nervous about deseeding a pomegranate, the fruit is well worth trying out – or you can always go for the juice instead.
Whether you choose pomegranate as a snack or as an ingredient in cooking, including it in your diet is a fantastic, and tasty, health decision.
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