Pomegranates: are they a superfood?
With their impressive line-up of polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) matching some of those found in red wine, some found in berries, tea, cranberries and some grapefruit, are pomegranates on their way to becoming the next ‘super fruit’ poised to knock over goji and acai? For example, they have:
- Punicalagin and punicalin, the two most abundant polyphenols unique to pomegranates, chemically known as hydrolysable tannins.
- Anthocyananins, which give pomegranates their bright pink colour and have been extensively studied in blueberries where they help delay ageing and boost brain power.
- Ellagic acid, also found in berries and dark grapes. These keep arteries flexible. Pomegranate extract supplements are standardised to ellagic acid usually 500 mg.
- Quercetin, kaempferol, catechins and gallic acid, big-name polyphenols from wine and tea with their well-known anti-inflammatory properties.
- Chlorogenic acid, usually in coffee.
Pressing the seeds to make juice extracts additional polyphenols from the white membrane surrounding the clusters of seeds (pericarp), so the juice is richer than the fruit on its own. Commercial juices have been reported to have antioxidants such as luteolin and narigenin (like grapefruit). Most of the studies have been funded by POM Wonderful and based on drinking a glass 8 oz/235 mL of juice daily. Smaller amounts may not achieve the same end-results. The studies so far are promising, but pomegranate – although clearly rich in antioxidants – can’t substitute for all the antioxidants in wine, tea and fruit in general. You can download the original research papers.
Nutritionally speaking, the juice is similar to other juices. There’s some potassium and a little iron, but not much in the way of fibre (seeds and pulp strained away) or vitamin C, thanks to the flash pasteurisation process which is needed to destroy bacteria and maintain shelf life in the commercial juice.
The really big problem with pomegranate juice is that it is very concentrated and high in sugar. At 16.5% carbs (mostly sugars), it’s more concentrated than soft drink (11%) or orange juice (8-10%). One 8 fl oz/235 mL glass will load you up with 39 g carbs and 150 cals/630 kJ. It also has a moderate GI (67), so it’s a drink to be cautious with rather than gulp down.
Tips for using pomegranate juice
Look for 100% pomegranate juice if you’re after antioxidants. Many pomegranate juices are blended with apple or pear or mango juice so have less pomegranate. Avoid these.
Dilute it. Start with one part pomegranate juice, top with four parts sparkling water or chilled tap water. Add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice to lower the GI.
Use it as a marinade for duck, chicken or pork or in sauces and dressings.
Mix it into plain yoghurt or over ice-cream to flavour desserts. It’s quite thick and syrupy so pours well.
Limit yourself to half a cup (125 mL) a day. With around 15 g carbs, count this as one carb portion.
Is it a superfood? Not really. It’s an antioxidant all-rounder up there with berries and tea but it’s not something we can afford to guzzle in great quantity. Like wine and chocolate, a little is all that we can fit into our daily diets without overloading ourselves with sugar and calories. It can’t replace a variety of low-kilojoule fruit or vegetables which is where most of your antioxidants should come from.
Catherine Saxelby is an accredited nutritionist and runs the Foodwatch Nutrition Centre at www.foodwatch.com.au. For more information on pomegranates, super foods and healthy eating, visit Catherine’s website.