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“Hidden Gems” – these jewel-toned seeds provide a jackpot of health benefits

“Hidden Gems” – these jewel-toned seeds provide a jackpot of health benefits

It's hard to remain unaware of the "superfood" status of pomegranates and pomegranate juice.  Botanically known as Punica granatum, these reddish fruits feature harsh peels that reveal a treasure chest of sparkling ruby-colored seeds.  When juiced, pomegranates yield a tart, sweet, and tasty beverage - crammed with health-promoting antioxidants and polyphenols.

But what about pomegranate seeds?  Encased in tender, juicy coverings known as arils, the seeds at the center of each aril are undeniably hard, making many pomegranate fans wonder if they are edible.  Let's look at the benefits of both pomegranate seeds and juice - and attempt to resolve the "seeds versus juice" controversy. 

Pomegranate juice may help battle Alzheimer's disease

Rates of Alzheimer's disease are soaring globally, with the World Health Organization noting that a staggering 65.7 million people worldwide will be affected by this cruel and crippling condition by the year 2030.  But, pomegranate juice and pomegranate extracts are giving rise to some hope.  A 2022 study published in Foods reveals that punicic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in pomegranates, has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that can help fight the inflammation and oxidative damage that trigger neurodegenerative diseases.

In addition, punicic acid reduces deposits of harmful beta-amyloid protein in the brain while helping to combat the "tau" tangles implicated in Alzheimer's disease.  The review's impressed authors declared punicic acid is an "important nutraceutical compound in both the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease."  While more study is needed, it's good to know that refreshing pomegranate juice contains "good guy" compounds and nutrients that may emerge as key natural therapies for neurodegenerative disease.

Pomegranate juice pampers your heart

Punicic acid is not the only antioxidant that pomegranate juice brings to the table.  It is also rich in anthocyanins, ellagic acids, and nutrients that support heart health.  Researchers have credited pomegranate juice with more antioxidants than Concord grape, blueberry, and tart cherry juice.  In addition, a cup of pomegranate juice offers 32 percent of the adult daily value for vitamin K, believed to help combat atherosclerosis, 15 percent of the DV for folate - thought to reduce the risk of strokes - and 15 percent of the DV for potassium, needed for stable heartbeat.

Multiple studies have consistently shown that pomegranate juice lowers blood pressure, with one study in Clinical Nutrition revealing that pomegranate juice helped patients with carotid artery stenosis (a narrowing of arteries in the neck) lower their blood pressure by 12 percent.  In addition, pomegranate juice caused a fantastic 30 percent reduction in atherosclerotic plaque, a risk factor for heart disease.  Undeniably, pomegranate juice is a heart-friendly drink.

Safe and edible, pomegranate seeds contain more fiber than pomegranate juice

A hint to the "seediness" of pomegranates is hidden right in the fruit's name.  The last half of the word "pomegranate" - granate - comes from the medieval Latin for "many-seeded," which is certainly accurate - as seeds comprise half of the fruit's weight.  And these seeds offer significant gifts to health.

While they are good sources of both antioxidant vitamin E and magnesium, their main claim to fame is their content of insoluble (indigestible) fibers like cellulose and lignans.  While anything indigestible may seem like the last thing you want in your diet, insoluble fiber has many health benefits.

For one thing, dietary fiber causes gut bacteria to create butyric acid, an important anti-inflammatory and anticancer compound.  A recent review published in 2019 in Current Gastroenterology Reports concludes that fiber supplementation represents a promising natural intervention to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.  In addition, fiber helps to speed the elimination of waste from the body and helps to prevent constipation.  With a half cup of seeds containing almost three and a half grams of fiber, pomegranate seeds are a much better source than juice, which contains very little.

Incorporate pomegranate seeds in recipes for added color and nutrition

The takeaway?  Pomegranate seeds are a perfectly edible - and beneficial - bonus ingredient.

One note of caution, though.  In rare cases, excessive intake could cause an intestinal blockage.  (This is more likely in those with chronic constipation.  If you have questions about your pomegranate seed intake, consult your integrative doctor.)  Also, don't share pomegranate seeds with your furry friends.

So, go ahead and sprinkle the fresh, raw seeds over salads for brilliant pops of color, or spoon them into yogurt or oatmeal.  You can also blend them into smoothies or use them to garnish sparkling water, iced herbal teas or your favorite "mocktail."

Whether you prefer to sip the juice or crunch the seeds, pomegranates are a fabulous addition to your healthy daily diet.

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