The pomegranate fruit features juicy, ruby-red pulp and a refreshing taste that blends both sweet and tart notes. Not only is pomegranate fruit packed with beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants, but clinical evidence supports its ability to protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer. Both the pomegranate seeds and the surrounding pulp are edible and nutritious. You may also enjoy the health benefits of pomegranate juice.
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Pomegranates -- also called Chinese apples -- are from the shrub botanically known as Punica granatum. Indigenous to Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and northern India, pomegranates are presently cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, South Europe and California. Pomegranates -- which have been employed for both culinary and medicinal use since roughly 3000 B.C. -- are associated with health, fertility and rebirth, and they have played an important role in the culture and cuisine of the Middle East. They are mentioned by name several times in the Old Testament; some Biblical scholars believe it was the pomegranate -- rather than the apple -- that was said to tempt Eve.
One 1/2-cup serving of pomegranate arils -- the red, pulpy coverings of the seeds -- contains 80 calories, 18 g of carbohydrates, 12 g of sugars and 5 g of beneficial dietary fiber, or 20 percent of the recommended daily value. Pomegranate arils are fat-free, low-salt and free of cholesterol, with 180 mg of potassium -- essential for maintaining healthy blood pressure -- per 1/2 cup. An 8-oz. cup of pomegranate juice contains 134 calories, 32.69 g of carbohydrates and 31.50 g of sugars. Although the juice lacks the beneficial fiber of the seeds, 1 cup of pomegranate juice is rich in vitamins and minerals, providing 533 mg of potassium as well as 60 mcg of folate. Folate is a B vitamin that can help prevent rare neural-tube defects in newborns. Iron -- essential in producing red blood cells -- is also present in generous amounts in pomegranate juice, with an 8-oz. serving providing 0.25 mg.
Pomegranate juice contains high levels of antioxidants in the form of tannins, anthocyanins and ellagic acid. Antioxidants can help prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease. In a study conducted on both humans and animals and published in 2000 in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," researchers found that pomegranate juice consumption helped to inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in humans, normally an initial step in the development of atherosclerosis. It also reduced the size of atherosclerotic lesions in mice, causing researchers to conclude that pomegranate juice has potent antiatherogenic effects. In a study published in 2005 in "The American Journal of Cardiology," researchers found that drinking pomegranate juice for three months decreased stress-induced ischemia -- meaning that it facilitated improved blood supply to the heart muscle -- in patients with coronary heart disease. According to Harvard Health Publications, studies suggest that pomegranate extracts significantly inhibited the growth of prostate tumors.
To purchase the best-quality pomegranates, select fruits that seem heavy for their size, with vibrant, unblemished skin. According to NPR, pomegranates can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months. When buying pomegranate juice, look for 100-percent pomegranate juice with no added sugar. Pomegranate fruit and juice can interact with prescription medications. Consult your doctor before trying pomegranate.