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The question

I've heard that pomegranate juice can help prevent cancer. Is this true? Should I add it to my diet?

The answer

Pomegranate juice has been hyped to do many things: fight cancer, increase fertility, boost sex drive, reduce erectile dysfunction, stave off heart disease, even guard against Alzheimer's disease.

The potential health benefits of pomegranate juice are attributed to antioxidants called polyphenols. (Antioxidants are thought to guard against free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules in the body that can damage cells.) The antioxidants in pomegranate juice have been shown to be as potent – or more – than blueberries, purple grape juice and green tea.

The truth is, there's flimsy evidence that pomegranate juice lives up to any of these claims, at least in humans. Pomegranate juice has been shown to inhibit the growth of breast and lung cancer cells in the lab, but it remains to be seen if drinking the juice will kill cancer cells in people.

Preliminary research has found that after treatment for prostate cancer, the length of time it took for PSA (prostate-specific antigen) to double was significantly longer in men who drank 1 cup of pomegranate juice (POM Wonderful) daily for up to two years. (Studies have shown that a rapid PSA doubling time may signal a quickly growing cancer.) But this finding is based on a very small number of people. It's too soon to say drinking pomegranate juice treats prostate cancer.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agrees. Earlier this year, the FTC concluded that POM Wonderful engaged in exaggerated and deceptive advertising with insufficient evidence to show that the juice treats or prevents prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction.

That doesn't mean pomegranate juice isn't a healthy addition to your diet. Just don't expect it to fight off cancer. For that matter, what fruit juice could prevent cancer, or any chronic disease, on its own?

Pomegranate juice is an excellent source of antioxidants. And if you buy 100 per cent pomegranate juice, you're avoiding added sugars. However, I don't recommend drinking more than one serving a day (that goes for fruit juice in general) since it's a concentrated source of calories. One cup (8 ounces) of 100-per-cent pomegranate juice has 150 calories (one cup of orange juice has 112).

Instead of juice, add fresh pomegranate to your diet since the fruit is now in season. The seeds inside a pomegranate are packed with antioxidants and deliver fibre, vitamins C and K, and potassium. One half cup of pomegranate seeds – equivalent to one fruit serving – delivers 72 calories.

Add pomegranate seeds to yogurt, hot cereal, whole-grain pilafs, and muffin and pancake batters. Or enjoy them on their own, right out of the fruit.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel'sDirect (

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