Culinary adventures during the month of November typically involve turkey with all the fixings, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and apple pie. Here is a suggestion - how about exploring a more esoteric culinary delight – pomegranate! November is National Pomegranate Month. Up until a few years ago pomegranates were an oddity of the produce department. The exotic fruit, which grows on small trees and resembles an apple with a “crown” at one end, generally did not make it into American shopping baskets unless it was commandeered by a person of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent. About five years ago an explosion of news emerged from scientific studies regarding the impressive health benefits of pomegranates. Suddenly, hundreds of new pomegranate products – pomegranate juice, salad dressing, fruit bars and even ice cream and candy hit store shelves.
The perception of pomegranates as a trendy, modern fruit is misleading. Pomegranates, which are native to Iran, are one of the oldest cultivated fruits, with a history going back over 3,000 years. To ancient peoples pomegranates were a sacred fruit, prominent in several religious traditions. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Judeo-Christian spirituality featured pomegranates as a symbol of wholeness, fertility and rebirth. The Jewish Bible and Talmud mention pomegranates several times. Israel’s temple was decorated with pomegranates, as were the robes of the High Priest. Ancient Christian paintings depict portray the Blessed Virgin Mary and the child Jesus holding a pomegranate. In addition to its religious symbolism, pomegranates were used in traditional medical systems, including used in Ayruvedic medicine.
Pomegranates are perceived to be difficult eat and use in recipes. This is because the edible portion of the fruit , red seed sacks containing juice called arils, are imbedded in a bitter, tough membrane. If you open the pomegranate with a knife and manually try to separate the seeds from the membrane you are in for a messy struggle. An easier way is to “birth” the seeds under water. First, cut the “crown” off the pomegranate. Then, score the outer rind into sections. Soak the pomegranate in a large bowl of water for a couple of minutes. While holding it under water break the rind sections apart. Roll out the arils with your fingers. The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane and rind will float. Strain the arils from the water. The arils can be eaten fresh or used in used in a variety of recipes – salads, dressings, sauces, stews, and desserts.
All parts of the fruit, seed, rind, and membrane have been shown to have potential health benefits. One of the most studied constituent of pomegranates is a polyphenol call ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is found in the juice and seed oils. Ellagic acid has anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties. Other constituents thought to have health benefits are anthocyanins (good for the vessels), vitamin C, gallic acid, catechins, quercetin, rutin, punicic acid, fatty acids and sterols. The seed oil has flavones and flavols with estrogen – like properties.
Research regarding pomegranates is impressive because there are several good studies describing health benefits in humans, not just laboratory animals. The most impressive human studies addressed prostate cancer, atherosclerosis, coronary artery stenosis and hypertension. Human studies used fresh juice, undiluted and from the entire pomegranate fruit. Diluted, sugary substitutes don’t qualify.
Men who had previous surgery or radiation for prostate cancer and had a rising PSA test (rising = a negative indicator) were given 8 oz of pomegranate juice daily. After 13 months, 35% demonstrated decreased PSA levels. In addition, they experienced a 40% decrease in markers of oxidative stress. The subjects’ serum, upon laboratory analysis, showed decreases in cancer cell growth and increases in cancer cell death compared to their individual baseline values.
In animal studies, pomegranate juice reduced the size of atherosclerotic lesions in vessels, reduced lipid peroxidation, which is thought to precipitate arteriosclerosis. In humans 50 ml (just under 2 oz) of pomegranate juice daily inhibited lipid peroxidation by 32%. Pomegranate juice also decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in a population of diabetic patients
Coronary Artery Stenosis
A small human study of 19 patients with severe stenosis (narrowing) of the internal carotid arteries was conducted. Ten of the subjects were given 50 ml of pomegranate juice daily for one year and 9 were given none. Intima-media thickness (IMT), a measure of the amount of closing of a vessel, was followed. Control subjects had an average of 9% increase in IMT. Conversely, those given PJ had reduced IMT at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. The range of IMT reduction was 13% at 3 months to 35% at one year, compared to baseline. Although this study is very small in size, the results are remarkable and warrant further investigation.
A small clinical trial showed the pomegranate juice acts like a class of drugs used to lower blood pressure called ACE inhibitors. There was a slight, 5% decrease in systolic blood pressure.
Currently there are many other areas of study regarding potential benefits of pomegranate juice. They include reducing episodes of angina with increased vessel flow, male infertility, periodontal disease, and protection from Alzheimer’s disease.
Many Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cook books have recopies using pomegranates. A brand of juice called PomWonderful was used in the prostate cancer studies. Their website – www.PomWonderful.com – contains a great deal of information, including recipes.
Therapeutic Applications of Pomegranate – A Review. Julie Jurenka. Alternataive Medicine Review. June 2008
These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. They are for information purposes only.