On our long list of summer-favourite foods, pomegranate is pretty high up there. Not only is this fruit a stunner with its gorgeous deep red hue, but it also packs a punch of flavour and sweetness into its tiny seeds (a.k.a. arils). Another pomegranate benefit? It adds the perfect pop of fun to salads and parfaits. And as if that wasn’t enough…it’s healthy, too.
Pomegranates are celebrated for being low in calories but high in fibre, antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals. It’s a win-win-win in the aesthetic-flavour-nutrition department, which has us swooning over these stunners all season long.
Meet the experts: Abigail Collen, RD, a registered dietitian. Rebecca Sarac, RD, is a registered dietitian who works to connect leading grocery retailers to their consumers through culinary-developed and inspired meals.
Let’s dive deeper into the nutrition numbers, shall we?
Here’s how the nutrients shake out for a half-cup of pomegranate seeds, according to USDA data:
- Calories: 72
- Fat: 1 g
- Saturated Fat: 0.1 g
- Carbohydrates: 16 g
- Sodium 2.6 mg
- Sugar: 11.9 g
- Fibre: 3.48 g
- Protein: 45 g
- Potassium: 205 mg
To address the elephant in the room, yes, pomegranates *are* higher in sugar than other fruits (for comparison, a half-cup of raspberries has only 3 grams, compared to around 12 grams in pomegranates). But—and this is important—fruits like pomegranate also have fibre that helps slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
“Over the past few decades, diet culture has taught us to fear sugar in all its forms. However, the wide variety of vitamins and minerals as well as the fibre you get with fruits far outweighs the perceived cost of the slightly higher sugar content.”
Speaking of those vitamins and minerals, let’s dive into those health benefits of pomegranates:
1. They’re antioxidant-rich
Pomegranates are chock-full of polyphenols (anthocyanins, punicalagins and hydrolyzable tannins) containing potent antioxidant properties.
These antioxidants, in turn, help protect against “free radicals” which, in science-speak, are “molecules which have had a breakage in their chemical bond, making them unstable, highly reactive and capable of causing cell damage that manifests as ageing and disease,” explains Rebecca Sarac, RD.
By working to eliminate free radicals, pomegranates help decrease cellular damage and fight off disease. And get this: pomegranates boast more antioxidant potential than red wine or green tea…not too shabby, right?
2. They may help protect heart health
Certain studies have shown that pomegranate extract may help lower blood pressure by reducing LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) and boosting HDL (the “good cholesterol).
As Collen explains, LDL is labelled “bad” because of the “elevated levels of lipoprotein, which can build up in arteries and increase our risk for heart attacks or strokes. HDL, on the other hand, helps the body eliminate excess cholesterol in the blood by bringing it to the liver for excretion.”
By helping reduce LDL and boost HDL, pomegranates may help protect against cardiovascular disease, a.k.a. heart disease.
3. And they may have some anti-cancer properties, too
While no food can definitively prevent or cure cancer (if only!), there has been promising research conducted on the effects of pomegranate juice, fruit, and/or extract on prostate cancer cells, as well as breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.
4. They may help boost exercise endurance
Remember those polyphenols we talked about earlier? Well, there are studies showing that pomegranate in extract form may help increase exercise endurance by increasing “total time to exhaustion” as well as time to reach “ventilatory threshold.”
“The research is still early,” caveats Collen, “but early evidence points to the fact that pomegranate in certain forms may help with exercise endurance and muscle recovery (similar to the effects of beets).”
5. They help support urinary health
Oxidative stress is a risk factor for kidney stones. Pomegranate juice, with its antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory effects, has been shown to possibly help prevent the formation of kidney stones.
READ MORE: Make These 4 Low-Calorie Cocktails If You’re Watching Your Weight
6. They’re packed with potassium
205 mg per half cup, to be exact. “Potassium serves many functions in the body,” says Collen, “including facilitating nerve signalling muscle contraction and helping maintain blood pressure.”
7. They may help boost brain function
Inside the peel and seeds of the pomegranate is an anti-inflammatory polyphenol called ellagitannins, which influence our gut-brain axis. Specifically, pomegranates are being studied for their protective effects against common forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease.
8. They’re gut-friendly
Pomegranates boast some seriously impressive benefits when it comes to digestive health as well…shout-out to all that fibre to keep things, , moving along. It also helps that pomegranates have some prebiotic properties (as a reminder, prebiotics feed probiotics, the good bacteria in the gut).
“The good microbes in our gut benefit from the fibre and polyphenols in pomegranates as a source of prebiotics,” explains Sarac. “As a result, the good microbes flourish, decreasing inflammation and improving intestinal health.”
READ MORE: Spinach, Beetroot & Pomegranate Salad
9. They help support immunity
Prebiotics aren’t just gut-friendly: “By keeping our gut bacteria fed, we can help improve digestion and even immunity,” points out Collen.
The high vitamin C count doesn’t hurt either. In a half-cup of pomegranate seeds, you’ll rake in 8.87 mg, which is 11.8 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adult women.
10. And they may help ease joint pain (arthritis included)
Feeling a little achy and stiff? Pomegranates may help. “In extract form, pomegranate has been shown to help inhibit inflammatory cytokines (or small proteins) which can contribute to osteoarthritis and joint disease,” says Collen.
Wait, what about weight loss?
Pomegranates aren’t typically touted for their effects on weight loss because TBH, the jury’s still out on this one.
That said, because they’re naturally low in calories and high in fibre, they help you to feel fuller, longer while contributing to a caloric deficit.
The fact that they’re gut-friendly may also play a role in the weight loss department. “Our gut microbiomes are a huge contributor to having a balanced weight,” says Sarac, “because they take care of our digestive health and help keep our blood sugar under control.”
Ultimately, what’s most important in any weight loss or weight management protocol is swapping ultra-processed foods for whole, natural, nutrient-dense fruits (pomegranates included!) and vegetables, which “will nearly always lead to improved health functioning,” Sarac adds.
Collen agrees. “Unfortunately, there’s no one magic food that is going to cause weight loss; however, a diet high in fibre-rich, whole foods will certainly improve your health and could lead to some weight loss.”
Soooo…can I eat pomegranates all day every day?
Not so fast. While the potential health benefits of pomegranates are impressive, there *is* such a thing as too much of a good thing—especially given the fruit’s higher sugar content. Plus, you should be cautious if you’re taking medications. As Collen explains, certain compounds in fruits like pomegranate (or grapefruit) could interact with other drugs or impact their potency, so be sure to check with your doctor, especially if you’re on ACE inhibitors, statins, or blood thinners.
Do I get the same health benefits with fresh pomegranate seeds pomegranate juice?
You’ll get more fibre with the whole pomegranate seed. And more fibre = better digestion and satiety, plus more stable blood sugar. But that doesn’t mean we need to shun fruit juice entirely. In fact, in juice form you’ll get a higher concentration of antioxidants and a whole lot of vitamin C and vitamin K.
If you’re going to drink pomegranate juice, Sarac recommends pairing it with foods that contain fibre to balance out the sugar intake (smoothie, anyone?). Alternatively, try cutting the pomegranate juice with sparkling water to add a pop of flavour while minimizing sugar.
Real talk: How in the WORLD do I get pomegranate seeds out?
There’s no shortage of internet debate on the best way to remove arils from the pomegranate without staining your countertops or clothing. So, we asked the Test Kitchen to break down the best way:
Fill up a large bowl of water. Cut the pomegranate in half, then submerge it in water. From there, carefully peel out the seeds using your fingers. While the seeds should sink to the bottom, the white part of the flesh should rise to the top. Once done, skim off the white flesh and toss out, then drain—and voilà, you’re left with bright red gems to sprinkle on salads, yoghurt, dips and more. Once de-seeded, the arils will stay fresh in an airtight container for up to a week.
This article written by Jacqueline Parisi was originally published on Women’s Health.