One of the oldest cultivated fruits, pomegranates first grew in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia and ancient Persia. The Romans gave it its name -- "pomegranate" literally means "seed apple" in Latin -- and planted the sturdy seedlings throughout their empire. Spain so loved pomegranates that they named the city of Granada after them, according to some historians. The fruit also made its way eastward to India, where its juice was considered a health elixir that cured any number of ills. As modern researchers discover more about the importance of micronutrients and antioxidants to good health, it's beginning to look as though the Ayurvedic specialists of centuries ago were right about pomegranates.
The round red fruit has a symbolic history as rich and varied as its geographic history. Its profusion of seeds linked pomegranate fruit with fertility, while the long-lived trees became associated with rebirth and renewal. Garnets, the rich red gemstone prized throughout the ancient world, took their name from their resemblance to pomegranate seeds. Pomegranates have been the subject of poetry and allegorical tales from Greek mythology to the book of Exodus. Paintings and frescoes depict legendary heroes, gods and goddesses dining on pomegranates.
However poetic they may be, pomegranates also have practical value. Nutritionally speaking, pomegranates compare favorably to plenty of more familiar fruits and vegetables. They contain no fat and only 80 calories per 100-gram serving, yet they offer 5 grams of fiber and 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
Pomegranate juice is almost as popular as whole fruits. Because it's more concentrated, pomegranate juice is slightly higher in calories than whole seeds at 120 calories per 8-ounce serving. Like whole pomegranates, pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants. This nutrition information applies to pomegranate juice, not to the sweetened mixture of juice and simple syrup called grenadine.
Going beyond the label reveals the full extent of pomegranate's health benefits.
Pomegranates and Antioxidants
Pomegranates' deep red color delivers more than just plate appeal; that garnet hue signifies the fruit's rich supply of antioxidant phytochemicals such as tannins and anthocyanins. Antioxidants counteract cellular damage due to free radicals. While researchers are still studying the effects of antioxidants within the human body and haven't yet concluded that these compounds work the same in people as they do in a test tube, the National Cancer Society asserts that within the testing they've done so far, "antioxidants help prevent the free radical damage that is associated with cancer." It's impossible to talk of curing disease with antioxidants, but it's clear that foods with antioxidants appear to be sensible preventive medicine.
Plenty of foods have antioxidants, but only pomegranates have a related set of compounds called...