Help your heart-and many other body parts-with this antioxidant-rich fruit and its juice
You've probably seen the superhero-themed publicity campaign for pomegranates and pomegranate juice, but is the health buzz on this exotic fruit really backed up by facts? While no single food or drink is the magic (speeding) bullet of disease prevention, a growing body of research suggests that pomegranate seeds, fruit, and extract really may deliver serious health benefits-including improving cholesterol levels and fighting prostate cancer. To find out what makes the fruit so special, Epicurious spoke to David Grotto, R.D., L.D.N., the author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life and the forthcoming 101 Optimal Life Foods.
Grotto explains that much of the medical community's excitement about pomegranates stems from the fruit's high level of antioxidant polyphenols. Antioxidants help protect the body from free-radical damage-cell damage that is linked to cancer, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses. In 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, Grotto writes, "Polyphenol research is most promising in the areas of heart disease and cancer prevention." He adds that the polyphenol content in pomegranate juice is three times the amount found in red wine and green tea-two other drinks that have been studied and touted for their roles in fighting cancer and heart disease.
To learn more about the health benefits of pomegranates and how to open one, and for delicious recipes made with the seeds and juice, read on.
POMEGRANATES PROMOTE HEART HEALTH
A lot of the buzz about pomegranates has to do with their ability to help the heart. "Several animal and human studies have demonstrated pomegranates' ability to reduce artery wall thickness, decrease plaque formation, and reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol, all thought to be risk factors for heart disease," confirms Grotto. He adds, "Pomegranates are rich in polyphenols, plant chemicals known to reduce the inflammation process associated with heart disease." As we explained in The Anti-Inflammatory Diet, chronic low-grade inflammation in the body has been linked to increased risk of disease, including heart disease and stroke. Boost the benefits to your arteries by pairing pomegranates with other heart-healthy ingredients such as almonds and avocados, both of which contain "good" fats and are also anti-inflammatory, according to Epicurious's sister site Nutrition Data.
recipes to try:
Green Leaf Lettuce, Pomegranate, and Almond Salad
Mango Pomegranate Guacamole (see recipe below)
POMEGRANATES LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE AND MAY DECREASE STROKE RISK
"In a human study, participants with hypertension were given eight ounces of pomegranate juice to drink daily for 14 days," says Grotto. "Average systolic blood pressure dropped, resulting in a 36 percent decrease in risk of stroke." Drink the juice straight up, mixed with seltzer, or in cocktails. Also try substituting pomegranate juice for other juices in recipes-its tartness makes it a particularly good stand-in for cranberry juice. (A note on cocktails: Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to increased risk for stroke and heart disease, but some research suggests a link between light alcohol consumption and decreased risk. For more information, read Alcohol Consumption as a Risk Factor for Stroke from strokecenter.org.)
recipes to try:
Pomegranate-Ginger Champagne Cocktail (alcoholic)
POMEGRANATES FIGHT PROSTATE CANCER
Various studies suggest that pomegranate juice or extract can both inhibit the growth of cancer cells and actually kill cancer cells. "Men who underwent prostate cancer treatment and consumed eight ounces of pomegranate juice over a two-year period had, on average, significantly slower rises in Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), a prostate cancer progression marker," says Grotto. "The polyphenols in pomegranates are known to increase apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in certain cancer cells." For prostate health, experts recommend cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy and loading up on fresh produce (See WebMD's Is There a Prostate Cancer Diet? for more advice). Match pomegranate seeds and juice with other prostate cancer-fighting produce, such as the onions and carrots in the recipes below.
recipes to try:
Pomegranate, Beet, and Blood Orange Salad
POMEGRANATES MAY KILL HARMFUL BACTERIA
Grotto cites a recent study featured in the journal Molecules that showed that extracts from six Turkish varieties of pomegranates were effective in killing seven different harmful bacterial strains, including strains of E. coli and Staphylococcus. While the study was done in the lab with extracts, it does suggest that adding more pomegranate seeds and juice to your diet could bolster your body against some kinds of bacteria. Pomegranates, along with grape skins, wine, and tea, contain tannins, compounds that have "demonstrated antibacterial and antimicrobial properties," says Grotto. Eat pomegranates with other antibacterial ingredients such as garlic, onion, allspice, and oregano, which have been found to be "the best all-around bacteria killers," according to a Cornell Chronicle article about antibacterial spices. Those heavy-hitters are followed by thyme, cinnamon, tarragon, and cumin (which kill up to 80 percent of bacteria), then chiles and other hot peppers (which kill or inhibit up to 75 percent of bacteria), states the article. White and black pepper, ginger, anise seed, celery seed, and lemon and lime juice round out the list (killing 25 percent of bacteria).
recipes to try:
Stuffed Poblano Chiles with Walnut Sauce and Pomegranate Seeds
Cumin-Scented Eggplant with Pomegranate and Cilantro
POMEGRANATES IMPROVE ERECTILE FUNCTION
Grotto says that polyphenols, which are found in abundance in pomegranates, "not only improve circulation to the heart but also to other areas of the body as well." He reports that in a study of men diagnosed with erectile dysfunction, "those who drank pomegranate juice for four weeks were twice as likely to achieve erections versus those men who consumed the placebo." (Though the study was small and overall statistical significance was not achieved, the findings suggests "the possibility that larger cohorts and longer treatment periods may achieve statistical significance," according to the study abstract.) There appears to be a link between hypertension (high blood pressure) and erectile dysfunction in some cases, so eating a diet that helps lower blood pressure could also help with erectile function. The DASH Diet, which includes abundant amounts of produce, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, is recommended by the American Heart Association and many other reputable medical groups and doctors. The American Heart Association also recommends cutting back on sodium and eating foods high in potassium, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, lima beans, oranges, and fat-free yogurt (follow the link for a complete list). For a tasty dessert, serve the low-sodium compote below over fat-free Greek yogurt.
recipes to try:
Arugula Salad with Pomegranate and Toasted Pecans (to cut sodium, omit the salt)
Blood Orange, Grapefruit, and Pomegranate Compote
POMEGRANATES MAY INCREASE BONE DENSITY
Grotto cites a study in which mice that were given pomegranate extract for two weeks had significantly less bone loss when compared to mice that did not consume pomegranate (the study abstract is available from PubMed.gov). While the study was done on mice and not humans, the next time you're making a calcium-rich milk or yogurt smoothie, it couldn't hurt-and might help-to add some pomegranate juice.
recipes to try:
Guanabana Sherbet with Tropical Fruit
Watercress, Pear, and Pomegranate Salad
HOW TO OPEN A POMEGRANATE
Put on an apron or outfit you don't care about staining.
Cut the fruit into quarters, or score the skin in quarters, then pull the fruit apart.
Working over a large, deep bowl, gently loosen the seeds with your fingers. Discard the pith and skin.
You can also remove the seeds with the fruit completely submerged in a bowl of water. The pith will float to the top; the seeds will sink. Scoop out and discard the pith, then drain the seeds in a colander. While this technique is less messy, you'll lose a bit more of the fruit's precious juices.
MANGO POMEGRANATE GUACAMOLE
Gourmet | November 2008
by Lillian Chou
Yield: Makes 8 (hor's d'oeuvres) servings
Active time: 20 min
Total time: 20 min
Folding fruit into guacamole is an inspired tradition in Mexican cooking. Tropical mangoes are a natural pairing, their silky flesh adding a subtle tartness to creamy avocado. To herald the holiday season, pomegranate seeds flash bright red against the guacamole's cilantro-flecked green.
4 ripe avocados (2 pounds total)
1 cup finely chopped white onion
2 fresh serrano chiles, finely chopped (2 tablespoons), including seeds
1/4 cup fresh lime juice, or to taste
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate)
3/4 cup diced peeled mango
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Accompaniment: plantain chips
Garnish: lime wedges
Halve, pit, and peel avocados. Coarsely mash in a bowl. Stir in onion, chiles, 1/4 cup lime juice, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, then fold in pomegranate seeds, mango, and cilantro. Season with salt and additional lime juice.
Cooks' note: Guacamole can be made 4 hours ahead and chilled, its surface covered with parchment paper or plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature and stir before serving.
Pomegranate photo by Steven Torres
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By Megan O. Steintrager