Pomegranate: Three new reasons to love the Rosh Hashana fruit

Pomegranates (rimonim in Hebrew) are celebrated for their natural powers, color and symbolism. Here’s why you should add them to your diet

Pomegranate

The regal-looking pomegranate, ruby-red with a crown on top, ripens on Israeli trees just in time to decorate Jewish New Year holiday tables in early autumn. Each fruit has hundreds of edible juicy seeds, called arils, traditionally equated to the 613 commandments in the Torah.

But pomegranates are appreciated across the world, any time of year, as evidence keeps mounting about their healing and health-protective properties.

“The juice from the seeds is very rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals,” says Esther Frumkin, a Traditional Chinese Medicine herbalist, nutritional counselor and macrobiotic cooking teacher in Israel.

GI distress, hot flashes, hemorrhoids, conjunctivitis, osteoarthritis, hypertension and high cholesterol are some of the ailments pomegranate seeds can ease. They guard against disease – even cancer and heart disease — by boosting immunity and reducing chronic inflammation. Frumkin says pomegranate rind tea can treat diarrhea, dysentery, mouth sores and throat irritation, while pomegranate bark tea kills intestinal parasites.

1. A food supplement inspired by face cream

Experimental neurologist Ruth Gabizon from Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem bought a pomegranate-seed-oil face cream from Israeli cosmetics maker Lavido. She loved its effect on her skin and found out the active ingredient in the oil is punicic acid, an exceptionally powerful antioxidant.

She wondered how this polyunsaturated fatty acid (also known as Omega 5) might help her lab mice, engineered to be predisposed to developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a fatal neurodegenerative disorder.

Hoping to prevent the oxidation that causes permanent neuron damage triggering such diseases, Gabizon had been seeking a safe, inexpensive lipid-based antioxidant to protect brain cells. Punicic acid seemed a good candidate.

“I came into my lab one morning and said to my students, ‘We’re going to give this to our transgenic mice,’” Gabizon tells ISRAEL21c.

New Research : Adding Pomegranate Juice to Statin Treatment May Delay Heart Disease

Her idea grew into a collaboration with award-winning nanotechnology expert Shlomo Magdassi of the Hebrew University’s Casali Center for Applied Chemistry to formulate punicic acid in a new way to get past the blood-brain barrier.

Their company, Granalix, markets the novel formulation as a food supplement called GranaGard with FDA-approved ingredients. Since late 2016, GranaGard has been sold worldwide through the Granalix website and in select Israeli pharmacies. It is distributed in Mexico and soon in Greece.

Manufactured by Israel’s SupHerb as a soft gel cap, GranaGard contains mostly Israeli-sourced pomegranate seed oil, found to have a particularly high percentage of punicic acid.

“This is a science-improved natural compound tested as a drug but treated as a food supplement,” says Gabizon.

She and Magdassi take it for general wellbeing and believe it can help prevent neurodegenerative conditions without side effects. She emphasizes that such diseases can’t be cured, only prevented or slowed.

Clinical studies are looking at the effect of GranaGard in people with early multiple sclerosis and memory problems. A group of CJD carriers has taken GranaGard for two years. “While still a very short time, it’s encouraging that they haven’t developed the disease yet,” says Gabizon.

2. Pomegranate juice may protect fetal brains

Drinking pomegranate juice appears to reduce the risk of embryos developing brain damage, according to a new joint study by researchers from Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, just published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

A significant proportion of premature births occur due to infection and/or inflammation in the uterus, which previous studies have shown to be a risk factor linked to brain injury and the development of neurological deficits soon after birth or later in the child’s life. Therefore, scientists have been trying to find harmless ways to reduce these risks during pregnancy.

“Studies have shown that pomegranates are rich in polyphenols, a type of free-radical-neutralizing compound known to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects,” explained Dr. Ron Beloosesky, director of the Prenatal Ultrasound Unit at Rambam, referring to the groundbreaking research of Dr. Michael Aviram, former director of Rambam’s Clinical Research Institute.

“Because we know some causes of brain damage in fetuses are related to inflammatory processes, we thought to test if drinking pomegranate juice could help prevent infection and inflammation in the mother and thus reduce the risk of damaging the fetus.”

The study was conducted on pregnant lab rats in Beloosesky’s Prenatal Research Laboratory at the Technion. Rats that received pomegranate juice in their drinking water for several days before an induced inflammatory process showed decreased inflammation and a significant reduction in signs of inflammation and injury to their babies’ brains when compared to those that didn’t drink the juice.

“It seems that an accessible and inexpensive juice that can be found in any supermarket has a positive effect on a serious problem that harms mothers and their embryos,” said Beloosesky, adding that this was a preliminary study and the research team is now doing in a study on humans, expected to be completed in the next two years.

“This is the first study of its kind aiming to understand how to use the pomegranate, which has known health benefits, to prevent a problem that, under certain conditions, passes from mother to child,” said co-author Dr. Zeev Wiener. “We are curious to see what we’ll learn in the future.”

food health Pomegranates

3. Growing better pomegranates

Agronomists from many countries turn to Israeli experts for advice on pomegranates, says Doron Holland, head of fruit tree sciences at the Volcani Center-Agricultural Research Organization’s Newe Ya’ar Research Center.

“Our cultivars are being grown all over the world. They are highly valued in Europe and there is growing interest in our cultivars in North America,” Holland tells ISRAEL21c.

What makes the Israeli cultivars so special?

“The metabolites in pomegranates are anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant, and highly beneficial for humans. These metabolites are mostly produced in the skin rather than the arils. We look for ways to produce more of these metabolites in the arils,” explains Holland.

“We also identify cultivars that are enriched with these metabolites. We are very advanced with respect to using genetic analysis for breeding pomegranates.”

Because metabolites are responsible for the deep red color of the fruit, enhancing them makes the produce more marketable as well as healthier.

Israeli pomegranate cultivars also excel at producing fruit with soluble tannins, a beneficial substance unique to pomegranates, Holland says. Much of that substance, like the other metabolites, is in the skin. The Volcani Center found a way to use those nutrient-dense but inedible skins – normally thrown away — as animal feed.

Holland says Israeli farms from north to south produce around 40,000 tons of fresh pomegranates every year, at least half of which gets exported, mainly to Europe. Thanks to cultivars developed by Holland’s team, the first export of fresh fruit now starts as early as mid-July.

Pomegranates

Here are 9 more good reasons to add pomegranates to your diet

1. Pomegranates are good for you

The pomegranate is known as a superfood. Its jewel-like seeds (arils) have been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. Packed with powerful antioxidants and vitamins, this ruby-red fruit has been shown to be a cure-all for just about any ailment. It helps stomach upsets, menopausal hot flashes, hemorrhoids, conjunctivitis, osteoarthritis, lowers blood pressure, stimulates the immune system, wards off the flu, reduces inflammation, reduces risk of heart disease and lowers cholesterol.

“The peel is good for the heart and blood vessels; the white membrane is good for stopping diarrhea and good for wounds and ulcers of the mouth and throat. The fruit also strengthens the brain, cleanses the body and blood from toxins, and is very good at expelling worms from the intestines,” Merav Altman-Adler, who practices classic Chinese medicine, tells ISRAEL21c.

2. Pomegranate juice is heart-healthy

“The most important new issue is the cardiovascular protection of pomegranate,” says Prof. Michael Aviram, head of the Lipid Research Laboratory of Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center and one of Israel’s top pomegranate researchers.

Pomegranate juice packs a high antioxidant potency punch and protects against heart attack and stroke. According to new research coming out of Aviram’s lab and an article he co-authored in Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal in April 2013, this royal red juice has an even higher concentration of antioxidants than other sources of dietary antioxidants such as red wine, grape juice, blueberry juice, cranberry juice and green tea.

3. Pomegranates help combat prostate cancer, diabetes

A Technion-Israel Institute of Technology study led by Aviram showed that the antioxidants found in pomegranate juice may be especially beneficial to diabetes patients. Researchers found that drinking pomegranate juice reduced the uptake of oxidized “bad” LDL cholesterol by immune cells, which is a major contributing factor to atherosclerosis.

“Pomegranate at low dosages is also good for diabetics as the pomegranate sugar is not free (and harmful) but it is attached to the pomegranate’s unique phenolic antioxidants,” Aviram tells ISRAEL21c.

Two other recent studies by British and American researchers show that components in pomegranate juice help prevent prostate cancer metastasis. But Aviram warns that while the fruit juice is beneficial, “Pomegranate is not a magic bullet” in curing diseases.

4. Pomegranates make dessert wine

The Rimon Winery in Israel is one of the world’s top producers of this crimson dessert wine. Father-and-son duo Gabi and Avi Nahmias, from Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra in the Upper Galilee, developed a new strain of pomegranate for winemaking. In 2003, they produced just 2,000 bottles of pomegranate wine to test the market. Today, they ship more than 720,000 bottles across the globe.

5. There are different pomegranate varieties

Israelis have innovated different varieties of pomegranates. Some are sweeter; others keep longer. According to the Agricultural Ministry, this year’s crop is expected to yield some 60,000 tons of fruit. Of that, 14,000 tons of pomegranates will be used by the domestic market and the rest will be exported, mostly to Europe.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev horticultural researchers have introduced three types of pomegranates to the market. Prof. Ze’ev Wiesman of the plant oil biotechnology lab led the team that improved the genetic makeup of the new pomegranates — Narda, Rotem and Nitzan. Wiesman says they taste better, are more vivid in color, and ripen earlier – as was the case this season, when Israeli pomegranates hit the global market in July 2013, three weeks earlier than usual.

6. Pomegranates keep you young

Chinese herbology cites pomegranate juice as a longevity treatment. And thanks to the pomegranate’s antioxidant extracts, modern science and the cosmetics industry agree that topical application of products containing the ruby red fruit can keep wrinkles at bay. Pomegranate-tinged anti-aging creams, massage oils, masques and toners are readily available.

Shavit – an Israeli company specializing in all-natural beauty products – produces a line of pomegranate-infused products that are exported around the world. “Pomegranate oil is a rich source of punicic acid and this is a very strong antioxidant that helps fight wrinkles,” Aliza Shavit, a pharmacist by training and co-founder of the company, tells ISRAEL21c.

Punicic acid is a rare omega-5 conjugated fatty acid that has been shown to improve skin tone and elasticity. “Every day our faces are exposed to harmful sun rays and pollutants,” Shavit says. “The pomegranate extracts help keep the skin healthy.”

Rimonest – a company funded by the Technion and led by head researcher Dr. Ephraim Lansky has also developed a line of products for the functional food, functional beverage, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors.

7. Pomegranates are packed with religious history and symbolism

The pomegranate has enjoyed celebrity status for millennia. Widely believed to have originated in Persia (modern-day Iran), the fruit is mentioned in ancient Babylonian texts, the Bible, the Homeric Hymns and the Quran. Pomegranates appear in Greek mythology, Egyptian papyrus, Tang Dynasty characters, and ancient Armenian texts.

The Greeks called pomegranates the “fruit of the dead,” relating to the story of Hades tricking Persephone into eating its seeds in order to keep her as his wife. Ancient Egyptians saw the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity and ambition. In Judaism, it symbolizes fruitfulness, and in Hinduism it represents prosperity and fertility.

8. Pomegranates are beautiful

The pomegranate figures prominently in Israeli artworks, such as this mosaic in Jerusalem by Ruslan Sergeev.

Pomegranates are a favorite theme in visual and literary arts.

King Solomon, in the Song of Songs, cites the fruit in one of the most famous love poems: “Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.”

Thanks to their all-religions symbolism, pomegranates can be found in artworks throughout the centuries. Famous paintings include Early Renaissance Italian painter Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Pomegranate(ca. 148) and French painter William-Adolphe Bouquereau’s Girl with a Pomegranate, 1875.

Want a modern take on pomegranates? Stop by any of Israel’s crafts markets and you’ll be inundated with pomegranate-themed ceramics, woodwork, clay, photography and drawings.

9. They taste great!

Pomegranates would hardly enjoy such celebrity status if they tasted as bitter as their peel. But crack open this pink-red-purplish fruit and dig in. A bit tart but sweet too, pomegranates are a tasty and nutritious snack.

And if you’re not a fan of purple-tinged fingers, you can always stop by a fresh juice stand or order pomegranate ice cream. Enjoy!

By Israel21C 

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