A Juice That’s Too Good to Be True?

3179260418_78666d3d38_oYou’ve probably heard by now about  the trouble that POM Wonderful juice has gotten into. After a two-year fight, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has found that the company misled consumers by making unsubstantiated claims regarding the juice’s ability to treat, prevent or reduce the risk of  heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

From the looks of the advertising, the heavily promoted pomegranate juice (“The Antioxidant Superpower”) can even save your life — or in POM’s words, help you “cheat death.”

POM Wonderful owners Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Beverly Hills billionnaires who bought up acres of pomegranate orchards and started the whole pomegranate superfood craze, have spent $35 million on studies to try and document the superpowers of pomegranate juice and pills.

3147592119_a165a1d260_oTrouble is, the judge ruling in this case found much of the evidence to be conflicting. FTC alleged that the POM  heart disease claims were false and unsubstantiated because many of the scientific studies did not show benefits from using POM products for treating or preventing heart disease.

The agency alleged that the prostate cancer claims were false and unsubstantiated because, among other reasons, the study that POM relied on was neither “blinded” nor controlled.  Regarding the erectile dysfunction claims, the FTC said they were false and unsubstantiated because the study on which the company relied did not show that POM Juice was any more effective than a placebo.

It’s too bad, because pomegranates as a fruit are truly wonderful.  But once you try and make a food more than it really is — such as drug that’s “effective in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease” — then you go too far.   And once you take a fruit and put it into a pill, then you’ve downgraded the real thing, in my opinion.  We should be encouraging more whole fruits, instead of sipping large quantities of super juices or taking a supplement.

From the looks of POM’s website, you’d think they’d won the fight. It’s true that the FTC didn’t find all of  the POM ads misleading, and they’re not requiring the company to pre-approve the claims with the FDA (so it could have been worse).  But there’s no doubt about it, this was a big slap on POM Wonderful’s hands.  This was no victory.

I do love pomegranates. They truly are nutritious and have an fascinating, rich history linked to health, fertility and rebirth. Native of Persia (or modern-day Iran), the pomegranate is one of the earliest cultivated fruits that can be traced back as far as 3,000 B.C. In fact, some historians believe it was the pomegranate, not the apple, that tempted Eve. So there’s no doubt that this is a marvelous, mystical fruit…and POM Wonderful tried to bring that to life in their TV commercials.
Pomegranates are an important part of the Middle Eastern diet, and they are a fruit worth celebrating. Just guzzling them in juice may not be the best way to honor the history, or benefit from the fruit. Sure, enjoy in moderation (remember, the Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting juice to 1 serving/day), but don’t expect the drink to work miracles.

Pomegranates are truly wonderful. The juice, not so much.

images courtesy of threepunchstuff on flickr

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