If you've ever been mystified by pomegranates in the produce section, you're not alone. The large red fruits can seem odd at first, considering their seeds are the part that you can eat. However, preparing the fall fruit is surprisingly easy, and 100 percent worthwhile thanks to the fruit's nutrition benefits. Ahead, learn about the health benefits of pomegranate seeds and juice, and the best ways to eat the food at home.
Native to Central Asia, the pomegranate is a reddish-pink fruit that grows on bushy trees, according to an article in Frontiers in Pharmacology. And while cutting a pomegranate can be intimidating, slice one open and you'll find several "compartments" made of white sponge-like tissue. Each compartment is filled with fleshy edible sacs called seeds, which have juicy, pulp-like texture. Every seed is also filled with many tiny edible seeds, as noted by the University of Georgia. These seeds can be enjoyed as is or pressed to release their juices, which are commonly sold in bottles. Finally, pomegranates usually peak in September and October, so they're a common ingredient in fall recipes.
BTW, the edible insides of a pomegranate are often casually referred to as "pomegranate seeds," though they're technically sacs containingseeds. This article will use "seeds" moving forward.
The vibrant pomegranate is often categorized as a "superfood" — and for good reason. It's teeming with antioxidants called polyphenols, which include good-for-you compounds such as anthocyanins, flavonoids, and tannins, according to an article in the journal Food & Function. Fun fact: Anthocyanins also double as plant pigments, meaning they give produce a red, blue, and/or purple to produce, according to an article in the journal Molecule. (Other fruits with anthocyanins include blackberries, plums, and cherries.) What's more, pomegranate offers vital nutrients such as vitamin C (another antioxidant), iron, calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, according to an article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Here's the nutritional profile of 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
As a source of essential nutrients and antioxidants, pomegranates totally deserve a spot in your fruit bowl. Here, learn about the myriad benefits of pomegranates, according to dietitians and research.
Since they're rich in antioxidants, pomegranates may help lower your risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer. That's because antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, which are major contributors to chronic disease, says Paula Doebrich, M.P.H, R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Happea Nutrition. Antioxidants (including those found in pomegranates) work by neutralizing free radicals, or compounds that — when present at high levels — can damage cells. But eating antioxidant-rich foods such as pomegranates may help manage oxidative stress and inflammation, potentially keeping chronic conditions at bay.
Eat 1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds and you'll get nearly nine milligrams of vitamin C, according to the USDA. This will contribute to the recommended intake of 75 to 90 milligrams per day, as listed by the 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Vitamin C is essential for healthy immune function, as it helps your white blood cells (i.e., immune cells) attack disease-causing pathogens including bacteria and viruses, explains Valerie Agyeman, R.D., women's health dietitian and founder of Flourish Heights. Moreover, the antioxidant properties of vitamin C protect white blood cells from oxidative stress, ensuring they're healthy and able to fight off germs, according to Agyeman.
The benefits of pomegranate seeds extend to your gut. Specifically, the seeds contain insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that adds bulk to stool, as noted by the University of California San Francisco. This makes stool easier to pass, potentially alleviating or preventing constipation, according to Doebrich. But take note: The fiber is found in the pulp of pomegranate seeds, so pomegranate juice has significantly less fiber, says Agyeman. "That's because the fiber gets lost during the juicing process," she says. So while there are various benefits of pomegranate juice, you'll want to opt for whole seeds if you're specifically after digestive benefits.
As mentioned, pomegranate antioxidants may reduce the risk of chronic conditions. This includes diseases that affect the brain, notes Doebrich. Here's the deal: Oxidative stress increases with age, according to an article in the journal Aging Medicine. In the brain specifically, oxidative stress can damage neurons (i.e., nerve cells), thereby increasing the risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, according to an article in the journal Frontiers. However, antioxidants — including those in pomegranates — can help by reducing oxidative stress, ultimately protecting the brain, says Doebrich.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease. But eating certain foods (along with practicing healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise and stress management) can help keep your blood pressure in check. One such food is — you guessed it — pomegranate. The polyphenols in pomegranates help lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels. They work by reducing the activity of angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE), which produces angiotensin II, a substance that would otherwise narrow blood vessels and increase blood pressure, according to Rhyan Geiger, R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian. "Therefore, by blocking the action of these enzymes, pomegranates can help lower blood pressure," says Geiger. Pomegranate seeds also offer some potassium, another essential nutrient for healthy blood pressure, notes Agyeman.
While more human studies are needed to confirm the link, the polyphenols in pomegranate seeds and juice have been associated with better exercise performance, says Doebrich. For starters, the antioxidant abilities of polyphenols are thought to speed up recovery. The polyphenols may also stimulate the expression of certain genes that are linked to endurance, explains Doebrich. "Lastly, polyphenols are believed to improve the rate of blood flow by increasing nitric oxide synthesis in cells," she adds. (Nitric oxide is a substance that widens your blood vessels, helping the body get oxygen-rich blood during physical activity and recovery, explains Geiger.) But again, as Doebrich notes, more solid research is needed to confirm that boosted exercise performance is one of the health benefits of pomegranate.
In case you missed it earlier, pomegranates can naturally reduce blood pressure. So, if you're already taking blood pressure-lowering medications such as ACE inhibitors, you might need to limit or avoid pomegranates, says Geiger. Consuming the fruit might make your blood pressure drop too low, so chat with your doc before adding pomegranate to your plate.
It's rare to be allergic to pomegranate, but it's still possible, shares Geiger. Some common signs of a food allergy include tingling or itching in the mouth, hives, trouble breathing, stomach pain, and swelling in the face, lips, tongue, or throat, according to Geiger. Stop consuming pomegranate seeds or juice if you notice any of these symptoms and call your doctor for further guidance. Similarly, if you have a history of food allergies and you're new to pomegranate, use caution when eating it for the first time.
At the supermarket, you can buy pomegranate seeds in cups, pomegranate juice in bottles, and whole pomegranate in the produce section. The whole pomegranate is ideal in terms of flavor, as pomegranate (like most produce) tastes best when enjoyed fresh. When shopping for a whole pomegranate, look for one that feels hard and is free of bruises or cracks, says Traci Weintraub, chef and founder of Gracefully Fed, an L.A.-based meal delivery service. "Select a fruit that's heavy for its size, which indicates that the seeds are full of juice," she adds. Also, choose one that has a more oblong shape, as perfectly round pomegranates aren't usually the ripest, according to Weintraub.
At home, use a sharp knife to cut 1/4 to 1/3 inch off the top of the fruit, says Weintraub. Look at the top of your pomegranate; you should see five or six ridges running from top to bottom. Cut slits along those lines and use your hands to open the fruit and pry each segment apart. Next, submerge the fruit in a bowl of water and use your hands to pull out the seeds. "They'll sink to the bottom of the bowl, while [the] fruit membranes will float," says Weintraub. Simply remove the membranes from the surface, drain the seeds, and you're ready to eat. You can also store the seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for four to five days, says Weintraub.
Something to keep in mind: Pomegranate juice, as mentioned, is low in fiber because the pulp has been removed. It's also high in sugar, says Doebrich, so drink it mindfully if you need or want to watch your sugar intake. But if it's the antioxidants you're after, you'll be glad to know that juice is still a good source of polyphenols, says Doebrich.
The flavor of pomegranate can be described as mildly sweet with a bit of tartness, according to Weintraub. The seeds themselves are slightly crunchy, "which contrasts well with the juice flesh surrounding the seeds," she adds.
Here are a few ways to enjoy the many pomegranate seeds benefits:
In a salad. Thanks to the crunchy texture of pomegranate seeds, they work well in place of croutons in salads, says Weintraub. Try them in a fall salad with acorn squash and apple.
In baked goods. The next time you're in the mood to bake, add pomegranate seeds for an instant upgrade. They'd be especially delish in treats such as muffins or banana bread.
As juice. For a DIY take on pomegranate juice, simply toss the seeds into a blender. Next, drain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. You might need to press on the seeds to get every last drop of juice, says Weintraub. You can then take advantage of pomegranate juice benefits by making smoothies, cocktails, sauces, and more.
In drinks. Another way to get in on pomegranate benefits is to add a spoonful of pomegranate seeds to drinks such as apple cider or seltzer. Once you've finished the beverage, you'll be left with a tasty treat.
With grains. The color, texture, and sweetness of pomegranate seeds pair well with the earthy flavor of grains. Delicious options include wheat berries and quinoa.