Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why Include Pomegranates in Your Healthy Diet

Introducing Pomegranates

One of my teenage memories is of my father bringing home pomegranates to eat when they were in season.  He would slice them in half and then show me how to pick out the pulp-covered seeds one by one with a small teaspoon. It was a time consuming process eating each seed individually, great care had to be taken digging into the fruit with the spoon and inevitably you ended up covered in sticky juice.  Since then pomegranates have become much more popular; not only to eat as a fruit, but also to drink as juice, and taken as supplements and teas to promote good health. They have been cultivated since ancient times and are a species native to Iran and the Himalayas. They have been grown in the Caucasus since antiquity and can now be found being cultivated all around the world from South East Asia to California.

The fruit’s Latin name is Punica granatum, and the word pomegranate is derived from the Latin pomum or apple and granatus which means seeded.  It is a deciduous shrub that has a small, bright red flower and bears a roundish fruit that is around the size of a small grapefruit.  The fruit is covered in a thick skin that is reddish in colour and contains around six hundred seeds that are encased in a juicy pulp.  These seeds and the surrounding pulp are called arils, and the arils can range in colour from white to a dark red. They are a long living, hardy shrub, and there are some trees in Europe that are over two hundred years old, although the vigour and productivity of the trees tends to start declining after fifteen years or so.


Pomegranates in History

They have been cultivated and eaten in Europe and the Middle East since ancient times and one of the earliest literary references to pomegranates was in Homer’s Hymns.  In ancient mythology they were regarded as symbols of birth, death and then eternal life because of the multitude of seeds that they contained.   They were also linked in mythology to forbidden desire, because of the deep red colour of the outer skin that resembled the colour of blood.  In the South Caucasus, the decayed remains of pomegranates have been excavated that date back at least a thousand years. A dried out fruit was found preserved in the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut’s butler, and they were mentioned on Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets.   Pomegranates were grown and eaten in Southeast Asia and China in early times and may have been introduced by traders on the Silk Road or by early sea merchants.  The city of Granada in Spain is named after the pomegranate, and in early English they were called ‘apple of Grenada’.  They were introduced into the New World by the Spanish Conquistadors, and their cultivation spread rapidly through the Caribbean and Latin America. They started to be cultivated in Britain in the seventeenth century, but did not fruit well, and were then introduced into North America by the early colonists.

 Pomegranates – Eating and Cooking

If you want to eat pomegranate as a fruit, you need to score the tough skin with a knife and then break open the fruit. You can then separate the arils from the skin and the outer pulp relatively easily.  This task is made even easier by placing the fruit in a bowl of water, as the arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the skin and pulp will stay floating on the surface. The whole of the aril is eaten, both seed and pulp, but the taste and juice is derived almost entirely from the reddish, semi-translucent pulp.  In cooking, the arils are made into sauces, which are widely used in dishes in Iran and the Middle East, as they have a flavour that is both sweet and sour. In India and Pakistan, wild pomegranate seeds are made into a spice called anardana, which is popularly used when making curries and chutneys.

Health Benefits of Pomegranates

So what are the potential benefits of including pomegranates in your diet? Pomegranate juice is very high in vitamin C, and a 100ml serving contains around 16% of an adult’s daily vitamin C requirement.  They are also a good source of vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid, vitamin E, iron, antioxidant polyphenols, tannins, anthocyanins and potassium.  A study undertaken by scientists in Israel, suggests that drinking pomegranate juice can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and that it has been shown to contain higher levels of antioxidants than any of the other fruit juices, green tea or red wine.  Antioxidants are an important part of your diet because they protect your body from the free radicals in your bloodstream.  Free radicals act on cholesterol during a process known as oxidation, which is thought to contribute to the hardening of the arteries.  The Israeli study showed that drinking pomegranate juice halved the speed of the cholesterol oxidation and reduced the amount of LDL retained in the body, LDL being the type of cholesterol that forms the fatty deposits in human arteries that can then lead to heart disease.

Drinking pomegranate juice may also be very good news for men, especially men who have undergone treatment for prostate cancer. A long-term medical study showed that men who were given the juice to drink daily after their prostate cancer treatment, but were showing signs of the cancer returning, had lower levels of PSA than the men who had pulled out of the study and were no longer drinking it. PSA or ‘prostate specific antigen’ is an enzyme that acts on breaking down proteins in seminal fluid and PSA levels are often high in those who suffer from prostate cancer, so the effect of the pomegranate juice lowering PSA levels is a very beneficial one.  Some of the men on the study continued to show lower levels of PSA after more than three years, even though they had not received any further prostate cancer treatment other than drinking the juice.

They are also now widely used in diets and as a weight loss supplement.  They are regarded as a superfood because of the high level of antioxidants that they contain, and diet pills and supplements that contain pomegranate extract are becoming very popular.  However, this is probably more due to their high nutritional value, rather than any properties that pomegranate has to aid in weight loss, as studies so far have not indicated that they can help or speed up weight loss in any way.  The use of pomegranate supplements and drinking the juice is also very popular in programmes designed to detox your body, again because of the presence of all those wonderful antioxidants and vitamins.

How to Get the Benefits of Pomegranate into Your Diet

If you find that eating pomegranate as a fruit or using them in your cooking is too much of a hassle and too time consuming, then there are other ways of ensuring your daily intake of this healthy fruit.  You can now get juice, supplements, teas, molasses and sauces, all of which will help you get those all-important vitamins and antioxidants into your body.  You can find all of these products in your local health food stores and also very easily online.

Pomegranate Tree With Fruit
Pomegranate Tree With Fruit

Drinking pomegranate juice has been popular in Persia and India since ancient times, and recently has also become very popular in the United States and the UK, both for its taste and its perceived health benefits.  It has also become the trendy juice to mix with champagne when creating champagne cocktails. Grenadine has long been a staple ingredient of cocktails and is made of thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice.  Grenadine is also used in several Iranian recipes, such as fesenjan which is a thick sauce made from ground walnuts and pomegranate juice that is poured over poultry and rice.

So, if you have never tried pomegranates before, why not reap the health benefits and give this colourful fruit a try?

Pomegranate image SriniG Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Pomegranate Tree With Fruit Image Amnon S Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

1 comment:

  1. Pomegranates are good fruits for our body, it contains enough nutrients to sustain energy and store them in our body. The only thing lacks in this fruit is that it doesn't contain zinc at all which is according to what I've read from zinc deficiency article, it is one of the most important nutrients we need because it protects our immune system.