Food and Nutrition

Why Pomegranates Are One of the Best Foods for Brain Health and Battling Inflammation

Avatar

Photo: Getty Images
Bright, ruby-red pomegranates are not just strikingly beautiful to look at; the vibrant fruit packs a nutrient-rich punch. Much of the magic lies in its juicy seeds called arils, although the peel are juice are also nutritious.

"One cup of pomegranate arils contains about 7 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein," says nutritionist Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition. "Additionally, one cup offers 30 percent of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for vitamin C and over 35 percent of the RDI for vitamin K. Pomegranates also contain folate and potassium, which can both help maintain healthy blood pressure."

So although pomegranates are notorious for staining your clothes when you seed them (there's a trick for avoiding that, btw), there's no denying they deserve a spot in your fruit bowl. Below, find seven pomegranate benefits, plus tips and ideas on how to incorporate it into your diet, how to select and store pomegranates, whether or not pomegranate juice is good for you, and so much more.

Pomegranate benefits

1. Improves exercise capacity

Need a pre-workout snack to fuel you? Nosh on some pomegranate seeds. "Pomegranates are precursors to nitric oxide, a molecule in blood that helps open up blood vessels and enhance blood flow to tissues in the body," says licensed naturopathic doctor and founder of Los Angeles Integrative Health Kate Denniston, ND. "This increase in blood flow helps bring oxygen and other nutrients to muscles while working out. One study showed that ingestion of pomegranate before workouts decreased running fatigue."

2. Helps reduce PMS

A pomegranate’s seeds aren’t the only nutritious part. "The white part around the seeds contains lignans, a type of polyphenol found in plants, which have weak estrogenic activity and can modulate or normalize the effects of estrogen in our bodies," Dr. Denniston says. "Lignans can help reduce symptoms of PMS and help normalize irregular periods."

3. Pomegranates support mood and mental health

If you're not a fan of yogurt, eating pomegranates is another excellent way to get your dose of healthy gut bacteria. "Studies have shown that polyphenols in pomegranate increase the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, Bifidobacterium, and Lactobacillus, two very important strains for mood and mental health," Dr. Denniston says.

4. Pomegranates help improve memory

Pomegranates may also support your memory. Steven Gundry, MD, heart surgeon and author of The Plant Paradox, notes a study done with heart surgery patients at Loma Linda University showed that taking pomegranate capsules prevented memory loss after heart surgery. Patients in the trial experienced an improvement in their memory retention compared to before the surgery.

5. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants

Many of the health benefits of pomegranates are due to a compound it contains called punicalagin, which are potent antioxidants primarily found in the juice and peel. "Antioxidants help to combat free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage healthy molecules by stealing their electrons," says certified nutritionist Aimee Aristotelous. Shapiro adds that thanks to punicalagin, pomegranate juice contains more antioxidant activity than red wine and green tea.

6. Pomegranates reduce inflammation and fight disease

Thanks to the punicalagin mentioned above, Aristotelous says pomegranates are also highly anti-inflammatory. "Chronic inflammation can be the culprit of many serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer's," she says. So getting your dose of the vibrant fruit can help protect you from these diseases.

7. Pomegranates keep blood vessels healthy

Dr. Denniston notes that punicalagin's anti-inflammatory effects also aids blood vessels and protects them from damage. "Pomegranate seeds also support the synthesis and activity of nitric oxide, which is a substance that helps protect the blood vessel lining against atherosclerosis or ‘plaque’ and inhibits proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells or stiffening of arteries,” she says.

How to use pomegranates in your meals

Half the battle of eating pomegranates is cracking the baby open and not getting crimson stains all over yourself, but its health benefits make it worth the effort. Like with most foods, fresh is best, but if you can't bother with trying to open it, you can also buy the arils (aka seeds) on their own pre-packaged at the grocery store. Here are ways to squeeze more pomegranates into your diet.

Eat the seeds as a snack

Although drinking pomegranate juice is an easy way to get your pomegranates in, Dr. Gundry recommends eating the raw seeds instead to get the more nutritional bang. "One cup of pomegranate juice contains 33 grams of sugar or about 8 teaspoons of sugar," he says. "In contrast, a cup of pomegranate seeds has 7 grams of fiber."

Sprinkle seeds into dishes

You can incorporate pomegranate seeds into a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory. Use them to top your morning bowl of oatmeal or yogurt. Throw them in a salad for a burst of color and sweetness. Aristotelous adds that they make an excellent addition to hummus or guacamole. You can even toss into gluten-free leftover pasta with veggies that will last you all week. Can you say versatile?

Consume it as a supplement

Supplementing with pomegranate extract capsules is another option, which is said to have the same effect as drinking straight-up pomegranate juice. "Pomegranate extract capsules deliver equal amounts of the polyphenols gallic acid, ellagic acid, punicalagin A&B, and punicalin A&B, all of which reduce inflammation, reduce cholesterol oxidation, and even reduce plaque in teeth," Dr. Gundry says. Aristotelous says, supplements that come in powder or extract form also reap the benefits of the non-edible parts of the pomegranate, such as the peel, which is also rife with antioxidants. Before considering a supplement, be sure to consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

How to select and store pomegranates

When you're at the grocery store or farmer's market, keep an eye out for for pomegranates that feel sturdy on the outside and are heavy for their size. Don't overthink the color, as it's an indication of the type of pomegranate rather than the ripeness level—colors range from vibrant pink to bright red to merlot. Choose the largest size you can find, as this will help determine how juicy your fruit is. Avoid any pomegranates that show evidence of bruising or contain visible cracks.

Storing your pomegranate is simple. The whole, uncut fruit can be kept on your countertop at room temperature for up to a week, or you can store it in the fridge for two weeks. If you prefer to remove the seeds as soon as you purchase, store them in an airtight container for up to six days in the fridge; they'll also keep as long as three months in the freezer.

Is pomegranate juice good for you?

In addition to being eaten whole (or as arils), enjoying a pomegranate in its juiced form is one of the most popular ways to consume it. You'll often find pomegranate juice right in the refrigerated section of the produce area at the store. You can also make it yourself using fresh pomegranates by seeding the pomegranates and then blending the seeds and pulp using a blender until the consistency is smooth.

If you're wondering whether or not pomegranate juice is healthy, we have good news: besides being a sweet sip, there are also many benefits to pomegranate juice. Registered dietitian and Verywell general manager Rachel Berman, RD, previously told Well+Good that pomegranate juice has the below nutritional benefits.

1. Pomegranate juice is also high in antioxidants

Berman says that one of the differences between consuming pomegranate juice versus the fruit in its whole form as that you're losing out on some of the nutrients, including fiber and vitamin A. But pomegranate's high antioxidant content isn't lost at all when you enjoy it as a beverage. "Pomegranate juice is also a rich source of punicalagins, which are powerful antioxidants," she says. As mentioned, punicalagins have been linked to helping reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, according to scientific studies.

2. It may improve brain health

One scientific study of adults with mild memory complaints found that participants who consumed pomegranate juice did better on memory tests than those who didn't. The reason for this is likely due to the fact that the antioxidants help with blood flow to the brain, which is good for cognitive function. Another study on rats found that consuming pomegranate juice was linked to reducing inflammatory markers in the brain, suggesting another link between the juice and brain health.

3. It helps reduce inflammation

Another pomegranate juice benefit thanks to its high antioxidant content is that it can help reduce inflammation, fighting free radicals in the body that can cause damage to your body's cells. This is connected to everything from rejuvenating skin to warding off chronic diseases, including cognitive impairment.

4. It offers some immune-boosting vitamin C

Berman says that while store-bought pomegranate juice tends to have lost some of the fruit's vitamin C content (eight ounces typically has 0.25 milligrams of vitamin C, while a cup of the fruit itself has 18 milligrams of vitamin C), if you make your own, much of it can be retained through the pulp. This means that sipping fresh pomegranate juice can potentially help boost your immune system, in conjunction with other healthy habits, of course. For extra immunity benefits, add a bit of ginger and turmeric.

5. Pomegranate juice is good for your skin

The combined powers of the punicalagins and vitamin C make pomegranate juice a pretty fantastic beauty beverage. Vitamin C helps with collagen production, which helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles from the inside out. And because punicalagins help fight free radicals, it helps rejuvenate the skin.

6. It helps promote good sleep

While you'll reap the benefits of pomegranate juice any time of the day, its magnesium content (17 milligrams a serving) makes it a particularly good pre-bedtime drink as magnesium is linked to promoting good sleep.

7. Assists with muscle recovery from workouts

The high magnesium content in pomegranate juice also makes is a great post-workout recovery drink. Scientific studies have linked magnesium consumption with helping muscles better repair from the wear and tear of strenuous workouts.

8. Pomegranate juice has potassium

One serving of pomegranate juice has 214 milligrams of potassium, part of the 3,500 milligrams you want to aim to get a day. Potassium is an important nutrient for heart health, connected to lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. It also helps keep sodium levels balanced.

9. Pomegranate juice regularly is good for heart health

Is there anything this stuff can't do? Pomegranate juice is linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure if consumed regularly. This is likely because of those all-so powerful antioxidants, which can potentially reduce the amount of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol in the body.

Are there any side effects of eating pomegranates or drinking pomegranate juice?

Because pomegranate juice is so sweet, many healthy eaters may wonder if the sugar content impacts the health benefits. (It has about 31 grams per eight ounces, depending on the brand.) Berman's verdict: Don't overly obsess over it. "Sugar in fruit is totally natural and nothing to be concerned about in moderation," she says. But it's a high dose in one serving, so just be aware of what other sources of sugar you're consuming that day, and try to stick to no more than single serving of pom juice daily.

While the sugar content is nothing to worry too much about, there are other factors to keep in mind when consuming pomegranates. Like with any food, some people could be allergic. Signs of this typically include itching, swelling, a running nose, and trouble breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking pom juice, it's best to steer clear.

No allergies? Go forth and enjoy all the sweet-tart arils you can motivate yourself to extract from your fruit. It's no easy task, but clearly it's well-worth the effort.

Here's how one Redditor cuts open a pomegranate. (It'll shock you.) 

Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly. 

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...