Please Pass the Pomegrantes
by Winston J. Craig
Pomegranates have been valued since antiquity. They were found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and the medical papyri of 1,500 B.C. indicate that pomegranates were used in herbal medicine. Their astringent properties were utilized to treat diarrhea and sore throats.
Pomegranates were prominent in the life of early Near East residents and were associated with a long and healthy life. In Palestine, pomegranate flowers and fruits were embroidered on the bottom edge of the high priest's robe. The capitals atop the pillars on the porch of Solomon's Temple were each adorned with 200 carved pomegranates. In Greece, pomegranates are considered a symbol of abundance, fertility, and good fortune.
In the Koran, pomegranates are mentioned three times—twice as examples of good things that God has created, and once as a fruit found in the Garden of Paradise. The name pomegranate means "apple with many seeds," which refers to the many clear, ruby-colored seeds. According to Jewish tradition, the perfect pomegranate has 613 seeds, one for each commandment of the Torah.
A medium-sized pomegranate is 80 percent water and only 105 calories with less than one-half a gram of fat. Its rich content of potassium helps lower blood pressure levels. The juice is a good source of vitamin C, folic acid, ellagic acid, and phytosterols. Their taste depends upon the variety of pomegranate and its state of ripeness. Some are sweet, while others are tangy due to their high tannin content. Pomegranates possess very high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. These polyphenolic compounds include the health-promoting anthocyanins, and occur in levels higher than that of blueberries and grapes.
Pomegranate trees grow well in the dry conditions of California and Arizona, where the pomegranates are grown commercially for their juice. Products available include 100 percent pomegranate juice and juice blends containing blueberry or red cherry juice, all anthocyanin-rich juices.
Pomegranate juice was recently shown to retard the growth of highly aggressive prostate cancer cells. Men with prostate cancer who consumed one cup of pomegranate juice per day experienced an increase in the death of tumor cells, and a significant inhibition of tumor growth. Other studies have shown that the juice inhibits the proliferation of breast cancer and colon cancer cells.
The potent flavonoids in pomegranates significantly inhibit the development of atherosclerotic lesions, lower LDL cholesterol levels that are elevated, and reduce heart disease risk factors. Elderly individuals drinking pomegranate juice also experienced a small drop in their systolic blood pressure levels.
The seeds and reddish pulp of the fruit are edible and can be made into a jelly or sauce. In Turkey, pomegranate sauce is used as a salad dressing and pomegranate seeds are used in salads and desserts. In Greece, pomegranates are used in salads, in avocado dips, fruit salads, mixed with yogurt, or made into jams or ice cream toppings.
Winston Craig, R.D., Ph.D., is a professor of nutrition at Andrews University.
Pomegranate juice can inhibit tumor growth.
Risk of cardiovascular disease is lowered.
The sauce makes a low-fat, low calorie dressing.