Pomegranates with dewdrops of water on them Pomegranates with dewdrops of water on them Fresh pomegranates at a market in Jerusalem. (Photo: bryantighe/Flickr)

The health benefits of pomegranates

The seeds of this round, red fruit are touted for their antioxidants.

On the outside, they may look a bit like Red Delicious apples – but once you slice them open, you can tell pomegranates are quite different. Unlike apples, the tastiest part of pomegranates is actually their seeds. Just cut off the crown, slice the pomegranate into sections like an apple, and pop out the seeds for a sweet and tangy snack.

Tiny as these kernels are, they pack a punch. Full of antioxidants, pomegranate seeds have been found to have a host of health benefits, from lowering cholesterol to combating arthritis.

"Pomegranates are known for their high polyphenol content," Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told From the Grapevine. Additionally, she said that the fruit offers a good source of potassium and vitamin C.

But don't be threatened by the hardened exterior and the myriad seeds within. "With a little time invested to open the fruit, pomegranates make a great snack," Moore said. She suggested topping salads with the seeds or incorporating seeds and juice into sauces and salsas.

Let's crack these fruits open and take a closer look at the health benefits of pomegranates, as backed by scientific studies from Florida, California and Israel, where pomegranate orchards reign supreme:

Pomegranates boost your immune system

Moore recommends drinking pomegranate juice as it effectively concentrates the beneficial nutrients in pomegranate seeds, for a more potent product. "The antioxidant activity of pomegranate juice can be as much as three times higher than that of green tea and red wine," she explained. Specifically, pomegranates contain three types of antioxidants: tannins (which have made red wine famously healthy), anthocyanins and ellagic acid. Antioxidants are important to keep the cells in our bodies healthy and able to fight off viruses, keeping down inflammation and preventing organ damage.

In fact, it outshines many other juices in comparison, according to a 2008 collaborative study between the University of California and the Rambam Meidcal Center in Israel. Pomegranate juice contained the highest concentration of antioxidants studied – even more than red wine, Concord grape juice, blueberry juice, black cherry juice, açai juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, ice tea and apple juice (in that order).

Pomegranates lower blood pressure

Think of them as stress relief in edible form. Harnessing the power of their antioxidants, pomegranates have been shown to improve systolic blood pressure (the top reading that shows the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats). When it comes to systolic blood pressure, the lower the better, and according to a study from the Lipid Research Laboratory at the Rappaport Family Institute for Research in the Medical Sciences in Israel, pomegranates achieve this by ensuring that arteries are clear of plaque, which leads us to the next wonderful benefit of these fruits...

Pomegranates lower cholesterol

By promoting a speedy clearing of the arteries, pomegranate juice also has tremendous effects on cholesterol. Another study out of the Lipid Research Laboratory analyzed pomegranates' many effects on cardiovascular health, finding that drinking concentrated pomegranate juice led to decreased cholesterol levels. Again, we have the polyphenol antioxidants to thank for this. A similar study from the same laboratory followed patients over the course of three years, finding that a daily ounce of pomegranate juice cleared out 30 percent of atherosclerotic plaque (the kind that hardens your arteries and can impede blood flow to the rest of your body, at worst causing a heart attack or stroke). Overall, drinking pomegranate juice appears to be an overall boost for your heart health.

Pomegranates combat inflammation

Antioxidants also work wonders on inflammation throughout your body, and pomegranates work their magic on even the most painful arthritis cases, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that pomegranate extract doesn't just reduce inflammation but also helps alleviate pain and even fights against cartilage degradation.

Pomegranates may inhibit cancer

Several studies show that pomegranate juice inhibits cancer cell growth and even gives those cells an extra nudge to go ahead and die (a process called apoptosis). A 2012 study out of the Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology showed that pomegranate juice prevented the proliferation of a particular human prostate cancer cell, while an earlier study from Florida Atlantic University found similar results with regard to breast cancer cells. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it's not just the seeds, but the rind and oil as well, that work against cancer cells by reducing blood supply to tumors, in effect shrinking them. While relatively few studies have been conducted with human participants (many have been in vitro), it is clear that pomegranates have the potential to be a powerful anticancer agent.

With dozens of studies backing the positive health effects of pomegranates, it's evident that this miracle fruit is more than just a snack. Next time you see one at the market, give it a try – add the fruit to your breakfast spread or throw the seeds in your next batch of Israeli couscous!

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