Despite the popular belief that watermelon is just water and sugar, watermelon is actually a nutrient dense food. It provides high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and just a small number of calories.
Watermelons have become synonymous with summer and picnics, and for good reason. Their refreshing quality and sweet taste help to combat the heat and provide a guilt-free, low maintenance dessert. Along with cantaloupe and honeydew, watermelons are a member of the botanical family Cucurbitaceae. There are five common types of watermelon: seeded, seedless, mini (also known as personal), yellow, and orange.
Fast facts on watermelon:
- The watermelon has been cultivated for thousands of years, with evidence stretching back to the Ancient Egyptians – who were expert cultivars.
- Over 90 percent of a watermelon is water.
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), China is the top producer, with 75 million produced in 2014.
- Watermelon is thought to aid conditions including asthma, cancer, and inflammation.
Possible health benefits of watermelon
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like watermelon decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease. Other benefits of the watermelon include promoting a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients. One of these nutrients is vitamin C, found in many fruits and vegetables, including watermelon.
A study published by the American Journal of Hypertension found that watermelon extract supplementation improved the health of the circulatory system in obese middle-aged adults with prehypertension or stage 1 hypertension. Diets rich in lycopene – found in watermelon – may help protect against heart disease.
As an excellent source of antioxidants, including vitamin C, watermelon can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cancer. Lycopene intake has been linked with a decreased risk of prostate cancer in several studies.
Digestion and regularity
Watermelon, because of its water and fiber content, helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
Watermelon’s high levels of lycopene are very effective at protecting cells from damage and may help lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study at Purdue University. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that watermelon extracts helped reduce hypertension and lower blood pressure in obese adults. Watermelon may be especially important for older women. A study published in Menopause found that postmenopausal women, a group known to have increased aortic stiffness, who took watermelon extract for six weeks saw decreased blood pressure and arterial stiffness compared to those who did not take watermelon extract. The authors of the study attributed the benefits to citrulline and arginine. Arginine can help improve blood flow and may help reduce the accumulation of excess fat.
Made up of 92 percent water and full of important electrolytes, watermelon is a great snack to have on hand during the hot summer months to prevent dehydration. It can also be frozen in slices for a tasty cold Popsicle-style snack.
Choline – found in watermelon – is a very important and versatile nutrient; it aids our bodies in sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat, and reduces chronic inflammation.
Watermelon and watermelon juice have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time following exercise in athletes. Researchers believe this is likely due to the amino acid L-citrulline contained in watermelon.
Watermelon is great for the skin because it contains vitamin A, a nutrient required for sebum production, which keeps hair moisturized. Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair. Adequate intake of vitamin C is also needed for the building and maintenance of collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair. Additionally, watermelon contributes to overall hydration, which is vital for healthy looking skin and hair.
Nutritional breakdown of watermelon
One cup of diced watermelon (152 grams) contains:
- 43 calories
- 0 grams of fat
- 2 milligrams of sodium
- 11 grams of carbohydrate (including 9 grams of sugar)
- 1 gram of fiber
One cup of watermelon will provide the following percentage of daily vitamins:
- 17 percent of vitamin A
- 21 percent of vitamin C
- 2 percent of iron
- 1 percent of calcium
Watermelon also contains thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, choline, lycopene, and betaine. According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, watermelon contains more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable.
Watermelons are mostly water — about 92 percent — but this refreshing fruit is soaked with nutrients. Each juicy bite has significant levels of vitamins A, B6 and C, lots of lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids. There’s even a modest amount of potassium. Plus, this quintessential summer snack is fat-free, very low in sodium and has only 40 calories per cup.
“Foods that are high in antioxidants and amino acids allow your body to function optimally,” said Angela Lemond, a Plano, Texas-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Antioxidants help prevent damage, and cancer. Amino acids are the basic building block for protein, and protein is used in virtually every vital function in the body.”
Scientists have taken notice of watermelon’s high lycopene levels — about 15 to 20 milligrams per 2-cup serving, according to the National Watermelon Promotion Board — some of the highest levels of any type of fresh produce. Lycopene is a phytonutrient, which is a naturally occurring compound in fruits and vegetables that reacts with the human body to trigger healthy reactions. It is also the red pigment that gives watermelons, tomatoes, red grapefruits and guavas their color.
Potential health risks of consuming watermelon
Moderate amounts of watermelon present no serious health risk. Excessive consumption can possibly elevate levels of certain vitamins in the body, which may cause complications.
Too much vitamin C, abundant in watermelon, can cause symptoms such as diarrhea or gastrointestinal discomfort. Foods containing lycopene, such as watermelon, may produce these symptoms too. These symptoms are only normally seen when excessive intake is from supplements, not food.
Potassium levels are another consideration, too much might lead to complications such as hyperkalemia which causes an abnormal heart rhythm and can be dangerous. Again, complications are most often due to excessive supplement intake. Overall, watermelon can be consumed safely with little risk.
How can I incorporate more watermelon into my diet?
Look for a watermelon that is firm, heavy, and symmetrical without soft spots or bruising. Tapping the outside can give you a clue as to the texture of the fruit inside. Listen for a light and almost hollow sounding thud; this indicates the water and fruit contained is intact and has a stable structure.
Because watermelon is so versatile, it can easily be incorporated into a diet. Consider the following:
- Roasted seeds – getting the watermelon seeds and roasting them in the oven for 15-20 minutes is a tasty snack that can be made in advance. Try adding just a little salt to taste.
- Blended – place diced watermelon and a few ice cubes in a blender for a cold, refreshing electrolyte drink that is perfect for rehydrating after exercise or a day in the sun.
- Salad – jazz up a boring salad by adding watermelon, mint, and fresh mozzarella to a bed of spinach leaves. Drizzle with balsamic dressing.
Smoothies are a good way to consume watermelon. Their high water content makes them not too thick and they can be ready to drink in seconds. Try to avoid juicing as this can pack a lot of sugar in a smaller volume, whilst removing the fiber.