Pomegranate season has started and will continue until late January or February on the West Coast.
The red colored fruit with a crown is not only beautiful but it is delicious and nutritious for everyone, including athletes. The unique flavor of the pomegranate seeds is sweet and tart at the same time. The seeds are fun to eat although they can be messy; it is best to slice the top off and expose the seeds which are arranged in segments. Use a knife to score the skin in quarters which will make the seeds pop out easier.
Similar to all plant foods pomegranate seeds contain dietary fiber which is important to keep our bowels regular and give us a feeling of fullness. The potassium content of pomegranate is significant which makes it especially beneficial for athletes to balance their electrolytes for maximum performance. Pomegranates also contain valuable vitamin C.
The seeds and juice of the royal pomegranate contains a variety of antioxidants that elicit the health benefits, namely polyphenols and anthocyanins which are the favorable components of red wine and grape juice. These antioxidants can help buffer the oxidative damage that athletes create when exercising intensely for extended period of time. Antioxidants can reduce inflammation and help repair muscle tissue.
Pomegranate juice may help prevent or stop plaque from building up in blood vessels. Research from cardiologist Dean Onish, MD has demonstrated that pomegranate juice may improve blood flow in people with heart disease. Antioxidants are also known to help prevent and repair DNA damage that can lead to cancer including prostate cancer. The pomegranate industry loves to promote the anti-cancer components along with research stating it is helpful for people with diabetes. However, all natural fruit juice without added sugar increases blood sugar levels within 15 minutes of drinking it. This can be fine when your sugar levels before drinking the juice were lower and before you exercise, however the juice of the pomegranate is not a routine component of a diet for people with type 2 diabetes. Athletes and individuals without type 2 diabetes, on the other hand can handle juice: full strength after exercise and diluted before or during exercise for optimal hydration.
Choose pomegranates with intact skin that feel heavy or full of juicy seeds. Add the seeds to a variety of dishes including tuna, chicken, potato and tofu salad. They can easily add color and distinct flavor to brown rice and quinoa. Pomegranates also provide an added crunch and sweetness to plain yogurt or oatmeal. Try adding this seasonal fruit to your diet to help fuel your next workout!
– Gerri French, MS, RD, CDE, Sansum Clinic
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