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Pomegranates and plain talk about superfoods


By Austine Siomos, MD
Pediatric Cardiologist

Have you ever wanted to smash a pomegranate? Most likely, if you have taken on the challenge of removing all the seeds from a pomegranate, then surely you have had the urge to just smash it and see how many you can get out that way!

Smashing pomegranates is actually a tradition in some parts of the world. In Greece, the pomegranate has been the symbol of fertility, prosperity and regeneration for thousands of years.

During Christmas time in Greece, the families hang pomegranates above the main entrance door of their house. At midnight on the New Year it is the custom to turn off all lights and for family members to step outside their home, as a symbol of leaving the old year that has passed.

The family members then step in the house again after midnight. The second person to enter the house smashes a pomegranate against the door. This has to be a good smash, as the tradition is that the number of seeds that scatter around is proportional to the amount of good luck the family will receive within the upcoming year. It is also believed that someone who gets a red spot on them by the fruit’s juice will be extremely lucky that year.

The pomegranate is actually a berry, with the botanical name Punica granatum. The French name for a pomegranate is grenade. Because of the similarity between the shape of the fruit and the small bomb weapon, this led to the name for the military grenade.

Pomegranates are a festive fruit. They look like Christmas ornaments on the outside and on the inside the seeds appear like jewels. The whole fruit is decorative in itself and the seeds can liven a drink, a salad or a holiday dish of any kind.

So are pomegranates a “superfood?” It is first important to note that superfood is not a medical term or a recognized designation by dietitians. Superfood is a marketing term. In my opinion, the term is not completely useless, as many superfoods are anti-inflammatory and contain vitamins and micronutrients.

Superfoods are not magic, however. They cannot cancel out unhealthy and processed foods. Companies have also taken advantage of the superfood trend to market processed foods, juices and other products. As usual, the further a food is taken from its natural state, the less likely it is to have the original health benefits that occur with the food. For example, a cup of pomegranate seeds supplies the following:

  • Vitamin C (30% of the recommended daily allowance or RDA)
  • Vitamin K (36% of the RDA)
  • Folate (16% of the RDA)
  • Potassium (12% of the RDA)
  • 3 grams of protein
  • 6-8 grams of fiber, which is at least 20% of the total recommended daily value of fiber!

A cup of pomegranate juice, however, contains lower amounts of vitamins, almost no protein and no fiber. And then on the extreme processed side there is the example of pomegranate hard candy, which usually contains no actual pomegranate, no fiber, no vitamins and primarily refined sugar!

Health benefits of pomegranates

Nutrition labels list vitamins and macronutrients, but not phytochemicals and micronutrients. These are being studied more in foods, and especially in superfoods.

Antioxidants that decrease risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even obesity: Pomegranates contain phytochemicals called polyphenols, including the hydrolyzable tannins called ellagitannins. These are formed when ellagic acid binds with a carbohydrate to form pomegranate ellagitannins, also known as punicalagins. Punicalagins are extremely powerful antioxidants found in the juice and peel of a pomegranate. They are so powerful that pomegranate juice has been found to have three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea.

Anti-inflammatory properties to treat the major chronic diseases: Chronic inflammation is a primary cause of many killer diseases. Pomegranate has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Recent studies in 2013 and 2014 have shown that pomegranate extract can reduce inflammatory activity in the digestive tract, as well as in breast cancer and colon cancer cells.

A study in people with diabetes in 2014 demonstrated that daily pomegranate juice consumption lowered inflammatory markers by about 30%.

Fight prostate cancer: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. Laboratory studies have shown that pomegranate extract can slow down cancer cell reproduction, and can even cause apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells.

Naturally lower blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is a leading contributor to heart attacks and strokes. Studies on people with high blood pressure in 2011 and 2013 demonstrated significant reduction in blood pressure with daily pomegranate juice for 2 weeks.

Treat arthritis and joint pain: arthritis usually involves inflammation in the joints. Laboratory studies have shown that pomegranate extract can block enzymes known to damage joints in people with osteoarthritis.

Lower your risk of heart disease: Heart disease is the most common cause of early death throughout the world. Punicic acid is the main fatty acid in pomegranate, and may help against several causes of heart disease.

A study in 51 people with high cholesterol and triglycerides demonstrated that daily pomegranate seed oil for 4 weeks significantly lowered triglycerides and improved the triglyceride:HDL ratio (the lower the ratio, the better)

Oxidation of LDL particles leads to coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes. Pomegranate juice also has been shown in multiple studies to protect LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation.

Fight bacterial and fungal infections: The plant compounds can help fight bacteria as well as the yeast Candida albicans. The anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects may also be protective against infections and inflammation in the mouth, including gingivitis, periodontitis and denture stomatitis.

Improve exercise performance: Pomegranate is rich in dietary nitrates, which are known to improve exercise performance.

A study of 19 athletes in 2014 demonstrated that pomegranate extract taken before exercise significantly enhanced blood flow and delayed fatigue.

You may notice that almost every scientific study regarding pomegranates uses juice or extract. This is likely because pomegranate seeds are difficult to standardize and administer daily. Due to the processing involved in juice and extract, the beneficial health effects are theoretically even better in seeds. These studies would probably be even more remarkable if it were possible to design the studies using pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate, apple and walnut salad


  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 12 ounces spinach, washed and dried
  • 2 ripe apples
  • ½ cup walnut pieces
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until light brown. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar, olive oil, honey, mustard, salt and pepper to make the dressing.
  3. Add the spinach, apples, pomegranate seeds and walnuts to the bowl and toss with the dressing
  4. Divide the salad among 4 plates or bowls
  5. Serve and enjoy!

First published in 406 Woman magazine, December/January 2018

About Dr. Siomos

I am a pediatric cardiologist at Rocky Mountain Heart & Lung in Kalispell. I trained first to become a pediatrician and then specialized in the study of pediatric hearts. I see children from before they are born until they are ready to see an adult cardiologist. I am passionate about the health of all children and families. My goal for all children is to promote healthy habits and avoidance of those types of heart disease that are generally considered to be adult problems.