POM Not So Wonderful

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They say that it's good for cardiovascular health, but when I saw the price at a Manhattan supermarket, I almost had a heart attack! $7.99 for a twenty-four-ounce (three-serving) bottle of POM Wonderful, possibly the fastest-growing premium refrigerated juice drink, according to Forbes.

More troubling than the hefty price is the downright obesifying calorie count. The drink is heavily marketed as a health food, with slick slogans such as "Cheat death" and "It's been around for 5,000 years. Drink it and you might be too."

However, in a country appropriately concerned about obesity, it should be pretty hard to get away with calling anything with 140 calories per eight ounces a health food.

That is about as many calories as you can possibly fit into a palatable eight-ounce juice drink -- although their tangerine drink does manage to fit in 150 calories! That's more than the nutritionally superior orange juice, which weighs in with "only" 115 calories per eight ounces. And POM doesn't even have any vitamin C -- not even in their "tangerine" variety. Go figure! POM makes Coca-Cola look like a diet drink by comparison, at a slim 105 calories per eight ounces.

While POM certainly offers more nutrients than Coke, that doesn't necessarily mean drinking POM is the way to go for optimal health, as the marketing campaign would have you believe. "Fruits are all excellent, healthy choices for your diet. Eating them in their original state is always a healthier choice than in juice," says ACSH advisor Dr. David Klurfeld, who serves as the National Program Leader of Human Nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture. "Eating a pomegranate adds taste, fiber, and antioxidants but not a lot of calories to your diet, takes a fair bit of time and chewing, and you get to spit the seeds," says Dr. Klurfeld. "It's hard to eat too much fruits and vegetables -- it's fairly easy to overdo calorie intake if you're simply drinking their juice."

But what about all those antioxidants? Is it worth the calories? "No," says Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical director of the American Council on Science and Health. "Antioxidants are not the cure-alls that they are often reputed to be." Research shows that we need a balance of oxidation and antioxidants. Klurfeld explains, "Oxidation is a natural by-product of metabolism and is required by our white blood cells to kill bacteria that get into the body. Oxidation is also one of the ways the immune system gets rid of cancer cells. So dousing your tissues in too many antioxidants may not be without some potential harm."

"If you want antioxidants for their touted (but not proven) health benefits," adds ACSH nutrition director Dr. Ruth Kava, "you are better off eating the actual fruits and vegetables, so you can get some fiber." POM has no fiber.

So be cautious: If you enjoy POM, it is okay to drink it every once in a while, balancing calories from foods and beverages with calories expended by physical activity, as per the recently revised federal guidelines. But it may not be a good idea to drink it every day, as the ads advise. "Drink it daily. Feel it forever," they say. But feeling it on your fattened stomach probably isn't what they meant to imply.

Jeff Stier, Esq., is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.