I love fall. The colorful leaves, the chillier days, the seasonal seasonal fruits and veggies. Root vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes abound this time of year. But so does my absolute favorite fall fruit: the pomegranate.
The uniquely seeded punicaceae — its scientific name — comes from the pomegranate tree and is packed with a ton of health benefits. From their antimicrobial properties to supporting your brain health and immunity, pomegranate fruits can do it all. Here’s a look at the myriad health benefits of pomegranates.
Fresh pomegranates are nutrient-rich.
Pomegranates are native to the Mediterranean, Afghanistan, Iran, and Southern California. Low in calories but high in nutrients, pomegranate seeds (also called arils) are the kind of snack I can munch on all day long without worrying about my waistband. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals, including folate, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. They’re also a good source of fiber and protein (so long as you’re eating the seeds and not drinking pomegranate juice, which contains few fiber benefits.) To easily incorporate pomegranate arils into your daily diet, add them to yogurt, toss them in a salad, or eat them on their own for a midday snack. You can even try blending pomegranate seeds into your smoothies or adding them to a turkey sandwich.
Pomegranates support brain health.
Many brain conditions are impacted by inflammation and resultant oxidative damage. (Inflammation in the brain acts as a catalyst for conditions lurking in the genes.) But compounds called ellagitannins help reduce inflammation of the brain. They do this by producing a key compound called urolithin A. And guess which of our favorite fall fruits is rich in ellagitannins?
Pomegranate! Ellagitannins are present in the highest concentration in pomegranate juice, although they are also present in lesser quantities in the seeds alone. So, pour that morning serving of pomegranate juice with your cereal. You’re doing your brain a favor.
Pomegranate can fight off other types of inflammation, too.
Inflammation of the brain isn’t the only kind of inflammation pomegranates can help reduce. Regularly consuming pomegranates and their seeds can help prevent chronic inflammation, a major risk factor for conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and prostate cancer. In fact, several studies have found that consuming pomegranate as a dietary supplement can have therapeutic effects on chronic inflammatory diseases and reduce markers of inflammation among. Although scientists are still working to figure out exactly how and why this occurs, one theory is that pomegranates contain punicalagin, a compound with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties essential for soothing chronic inflammation. Whatever the exact mechanism may be, it’s clear that pomegranates can be hugely beneficial for those prone to chronic disease.
Speaking of antioxidants, pomegranate is rich in those, too. Antioxidant activity protects our cells from free radicals, toxic compounds that are produced by our body in response to environmental factors such as diet and radiation exposure. While it’s impossible to completely rid yourself of free radicals, it is important to prevent the accumulation of free radicals in your body, which can lead to chronic diseases including cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants are key to preventing this buildup. Along with punicalagins, pomegranates also contain anthocyanins and tannins, which function as antioxidants and help protect us from free radicals. In other words, you can do more than just slather on the sunscreen to protect yourself from UV rays — you can also incorporate a pomegranate snack into your daily meal plan.
Cancer Prevention: One Pomegranate at a Time
An exciting development in the research of pomegranate health benefits is the growing body of science suggesting that pomegranates can help ward off cancer. Studies have found that compounds in pomegranate may help suppress the inflammation and oxidative stress response that’s so damaging in the early stages of cancer. Initial test-tube studies even suggest that pomegranate juice may help the body combat cancer cells before they spread. Although more research is needed, initial findings are promising.
Pomegranates and Heart Health
Pomegranates are rich in polyphenols, antioxidant-rich compounds also found in red wine and dark chocolate. A number of studies suggest that polyphenols are beneficial for heart health and may help lower blood pressure and plaque buildup in the arteries (a condition known as atherosclerosis). As with most of the science on this juicy fruit, more research is needed, but initial results are hopeful. One study found that after just five days of consuming pomegranate, study participants had markedly lower levels of biomarkers indicating a risk of heart disease.
Pomegranates and Urinary Health
Another test-tube study found that pomegranate consumption may help prevent kidney stone formation, a painful condition that results from the buildup of acid salts and minerals in the kidney. Kidney stones are usually not serious but can be very painful to pass. Thanks again to their antioxidant benefits, pomegranates have been found to inhibit kidney stone formation and regulate calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, which often contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
Antimicrobial Properties of Pomegranate
Certain compounds in pomegranates have also been found to have antimicrobial properties — in other words, they help protect us from certain strains of yeast, fungi, and bacteria. One study found that pomegranates were effective against Listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria responsible for Listeria infection. Another study suggested that pomegranates can fight unwanted bacteria in the mouth, including those responsible for tooth decay and bad breath. Perhaps pomegranate seeds should be an oral hygiene staple?
Pomegranate and Increased Exercise Endurance
Pomegranate is rich in antioxidants that promote good heart health. Early research suggests that polyphenols can help slow exhaustion and improve endurance while exercising and may also help support muscle recovery post-workout. So, not only are these compounds helping to keep your heart strong; they’re supporting your daily workout, too.
So, let’s recap: Pomegranate is high in key vitamins and minerals, and is a good source of fiber and protein. The antioxidant compounds it contains can increase protection from free radicals, reduce risk of developing cancer, ward off various bacterial infections, and improve exercise endurance. Pomegranates are also effective at reducing inflammation, supporting good brain health, improving digestion, and supporting a healthy urinary system. That’s a whole lot of health benefits.
If you’re new to the world of pomegranates and you aren’t sure how to incorporate them into your diet, here are a few suggestions.
- Add pomegranate seeds to a feta salad. The sharp, bitter flavors of a feta and spinach salad contrast nicely with sweet and juicy pomegranate seeds, especially when paired with the right dressing. This is a foolproof way to get several key nutrients at once.
- Bake pomegranate orange muffins. The delicious and tangy flavors of pomegranate and orange come together beautifully in baked goods, muffins in particular. Eat them for breakfast, or pack them as a snack.
- Top yogurt with pomegranate seeds. The tart seeds pair well with a simple yogurt base and a scoop of granola.
It doesn’t matter how you incorporate pomegranate into your diet. It matters only that you do. It’s tasty, crunchy, and incredibly healthy.