Pomegranates add color and symbolism to the Rosh Hashana table décor, but they are also extremely good for your health.
Coaxing the edible seeds out of a pomegranate is a popular how-to topic. Some swear by the whack-with-a-wooden-spoon method; others massage out those ruby-red arils in a bowl of water to keep things neat.
Any way you choose to undertake this task, it’s worth your effort. And not only because the juicy seeds add visual flair and a sweet-tart pop to a variety of dishes.
The main reason it’s worth risking stained fingers and countertops: Pomegranates have almost unbelievable healing and health-protective properties.
The regal-looking fruit ripens on Israeli trees just in time for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. Farms from north to south produce around 40,000 tons of fresh pomegranates every year, about half for export.
You can use it as a pretty centerpiece and serve the juicy seeds for a nutritious cocktail of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins including C, E, K and B9 (folate).
Here are 10 reasons to put pomegranates on your plate.
- Pomegranates protect your cardiovascular system
Prof. Michael Aviram from Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center was the first to discover that powerful flavonoid antioxidants in pomegranates help prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), the leading cause of cardiovascular disease.
He also found that drinking pomegranate juice for a year reduced study participants’ systolic blood pressure by 12 percent. (If you are on blood pressure and cholesterol medications like statins, consult your doctor before drinking pomegranate juice.)
- Pomegranates vs. diabetes
Another study led by Aviram showed that pomegranate juice may be beneficial for people with diabetes because its natural sugar isn’t “free” but is firmly attached to its antioxidants and therefore does not cause blood sugar to spike. This feature may help decrease insulin resistance and lower blood sugar. This could be why pomegranates have long been used as a remedy for diabetes in the Middle East and India.
- Pomegranates protect your brain
Israeli pomegranate-sourced punicic acid is the active ingredient in GranaGard, a brain-protective food supplement invented by experimental neurologist Ruth Gabizon from Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, and Hebrew University nanotechnology expert Shlomo Magdassi.
An Israeli study last year proved GranaGard significantly improved cognitive function in multiple sclerosis patients experiencing cognitive difficulties associated with the disease. While nerve cell damage is irreversible, GranaGard seems to prevent or slow neurodegeneration and reduce symptoms caused by neurodegenerative diseases or aging.
- Pomegranates keep you looking young
In Chinese medicine, pomegranate juice is a longevity treatment. The secret here is probably the fruit’s punicic acid, a rare omega-5 conjugated fatty acid that has been shown to improve skin tone and elasticity.
Clinical studies suggest that by eating pomegranate, or by using skin care products that include it, pomegranate extracts protect skin from UV damage, lessen sun-induced “age spots” and reduce symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and eczema.
Israeli natural beauty company, Shavit, has a whole range of products infused with pomegranate extracts.
- Pomegranates protect unborn babies
Infection, inflammation, or a combination of both, in a mother’s womb can lead to neurological damage in her baby. Researchers from Rambam Medical Center and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology found that drinking pomegranate juice during pregnancy can reduce the risk of inflammation in the womb and inflammation-induced fetal brain injury. Once again, this effect is due to the fruit’s strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
“This is the first study of its kind aiming to understand how to use the pomegranate, which has known health benefits, to prevent a problem that, under certain conditions, passes from mother to child,” said co-author Zeev Wiener, chief of OB/GYN at Rambam.
- Pomegranates protect your teeth
A dental study in India showed that rinsing the mouth with pomegranate juice decreased colony-forming units of dental plaque microorganisms by 32 percent. This indicates that pomegranates could help prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
- Pomegranates may keep you trim
Many studies have explored the effects of pomegranate extracts in fighting obesity. According to one such study, the fat-reduction effects are related to the fruit’s anthocyanins, tannins and strong antioxidants.
- Pomegranates ease digestive ills
Pomegranate seeds are known to alleviate a range of problems in the digestive tract, including stomachaches and hemorrhoids. Pomegranate rind tea helps treat diarrhea, dysentery, mouth sores and throat irritation. Pomegranate bark tea can rid the body of intestinal parasites. And pomegranate juice may be beneficial for people with inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Pomegranates boost sports endurance and performance
Various studies indicate that drinking pomegranate juice enhances endurance, strength performance, and post-workout recovery due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It was found helpful in reducing muscle soreness and increasing blood flow in exercisers as well.
- Pomegranates will get even better in the future
The Israeli government’s Agricultural Research Organization-Volcani Center has been researching pomegranates for 40 years.
Doron Holland, head of the Volcani Center’s Fruit Tree Sciences Unit, studies pomegranate metabolites and genetics, and uses his findings to breed (not genetically engineer) cultivars that can grow in desert conditions and produce fruit that matures earlier and has enhanced color and taste.
“We are working hard on raising the nutritional value of pomegranates,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “Our work is focused on the genetic control of metabolites with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant content.”
While the scientists are busy working on that, here’s a pomegranate sorbet you can whip up today.