Q. I've heard so much hype about pomegranates. Are they really as amazing as people make them out to be? - Ashley, Tenn.

A. Thanks to POM Wonderful, the juice company that first began trumpeting the antioxidant power of pomegranates, you can't walk through the supermarket these days without tripping over some new product touting the health benefits of this supposed super-fruit. Now other companies such as Nantucket Nectars and Starbucks are riding the wave of pomegranates' popularity with their own products. But many of these potions are pricey -- as much as $4 or $5 for a 16-ounce bottle. Is America's latest health-food darling worth the extra coin? 

The claims: Pomegranate juice, super-rich in antioxidants, decreases the risk of heart attacks by promoting heart and artery health. It may also fight prostate cancer by shrinking tumors.

The facts: A slew of studies support claims that antioxidants can help protect against heart attack. And pomegranates really are one of the bests sources of antioxidants. But most juices on the market are pasteurized, meaning some of those antioxidants, like vitamin C, are destroyed along with the bacteria. Others, like the polyphenols that are linked to heart health, do remain intact, though, and some studies (backed by the POM Wonderful folks but published in independent journals) do indeed suggest that pasteurized juice may lower blood pressure and cholesterol. As for the anti-cancer claims, that research is more preliminary. In a recent published study (also backed by a grant from POM Wonderful's owners), researchers had 50 men with prostate cancer drink eight ounces a day and found that their diseases seemed to progress more slowly. Cancer researchers were impressed but cautioned that larger studies are needed to corroborate the findings.

The conclusion: Though you shouldn't rely on pomegranate products for your vitamin C, the polyphenols present in both the fruit and the juice may well protect your heart. As far as those anti-cancer properties, the studies look promising, but warrant further study. So, while we wouldn't recommend that you run out and buy every pomegranate concoction on the market, drinking a glass of juice regularly may offer some excellent health benefits. Even better, enjoy a fresh pomegranate now and then. They're cheaper and pack a bigger nutritional wallop.

Story by Alive Shyy. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2006. The story was added to MNN.com in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2006

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