The history of the pomegranate is as fascinating as its flavor and nutritional properties. Did you know that pomegranate remnants have been discovered in Egyptian tombs or consumed by Babylonian soldiers before they went into battle?
These red fruits with a tough outer layer were also considered as a symbol of hope, prosperity and abundance in several cultures and as such were included in wedding ceremonies. Also known as the ‘jewels of winter’ in North America, pomegranates possess numerous health benefits which will be discussed in this article. I’ll also share some of my favorite pomegranate recipes with you. Enjoy the read!
Top 15 health reasons to love pomegranates
1. Pomegranates are impressive nutrient powerhouses.
One cup of edible seeds or arils (about 174g) contains:
- 2.9g of protein
- 7g of fiber
- 17.7mg of vitamin C
- 28.5mg of vitamin K
- 66mg of folate
- 411mg of potassium
- 17mg of calcium
- 21mg of magnesium
2. Pomegranates contain two unique compounds.
Pomegranate arils get their amazing deep ruby red color from potent antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Two of the substances that brought pomegranates to fame are:
- Punicalagins, potent antioxidants which are uniquely found in the pomegranate’s juice and peel.
- Punicic acid, a fatty acid present in the arils. It is also commonly referred to as pomegranate oil.
3. Pomegranates can help reduce inflammation.
Quiz time: Is inflammation always a bad thing?
Although this may sound counter-intuitive, transient inflammation (one that flares up and then dies down pretty quickly) can actually be good news as it’s a sign that your immune system is working properly. However, chronic low-grade inflammation induced by psychological stress, a sedentary life, smoking, poor quality sleep and an unhealthy diet can spell serious trouble ahead.
Research suggests that chronic inflammation can lead to:
- Insulin resistance which can cause accumulation of body fat and increased risk of diabetes.
- Leptin resistance – The hormone leptin regulates appetite and metabolism. When the brain’s hypothalamus becomes leptin resistant, glucose and fat metabolism are adversely affected, resulting in weight gain, difficulty to lose weight and insulin resistance.
- Heart disease especially heart attacks and stroke
- Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Certain cancers
- Autoimmune disorders
- Depression and psychiatric disorders
- Metabolic syndrome
- Macular degeneration (the leading cause of vision loss)
That’s a grim long list of serious health complications, right? So here’s some good news: thanks to the antioxidant properties of punicalagins, pomegranates can help combat low-grade inflammation and keep these bleak diseases at bay.
4. Pomegranates support heart health.
Want to protect your ticker? Make sure to consume pomegranates regularly. Both laboratory and clinical studies indicate that pomegranates can help keep heart disease at bay by:
- Decreasing oxidative stress and damage to blood vessels due to inflammation. Punicalagins have been found to protect the heart by reducing inflammation and by helping quench the deleterious effects of free radicals on cell membranes.
- Promoting the body’s production and activity of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a substance with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps delay the progression of atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries) by scavenging free radicals and preventing blood cells and platelets from clumping on the arteries’ walls.
- Preventing the oxidation of LDL molecules. Oxidized LDL molecules can injure the cells that line the coronary arteries – this can narrow the arteries and precipitate a heart attack.
5. Pomegranates can reduce blood pressure.
One of the factors that contribute to increased blood pressure is the overgrowth of undesirable muscle cells in blood vessel walls. Thanks to the punicalagins they contain, pomegranates can help prevent this dangerous muscle cell growth. In fact, compared to grape juice, blueberry juice, red wine, vitamin C, and vitamin E, pomegranate juice was found to be considerably more effective.
6. Pomegranates are beneficial for individuals with diabetes and the metabolic syndrome.
Jordanian researchers have discovered that the antioxidants (particularly punicalagins and punicalins) in the pomegranate are able to tone down the damaging abrupt after-meal spike in blood sugar levels by reducing sugar absorption. They explained that these antioxidants can help the beta-cells in the pancreas store and release insulin more effectively.
In another study, Iranian researchers found that pomegranate juice markedly reduces cardiac risk factors in diabetic patients: those who consumed 40 grams (1.41 fluid ounces) per day of concentrated pomegranate juice for eight weeks experienced substantial improvement in heart health. This is an important finding since individuals suffering from diabetes are at higher risks of heart disease.
7. Pomegranates can help reduce joint pain and prevent osteoarthritis.
Interleukin-1b (IL-1b) is a molecule that leads to the overproduction of inflammatory molecules such as matrix metalloproteases (MMPs). Although MMPs are enzymes involved in tissue regeneration, when produced in excess, they lead to cartilage degradation that occurs in osteoarthritis. Thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the pomegranate has been found to suppress the over-production of MMPs and thus break the cycle of tissue damage.
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