By Karen Kolowski, Special to The Baltimore Sun
9:45 PM EDT, April 24, 2012
Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth). This week, Karen Kolowski weighs in on pomegranates.
The pomegranate has a long, rich history and has been considered a mystical fruit throughout the centuries.
One of the earliest cultivated fruits, the pomegranate can be traced to 3,500 B.C. It is believed by some scholars to be what tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden rather than an apple. Ancient Egyptians used to bury their dead with the fruit because it was thought to provide eternal life. Greeks break one open at wedding ceremonies for prosperity. And the Chinese eat candied seeds for good luck.
Scientists have now discovered what the ancient Persians always knew: The pomegranate is a superfood, full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Antioxidants are scavengers that neutralize harmful free radicals, unpaired molecules that can cause damage found in your body. Some free radicals occur naturally but they can also be caused by smoking, radiation, pesticides and other forms of environemental pollution. The body can handle a certain amount of free radicals with antioxidants, but damage can occur when their production is excessive. The antioxidants that pomegranates specifically contain are polyphenols, tannins and anthocyanins.
These antioxidants are also found in wine and green tea but not in the abundance contained in the pomegranate. Current studies have shown that consuming pomegranates may help reduce cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL, or "bad," cholesterol. The antioxidants help prevent arteriosclerosis, or hardening of arteries. They have also been shown to help maintain proper blood flow.
The fruit has shown some preventative qualities when it comes to prostate and breast cancer, although more research is needed. Another study suggests the pomegranate could also help lower blood pressure. This beneficial fruit is a rich source of potassium, folic acid, vitamin C and fiber.
The orange-sized, leathery fruit contains hundreds of seeds, called arils, contained within white pith. To remove the seeds without staining your hands, cut off the crown and then quarter the fruit. Submerge in a bowl of water and remove the little seeds with your fingers. Strain the seeds from the water and save to sprinkle onto salads, hot cereals and desserts.
You can also extract the juice to add to sauces and marinades or to drink straight. This can be done through several methods. Place the seeds into a blender, blend until liquid and strain through a cheese cloth. You can also press through a hand juicer, achieving better results than an electric juicer. Again, strain the liquid through a cheese-cloth strainer. The final method, rolling, is the most labor-intensive. Keep the fruit whole, place in a plastic bag, and roll the fruit with the palm of your hand until all of the seeds inside are crushed. Then pierce the skin and squeeze the juice out.
Pomegranates are usually available in the U.S. from September through February, but they often they can be found year-round in larger grocery stores. A ripe fruit should be heavy and have unblemished skin. The whole fruit can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two months or in a cool dark place for one month; the seeds can be kept refrigerated for three days or frozen for six months; the juice can be refrigerated for three days or frozen for up to six months.
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