Pondering pomegranates — Health benefits?

Originally Published: November 30, 2007 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 25, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I understand pomegranates are very good for you; being very high in antioxidants. How do you eat them? What about POM juice; is that just as good? How many oz. should I drink a day to be effective and yet not wasteful? Finally, pomegranate capsules bought in a health food store are much cheaper. Is a capsule a day just as effective?

Dear Reader,

Although no one ever said a pomegranate a day keeps the doctor away, this fruit, also known as a Chinese apple, is filled with vitamin C and other nutrients that are good for your body. Much of the current research focuses on antioxidants in the pomegranate called polyphenols, which may play an important role in protecting your heart and arteries. Studies in mice (not men…or women) have shown that pomegranate juice slows down the rate at which arteries harden and may also reduce the amount of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, in the bloodstream. The polyphenols may even help reverse damage that having high blood pressure causes to the walls of the arteries and blood vessels. 

The hardest part about eating a pomegranate is the skin (literally!). Pomegranates are surrounded by a thick skin that, unlike apples, should not be eaten. Rather, it's the fleshy pink pulp and seeds inside that contain the good stuff. In order to dig in, one should:

  • Remove the flowery part of the pomegranate, usually by cutting it off with a knife.
  • Cut through the rind lengthwise, making sure not to cut so deeply that your knife's blade goes to the middle of the fruit.
  • Soak the fruit in a bowl of water for five minutes or so.
  • Carefully break apart sections of the pomegranate along the cuts in the rind while the fruit is still under water. This should allow for the seeds to fall out and sink to the bottom while the inedible parts (the membrane and rind) float at the top.
  • Throw away the membrane and rind, drain the seeds, and enjoy!  

If that sounds too much work for you, you can break or cut the fruit in half, and then pick away at the seeds with your fingers or fork. Be careful though, because the red juice from the seeds is likely to stain. You can also make your own pomegranate juice by blending the seeds in a blender or food processor, or rolling the whole fruit along a hard surface like a floor or counter, and then breaking open the skin and squeezing out the juice. If that still sounds like too much work, or if you want to keep your hands clean, you can also buy the juice from the store — just be aware of whether you are getting 100 percent juice, or if there are added sweeteners. Although it's not clear how much someone who is healthy should drink daily, some researchers feel that 16 ounces of pomegranate juice (which is two cups, one pint, or about 500 milligrams) might be beneficial to those who are already showing the early signs of heart damage. 

As far as pomegranate pills go, over-the-counter supplements and herbs are not currently regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nor are their claims. With that in mind, you might be better off sticking to the real stuff. If it's the extra cost of buying pomegranates or juice that's getting you down, you could think of it as a long investment in your health. Additionally, pomegranates are supposed to be eaten (or drunk) as part of a healthy diet. That is, you should feel free to substitute pomegranates for oranges, bananas, apples or whatever fruit you would normally eat, which may help keep your overall grocery costs down. Students at Columbia (Morningside campus) can also schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian by contacting Medical Services. Students on the Medical Center campus can contact the Center for Student Wellness for information on achieving a health diet.

Bon Appétit!

Alice