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Pomegranates gain the spotlight

The Baltimore Sun

Drink it. Eat it. Slather it over your body. There is no denying that the pomegranate, its fleshy burgundy bulb packed with juicy seeds, is one of the trendiest and most versatile fruits on the market.

In the past seven months, 215 new pomegranate food and beverage products were introduced in the United States, according to Datamonitor's Productscan Online, which keeps track of new products. Last year, 258 pomegranate products were introduced, up from 93 in 2004, 31 in 2003 and 19 in 2002.

For centuries, the sweet but tart fruit has left a crimson splash in Greek mythology, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. But today's pomegranate has emerged through more secular outlets: Oprah, Rachael Ray and the Starbucks Frappuccino.

"It's just now that we are finding the modern evidences and proofs of its health effects. It has been used for medicinal purposes for ages," says Navindra Seeram, assistant director of the University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Human Nutrition and lead co-editor of Pomegranates: Ancient Roots to Modern Medicine (Taylor & Francis, $129.95).

According to research by Seeram and colleagues at UCLA, here are some reasons why the fruit is so good for you:

Packed with antioxidants (even more than in cranberries, red wine and green tea), pomegranates might help prevent the onset of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries that leads to heart disease and stroke.

Unlike most fruit juices, drinking a commercial juice such as POM Wonderful is more healthful than eating the fruit itself, because 70 percent of the antioxidants found in the juice are released from the peel when the pomegranate is squeezed.

A study released by UCLA in June indicates drinking a glass of pomegranate juice daily can help slow the spread of prostate cancer, so patients live longer.

Menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, might be alleviated by the phytoestrogen found in the pomegranate seed. It's the only plant known to contain estrogen.

Another recent study, which measured the erectile function of rabbits, showed a regular intake of pomegranate juice raises nitric oxide levels and blood supply as seen in those who take Viagra.

During the Oscars, celebrities could be found sipping Red Carpet Martinis (vodka, Grand Marnier and pomegranate juice, garnished with a gold leaf) at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles in Beverly Hills.

The fruit is also a popular antioxidant additive in beauty products.

"People have no aversion to slathering it on their body," says David Klass, co-president of Archipelago, which came out with its pomegranate collection in April. "It's probably the most successful thing we have ever done," he says.

Jane Porter writes for the Hartford Courant.

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