As far as fruits go, pomegranates seem like more trouble than they’re worth. They have spiny skin, and if not sliced into just so, they make a mess and leave some of the seeds inside, which is the actual fruit part, cut and bruised; the surrounding white membrane is too bitter to eat. Pomegranate juice, too, easily stains hands and fingers. They’re a kind of berry, so it would be easier to spring for some strawberries instead.
The thing is pomegranates are healthy in their own right. Sure, like strawberries, they’re a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidants, not to mention fiber and anti-inflammatory properties — but more than that, studies show eating the fruit and/or drinking pomegranate juice can help protect against disease, like certain cancers and Alzheimer’s.
NPR reported the West is newly aware of pomegranate’s benefits; the fruit is native to Iran and as we mentioned before, were often overlooked due to their meticulous, albeit necessary preparation. Pomegranates can actually be traced back as early as 3000 B.C., with the fruit being buried alongside ancient Egyptians, like King Tut, “in hopes of a second life.” Some scholars go as far as to suggest it was a pomegranate, not apple that tempted Eve.
Stories aside, the science is clear: This fruit is worth the quick YouTube search for tutorials on how to cut into it already. Here’s a bigger picture of what you might get if you do:
Those aforementioned antioxidants protect against dialysis-related infections, or kidney diseases, as well as cardiovascular complications (think of high blood pressure). A studypresented during the 2010 annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology found the potassium content in pomegranate juice reduces many of the dialysis-related complications for kidney patients, otherwise showing a reduced morbidity rate.
Curb Your Hunger
Shape cited the seeds’ vitamin C accounts for nearly 40 percent of the daily recommended amount, while they work to lower blood pressure and satiate hunger due to high levels of fiber. If you don’t want to just spoon-feed yourself some pomegranate seeds, consider topping your oatmeal, quinoa, or yogurt with them, Shape suggested; pomegranates also compliment chicken and turkey dishes.
Some more good news for pomegranate juice drinkers: It protects against dental plaque microorganisms. Research published in the Ancient Science of Life found drinking the juice reduces plaque-forming units by 32 percent. The juice’s antioxidants, called polyphenols, are a primary driver behind its believed antibacterial activity.
And Cancer Protection
A study from the University of California, Riverside found components of pomegranate juice may stop prostate cancer cells from moving, while also weakening the chemical signals that promote this kind of cancer to spread in the first place. And in a separate study, Israeli researchers found pomegranate juice may prevent and destroy breast cancer cells (though it’s hardly the only cancer-fighting food).
Stable PSA Levels
Prostate cancer patients may also experience lowered levels of a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) when they drink 8 ounces of pomegranate juice each day, found this study from the University of California, Los Angeles. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health reported PSA is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland, and while there aren’t normal or abnormal PSA levels, studies show men with levels below 4.0 have prostate cancer, whereas men with high levels don’t.
Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
A specific polyphenol called punicalagin is believed to be the source of pomegranate’s anti-inflammatory properties. An animal study showed mice fed pomegranate juice experienced lower levels of amyloid plaque — the plaque that accumulates between the brain’s nerve cells, the hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s — and improved their performance for certain mental tasks.
Some Kind of Wonderful
If you do skip the fruit and go right for the juice, be mindful of the brand. Last summer, Minute Maid’s pomegranate and blueberry juice was found to consist mostly of harvested apple and grape juices. But POM Wonderful is, in fact, 100 percent pomegranate juice; it is “superior” to other juices, UCLA researchers said. Their research showed it packs more antioxidants than grape, blueberry, and orange juices. It even edges ahead of green teas and wine. Bottoms up.