Native to India and Iran, pomegranates were described in ancient writing as a holy fruit that offered things like abundance and fertility. Pomegranates also, of course, offer an abundance of health benefits. Below we're exploring the benefits from both the arils (seeds) and juice of the fruit.
Top health benefits of pomegranates:
1. They are rich in antioxidants.
Pomegranate arils are rich in polyphenol antioxidants, according to Maggie Moon, MS, RD, head of nutrition communications for POM Wonderful. “Polyphenols are a class of bioactive plant compound with antioxidant properties known to combat unstable molecules that can cause damage to your cells over time. These harmful molecules are called free radicals,” says Moon.
Specifically, pomegranate arils contain anthocyanins, which are a type of flavonoid (one of the two classes of polyphenols). Research shows anthocyanins may be associated with an array of potential health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and slowing cancer growth. Anthocyanins are what give pomegranates that beautiful ruby color. And typically, the more deeply colored the fruit is, the more antioxidants it contains. So, it’s no surprise that deep red pomegranates are a rich source.
2. They are a good source of fiber.
Pomegranate arils provide us with four grams of fiber per serving, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s nearly 15% of our recommended Daily Value (DV) of fiber for adults in about a half cup of arils. Specifically, most of the fiber in pomegranates is insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber helps us to keep our digestive systems healthy (and us feeling good!) by keeping things moving through our digestive tracts. It can support stable blood sugar levels and aid in getting us full and satisfied at mealtimes.
3. They provide vitamin C.
“Pomegranate arils are a good source of vitamin C per half cup serving,” says Moon. That half cup provides around 9 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, which is about 10% of our DV of the important micronutrient for adults.
Most animals can produce their own vitamin C, but humans cannot, making it a dietary necessity for us. Vitamin C is an antioxidant itself, which helps keep other antioxidants working well throughout the body. The vitamin is a key player in several essential body processes, like protein metabolism, collagen synthesis and neurotransmitter production. It aids in immune system function and helps non-heme iron (found in plant-based sources of iron) absorption.
4. They may help to improve workouts.
Another benefit of antioxidants found in pomegranates is related to exercise. Moon says they “may help increase nitric oxide bioavailability by protecting it from breaking down in the body.”
By causing vasodilation, or widening of blood vessels, nitric oxide improves blood flow during movement. “Nitric oxide helps your body get the oxygen and nutrients it needs during exercise,” Moon says.
5. They may help with inflammation.
According to Kelsey Lorencz, RDN, nutrition advisor for Fin vs Fin, another benefit of the antioxidants found in pomegranates and pomegranate juice is potential reduction of inflammation in the body. “Studies have found that regularly drinking pomegranate juice can reduce markers of inflammation like Interlukin-6 and C-reactive protein,” says Lorencz.
Chronic inflammation is a precursor to several diseases including heart disease and diabetes, so including a variety of nutritious foods like pomegranates and other fruits in your diet is ideal. Keep in mind that inflammation has a variety of contributing factors other than diet at play, including stress, alcohol intake, exercise and autoimmune conditions.
6. They may help to improve heart health.
Since inflammation is a common marker in heart disease, it makes sense that pomegranates are associated with improved heart health. In fact, research shows pomegranate juice consumption may help lower blood pressure.
Lorencz says pomegranates and pomegranate juice may offer protective effects for those with heart disease: “In one clinical trial, heart patients who drank one cup of pomegranate juice daily experienced significantly reduced intensity, occurrence and duration of chest pain compared to the placebo group.” And there is evidence supporting consumption of fruits high in polyphenols, including pomegranates, may be helpful in controlling heart disease.
7. They provide potassium.
“Pomegranate juice provides a good source of potassium, an important electrolyte for healthy muscle function,” Moon says. Potassium is also necessary for healthy nerve function and regulation of heart rate.
The juice provides nearly 533 mg of potassium per cup, while the arils provide 205 milligrams of potassium per half-cup serving.
8. They may help improve kidney health.
Kidney stones, which are like small rocks that can form in our kidneys, occur in around 11% of men and 6% of women in the U.S. If left untreated, they can cause blood in the urine, severe pain and severe kidney complications.
One study supports pomegranates as allies in kidney stone prevention and management thanks to the antioxidant dietary phytophenols, which were found to be effective for the prevention of forming stones.
9. They offer complex carbohydrates.
Despite recent fearmongering messages in diet culture about carbs, carbs are a macronutrient group that we need at every meal and snack. In fact, we need carbs to come from around half (or more, depending on your specific needs) of our intake. Including pomegranate arils and juice at meals and snacks can help us to meet our carb needs.
10. They may add to eating pleasure.
Some studies show that eating pleasure, including enjoying the sensory experiences of food while eating and cooking, may foster healthy food and nutrition behaviors.
With their festive color, and dynamic texture and taste, chances are good pomegranate arils may contribute to a heightened sensory experience both in the eating and cooking processes.
“The beautiful ruby red arils make any dish special – from bejeweling my basic breakfast smoothie bowl to all my holiday mains and sides” says Moon. And she says that pomegranate juice retains antioxidants during cooking: “If you like to cook, pomegranate juice is for you. The antioxidants in pomegranate juice are tough enough to survive simmering on the stovetop for up to two hours.”
Are pomegranate seeds better than juice?
Like with many fruits and veggies, pomegranate juice does not provide the same fiber content as pomegranate arils. Fiber gets lost in the juicing process, along with the fruit's vitamin C — both of which are essential nutrients. But if your preferred method is to drink pomegranate juice, you will still reap all the benefits of the pomegranate's antioxidants, key nutrients like potassium and other health benefits.
Are there side effects of consuming pomegranates?
According to Moon and Lorencz, there are some points of caution to consider when consuming pomegranates. "Caregivers who are introducing new foods to infants should be mindful about their development levels and what kinds of foods they can tolerate," says Moon.
As mentioned, pomegranate juice is a good source of potassium. Moon says this "is a great thing for generally healthy folks, but some people need to watch their intake if their kidneys have trouble regulating it. Situations can vary by individual, so it’s best to work with your health care provider on any questions."
Lorencz points out that eating pomegranates or drinking pomegranate juice in large amounts could cause gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, "possibly due to the high sugar content of pomegranates," she says. On that note, anyone who needs to have a heightened awareness of blood sugar levels, like people with diabetes, can certainly enjoy pomegranates. However, pairing the arils or juice with a protein and/or fat source (such as yogurt) can help with blood sugar stability.
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