Heart : Power to the Pomegranate: A Super Food Worth Unpacking

By Michael T. Murray, ND

Beloved amongst fruits, the pomegranate is venerated not only for its seniority but also for its colorful history and legendary healing properties. Native to the area of modern day Iran and Iraq, the pomegranate has been cultivated since ancient times and now grows throughout the world.

The fruit is about the size of an orange. The rind color ranges from yellow-orange to deep reddish-purple. Inside the fruit, reside a multitude of seed pips yielding a tangy, sweet, rich, and flavorful juice.

Key Health Benefits

The primary marketing message of pomegranate juice focuses on its heart and vascular health advantages. Due to its abundance of antioxidants -- soluble polyphenols, tannins, and anthocyanins -- it has attained super food status. Animal research indicates that components of pomegranate juice can retard hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), reduce plaque formation, and improve the health of blood vessels.

Human clinical studies have supported the role of pomegranate juice (240 ml/day) in benefiting heart health. In a clinical study conducted in 2011 at Johns Hopkins University, patients with high blood pressure consumed pomegranate juice for two weeks. The juice reduced systolic blood pressure by inhibiting an enzyme (serum angiotensin-converting enzyme) that causes vascular contraction.

Elsewhere in the body, pomegranate's beneficial flavonoid compounds and critical metabolites are absorbed and concentrated in the prostate gland, colon, and intestinal tissues. A growing body of research highlights how pomegranate consumption supports the health of these tissues and fights cancer.

One group of flavonoid components in pomegranates is called ellagitannins. When ingested, these compounds are broken down into ellagic acid that exerts a potent antioxidant and anticancer compound. Not only does the acid protect DNA, it also blocks the cancer-causing actions of many pollutants, such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) found in cigarette smoke and toxic chemicals such as benzopyrene.

Many commercially available pomegranate extracts are being standardized to contain 40 percent (or more) ellagic acid. However, synergy trumps separation. The synergistic action of several pomegranate constituents with ellagic acid suggests that the full range of phytochemicals produces a greater effect beyond just a high ellagic acid content.

Choosing a Winner

Pomegranates should be plump and round, heavy for their size, with a rich, fresh color and should be free of cuts and blemishes. Larger fruits promise more seeds and more juice. Whole fruits can be stored for a month in a cool, dry area or refrigerated up to two months.

Separate Pips from Pulp

The first step in preparation involves cutting of the crown of the pomegranate -- the part with the stem at the top. Once the crown is removed, cut the pomegranate into four sections. Place the sections into a bowl of water and, using your fingers, gently roll the pips out from the membrane. Once the seed pips have been separated, drain out the water and you are now able to eat or use them.

Juicing's Ultimate Accessory

Juicing is an easy way to use pomegranates. Once separated, place them in the juice extractor along with the other ingredients. Try them in the following recipes, or add them to your favorite juice blends.

Berry Happy
This juice is super-healthy because it combines flavonoid-rich berries with pomegranate.
1 cup mixed berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries)
1/4 cup pomegranate pips
1 apple or pear, cut into wedges

Juice the berries, then the pomegranate pips. Flush through with the apple.

Pommy Blue Juice
This refreshing purple juice is as beautiful as it is healthy.
1 cup pomegranate pips
2 cups blueberries

Juice the fruits all at once and enjoy.

Red and Fruity
This juice is great for finicky kids and takes advantage of the red pigments in berries, cherries, and pomegranate to cover up the beet taste.
1/2 cup strawberries
1/2 cup pitted cherries
1 beet
1/4 cup pomegranate pips 1 apple, cut into wedges

Juice the strawberries and cherries, followed by the beet, pomegranate, and apple.

This article is reprinted with permission from Dr. Michael Murray's Natural Living News. For more articles like this one, visit www.DoctorMurray.com/NLN.

Dr. Michael T. Murray is one of the world's leading authorities on natural medicine and the author of more than 30 bestselling books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. He is a graduate and former faculty member, and serves on the Board of Regents, of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington.