Featured Foods: Pomegranates
By Leslie Beck, RD See Bio
Registered Dietitian Leslie Beck is the best-selling author of 12 books on nutrition and health, writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail and is a regular contributor to CTV News. Based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto, Leslie offers one-on-one diet coaching, personalized meal plans and evidence-based recommendations on the use of nutritional supplements. www.lesliebeck.comHide
Pomegranate seeds contain potent antioxidants called polyphenols whch have been linked to cardio-protective and anti-cancer benefits. Studies suggest that drinking pomegranate juice each day may help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes and decrease the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol (oxidized LDL is sticks more readily to artery walls). One small study of patients with coronary heart disease also found that those who drank one cup (250 ml) of pomegranate juice daily for three months had improved blood flow to the heart.
Pomegranate juice may also slow the progression of prostate cancer. A preliminary study found that after treatment for prostate cancer, the length of time it took for PSA (prostate-specific antigen) to double was significantly longer in men who drank 250 ml of pomegranate juice daily for up to two years. Studies in the lab also suggest that pomegranate polyphenols might guard against lung cancer.
These findings sound promising, but keep in mind that these studies are based on very small numbers of people. While it’s too soon to say that eating pomegranate seeds prevents disease, the fruit is certainly a healthy and nutritious addition to your diet. Pomegranates and pomegranate juice are naturally fat free and contain potassium, vitamin C, niacin and fibre. Keep in mind, however, that pomegranate juice has more calories that fresh pomegranates – about 160 calories per 1 cup (250 ml) serving.
Per ½ cup (125 ml) pomegranate aril (seeds /juice sacs):
|Vitamin C||10 mg|
|Vitamin K||14 mcg|
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
When late fall arrives and other fresh fruits begin to disappear, look for vibrant red pomegranates in produce and grocery stores. Its beautiful color makes the pomegranate a perfect fruit for special holiday meals.
The pomegranates we buy this time of year come mainly from California. The most commonly grown variety is called the Wonderful. Other varieties include the Grenada, Early Foothill, Red Wonderful and Early Wonderful.
You may also find pomegranate juice, pomegranate concentrate, pomegranate essence or pomegranate “molasses” in Middle Eastern markets, gourmet food stores and some health-food stores.
Now’s the time – late fall through early winter – you’ll find vibrant red pomegranates in produce and grocery stores.
Pomegranates range in colour from a pale, reddish yellow to a deep, crimson red. Unlike many other fruits and vegetables, the colour of a pomegranate is not an indication of the quality inside the shell. Even the presence of few external blemishes doesn’t mean the fruit is poor in quality. That’s because a pomegranate’s thick skin protects the inner fruit.
When shopping, choose a pomegranate heavy for its size. The heavier the fruit, the more juice you’ll find inside. Pomegranates range in size from a baseball to a softball. Look for skin that is shiny, taut and thin, without cracks and splits.
Fresh, unopened pomegranates will keep at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for one to two weeks. If you store them in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator, they’ll last for up to three months. Store cut pomegranates in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. Fresh arils (the juice-filled sacs that contain the edible seeds) should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator where they’ll keep for up to three days.
You can also freeze arils so you can enjoy the goodness of pomegranate seeds all year round. In the freezer, store fresh arils in a tightly sealed plastic bag for up to one year. Once the seeds are thawed, they won’t be as edible as fresh seeds but they will still be great for extracting the juice. Pomegranate juice can be frozen in an airtight container for about six months.
Inside a pomegranate’s rosy red outer shell you’ll find individual cells, separated by membranes, containing glistening red seeds. Each seed is surrounded by a juice-filled sac (called an aril), which is pressed out during processing.
While it takes a bit of work to eat a pomegranate, it’s a fruit worth adding to your diet. Here’s how to extract the antioxidant-rich seeds:
1. Cut the “crown end” off pomegranate.
2. Lightly score rind in several places.
3. Immerse fruit in a bowl of water and soak for 5 minutes.
4. Hold fruit under water and break sections apart, separating seeds from membrane. Seeds will sink while rind and membrane float.
5. Skim off and discard membranes and rind.
6. Pour seeds into a colander; drain, and pat dry.
To make pomegranate juice place the pomegranate seeds in a food processor or blender and process until a juice is formed. Using a fine mesh sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth, strain the seeds out of the juice.
The best way to enjoy the taste and nutrition of pomegranates is to dig in and eat out of hand. But there are many other ways to enjoy pomegranate that require no cooking at all! Once you start enjoying the sweet-tart taste of pomegranates, I’m sure you’ll find many creative ways to add its seeds to meals and snacks.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Pomegranates
- Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over cold breakfast cereal or stir them into a bowl of whole grain oatmeal. Click here for a recipe.
- Include pomegranate seeds in muffin, pancake and waffle batters.
- Add pomegranate seeds to a mixed fruit salad. Click here for a recipe.
- Toss pomegranate seeds into your next green salad for an infusion of antioxidants and vibrant colour. Click here for a recipe.
- Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over fruit desserts, dips or puddings.
- Add pomegranate juice, fresh or store-bought, to vinaigrettes for a fruity salad dressing. Click here for a recipe
- Warm pomegranate juice with honey over low heat and then brush the glaze over chicken, lamb or beef during roasting.
- Garnish steamed brown rice and other cooked whole grains with pomegranate seeds. Or add pomegranate seeds to your next rice pilaf.
- Mix pomegranate seeds with plain yogurt to make a tasty dipping sauce for skewers of grilled chicken, pork or lamb.
- Freeze some pomegranate juice and seeds for an elegant chilled soup in the summertime.
- Sprinkle juice and seeds over angel food cake for a delicious, low-cal dessert.
- Serve a delicious pomegranate sorbet or ice cream for a pretty holiday dessert.
- A pomegranate-yogurt dipping sauce goes great with skewers of grilled chicken or sweetened up with chunks of fresh fruit.
- Top a bowl of yogurt with pomegranate seeds for a healthy dessert or snack.
- Add a slash of pomegranate juice to sparkling water for an antioxidant boost.
FYI: One medium size pomegranate will yield about 3/4 cup of seeds or 1/2 cup of juice.
Did you know? The seeds of the pomegranate make up about 52% of the weight of the whole fruit.
Registered Dietitian Leslie Beck is the best-selling author of 12 books on nutrition and health, writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail and is a regular contributor to CTV News. Based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto, Leslie offers one-on-one diet coaching, personalized meal plans and evidence-based recommendations on the use of nutritional supplements. www.lesliebeck.com