Pomegranates are healthy, just avoid this mistake!
This post is all about pomegranates. They are one of my favorite fall fruits because they’re delicious, and because of their positive impact on heart health - read on to find out how!
Here’s what I’m going to cover:
- A little pomegranate history
- Their beneficial effects on heart health & beyond
- The classic mistake I don’t want you to make
- How to choose a good pomegranate
- The easiest, and least messy, way to remove the arils (seeds)
- Recipe suggestions to help you enjoy pomegranates this fall
A little pomegranate history:
Their name is derived from the Latin words ‘pomum’ (apple) and ‘granatus’ (seeded) reflecting the fruit's appearance with clusters of seeds inside. Apparently the ancient Greeks considered a pomegranate a symbol of fertility.
Originally native to Northern India, and the region that now encompasses modern-day Iran, pomegranates are now enjoyed worldwide, even in Ireland! FYI - they weren’t readily available in Ireland when I was growing up, so I got quite excited when I happened across a pomegranate tree, when I first arrived in Marin ~18 years ago.
Pomegranate’s beneficial properties:
The simple way to think about the nutritional benefits of a pomegranate is that they’re high in dietary fiber and loaded with phytonutrients, specifically, polyphenols. Polyphenols are a class of compounds found in many plant foods that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and therefore have preventative and therapeutic effects on heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer and obesity (1).
Research, from UCLA (2), credits pomegranates with the following health benefits:
- Heart health benefits
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Anti-cancer phytonutrients
- Digestive health benefits
- Elevated endurance
These benefits are largely attributed to the fact that pomegranates are a potent source of bioactive polyphenols. They contain 124 different phytochemicals (3), including polyphenols such as ellagic acid, and ellagitannins which are precursors to Urolithin A* which is said to improve muscle function and physical performance in healthy middle-aged adults.
*Urolithin A is arguably worthy of another newsletter, but suffice it to say it’s a postbiotic nutrient, i.e., a product of microbial action on foods that contain it’s precursor compounds (ellagitannins and ellagic acid). FYI, some call it a longevity postbiotic.
Don’t make this mistake…
Don’t drink pomegranate juice thinking you’re getting all the aforementioned health benefits! Although there are studies crediting pomegranate juice with lowering blood pressure (4), know that drinking pomegranate juice (or any juice for that matter), is typically associated with a substantial spike in blood sugar…which is not a good thing!
If you’ve ever worn a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) you’ll likely have had first hand experience with this phenomenon! Elevated blood sugar, elevates uric acid, which lowers your production of nitric oxide which in turn causes elevated blood pressure…if you missed my newsletter all about how blood sugar impacts blood pressure, click here to read more about that connection.
Note, including a very small amount of juice in a smoothie or something else (like a salad dressing) with a lot of other macronutrients isn’t a bad idea, but even then I still recommend erring on the side of caution.
Side note: The Federal Trade Commision (FTC) stopped POM Wonderful (a popular brand of pomegranate juice) from claiming their product(s) could prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction; the FTC decreed they misled consumers (5).
How to choose a good pomegranate:
As fruits go, pomegranates are not exactly cheap. Depending on where you shop you could pay up to $4 for one, so knowing what to look for will help increase your chances of getting a good one.
Obviously, I can’t make any guarantees here, but the following are my guidelines:
- Look for a pomegranate that’s hard on the outside and feels heavy for its size
- Avoid any that have cracks/bruises/soft spots
- Choose the largest you can find - typically the bigger the pomegranate the more juice it contains
- The darker ones tend to be the ones with the juicer seeds (arils) compared to the lighter colored ones which can tend to have more ‘anemic’ arils which is disappointing when you’re looking to add a vibrant rich color to a recipes (see below for recipe suggestions)
The easiest, and least messy, way to remove the arils (seeds)
If you’ve cut into a pomegranate before and inadvertently (& infuriatingly) sprayed vibrantly red juice all over your kitchen this tip is for you…
- Fill a large bowl with cold water, and while resting the pomegranate at the bottom of your bowl, carefully cut the top of pomegranate off under the water
(Cut off just enough so you can see some of the seeds inside)
- Once you’ve cut off the top you’ll see where the fruit is naturally segmented
- Then cut/score the outside of the fruit along the sections all the way to the base
(Note, cut only ~ ¼ of an inch deep. Keep it submerged to prevent the juice spraying everywhere)
- Once you’ve carved out 5 - 6 sections and gently pull the pomegranate apart under the water
- Then simply use your fingers to pry out the arils from each segment
(The white pith will float to the surface of the water, while the arils will sink)
- Then place the arils onto a paper towel to dry them slightly before putting them into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid in the fridge
(They’ll keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. They don’t typically last long in our house, so I can’t vouch for them lasting longer!)
Suggestions to help you enjoy this powerhouse of polyphenols this fall:
- Add another layer of nutrient density to your avocado toast
- Sprinkle them onto your plant based yogurt along with other nuts and seeds
- Add this delicious Moroccan carrot salad to your holiday menu this year
(FYI - this salad also keeps nicely, i.e., it holds up well for a couple of days in the fridge, so it’s great to add some other greens & protein for a quick lunch after your celebrations!)
- Try Melissa Clark’s delicious arugula & roasted carrot recipe, in the NYT cooking section, with the modifications recommended below
(Note, rather than using pomegranate molasses, which typically contains added sugars, I recommend using a small amount of Jarrow’s concentrated pomegranate juice, which has no added sugars. However, one tablespoon does contain 10g of sugars which is a lot, so I use just ½ a tablespoon when I’m making this recipe)
- Sprinkle the arils onto a soup, e.g., butternut squash soup
If you, or someone you know, would benefit from personalized advice about how to be proactive about heart health, please don’t hesitate to reach out for further guidance.
(1) Cory, H., et al (2018). The role of polyphenols in human health and food systems: A mini-review. Frontiers in nutrition, 5: 87. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00087
(2) Champion, C. (2022), UCLA Health. Health benefits of pomegranates extend throughout the body. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/health-benefits-of-pomegranates-extend-throughout-the-body#:~:text=Pomegrantes%20contain%20ellagitannins.,whole%20pomegranate%20fruit%20is%20presse
(3) Herber, D. (2011). Herbal medicine: Biomolecular and clinical aspects, 2nd edition. Chapter 10 - Pomegranate ellagitannins. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis
(4) Ghaemi, F. et al (2023). Impact of pomegranate juice on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytotherapy Research. 37(10):4429-4441. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.7952
(5) Sorvino, C. (2016). The verdict: POM wonderful misled its customers, a blow to its billionaire owners. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chloesorvino/2016/05/02/the-verdict-pom-wonderful-misled-its-customers-a-blow-to-its-billionaire-owners/?sh=59dc5c3a4b94