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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Pomegranate: A Super Superfood

Pomegranate seeds and red flesh
After wading through all the marketing hype surrounding the acai berry, only to find that most of its superfood credentials are speculative at best, it feels good to return to safer ground with the pomegrante. Just its high levels of vitamins, folate and trace minerals are enough to make the pomegranate a superfood. Combine these with some eye-catching research findings about the properties of pomegranate fruit, peel and seed oil and you have the makings of a very super fruit.

Pomegranates are native to Iran and India and have been cultivated for thousands of years. The fruit is technically a berry but is about the size of an apple with a leathery, yellow to red skin surrounding about 600 seeds encased in juicy, red flesh. Pomegranates can be eaten fresh or squeezed just like an orange to extract the juice.

The USDA nutritional breakdown for a whole pomegranate can be seen here.  A pomegranate supplies  93% of vitamin C RDI and plenty of vitamin E (40% RDI) as well as B vitamins. That isn't bad for a fruit or a glass of juice!

The pomegranate also has a few other tricks up its sleeve.

An extract of fresh pomegranate juice has been shown to have cancer-chemopreventive as well as cancer-chemotherapeutic effects on prostate cancer cells in the laboratory. Another lab study here.

Pomegranate seed oil has been shown to kill breast cancer cells in the lab.

An extract of pomegranate fruit juice seems to prevent the progress of osteoarthritis by blocking the over production of a damaging enzyme in cartilage cells. Again, laboratory results only; none of this has been shown to work inside the human body. 

Here we a have a study that showed that drinking pomegranate juice had a small positive effect on people with  ischemic coronary heart disease. This is more like it as it involves the effect of juice on real people rather than chemical extracts on cells in a test tube.

Another tantalizing study found that drinking pomegranate juice slows down the increase in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) production in men. PSA levels are used as a marker to detect potentially cancerous changes to the prostate gland. Drinking 570 mg of juice a day seems to slow down the rise of PSA in men who have already been treated for prostate cancer. It worked; PSA level doubling time increased from 15 months at baseline to 54 months after the study.

Pomegranate fruit also contains polyphenol compounds called punicalagins that have powerful antioxidant properties in the laboratory. A recent study found that punicalagins are absorbed into the body after being eaten, although that doesn't mean that they do anything once they get there.

The pomegranate fruit's vitamin content alone is enough to argue that it should be included in a balanced diet. Its additional properties make it especially valuable for those with heart and prostate problems. Research findings suggest that in the future the pomegranate may even yield life saving medicines. I can't find any evidence that dried pomegranate products or commercially available extracts have any health benefits. As always, it is best to consume the fresh fruit or juice.

The pomegranate is tasty, loaded with vitamins and comes with added extras. As close to a perfect superfood as it gets.


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