Spoiler alert: watermelon isn’t just made of water and sugar, despite a widespread belief to the contrary. Yes, watermelon does have a high water content (92%), but it's also a pretty nutrient-dense food, providing plentiful concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. And the health benefits of watermelon are unstoppable.
Did you know red-fleshed watermelon possesses even more lycopene than a tomato? And you don't have to cook it as you do a tomato to make the lycopene more available to the body. Just cut it up and enjoy the juicy goodness!
Watermelon is also extremely low in calories, making it a delicious and nutritious snack for the health-minded. Cope with the heat on a hot summer day by indulging in a guilt-free, naturally hydrating sweet treat. You'll even be meeting 21% of your vitamin C and 18% of your vitamin A daily requirements in just 1 cup of diced watermelon!
All About the Watermelon
There are five main types of watermelon: red seeded and seedless, mini watermelons (sometimes known as personal watermelons), and yellow and orange watermelons.
Watermelons have been cultivated since ancient Egyptian times, depicted in paintings in tombs as well as Biblical Hebrew texts. Today, China produces the most watermelons in the world, providing up to 75 million throughout Asia and Europe.
Watermelon has many health benefits that include preventing risks of certain cancers. It’s also rich in choline, which can reduce inflammation and help mollify the effects of asthma.
The Many Health Benefits of Watermelon
Watermelon is a favorite fruit snack for those on weight-maintenance or weight-loss programs as it’s extremely low in calories and yet packs an intense nutritional punch. It’s also got some dietary fiber, which can give you the sense of being fuller longer. Here are some of the added benefits of enjoying fresh watermelon.
Watermelon May Prevent Asthma
Watermelon is rich in choline, a chemical compound responsible for maintaining healthy cells and transporting lipids within the bloodstream. Choline has also been linked to reducing symptoms of asthma. In a study published in the journal Elsevier, researchers discovered that the introduction of choline alleviated inflammation to the point of reducing asthma symptoms.
Watermelon May Improve Blood Pressure
In a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers found that introducing watermelon extract as a supplement provided symptom relief from prehypertension or stage 1 hypertension for obese middle-aged adults.
Furthermore, eating foods rich in lycopene, such as watermelon, may help lower your risk of developing heart disease. Lycopene has other beneficial health benefits, including preventing cancer.
Watermelon for Cancer Prevention
Lycopene is a carotenoid—one of the powerful antioxidants that promote healthy cell growth, strengthen the immune system, and reduce free radicals and oxidative stress within the body, and it's also the phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their red pigment. Tomatoes are another rich source of lycopene, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), watermelon contains about 40% more lycopene than raw tomatoes.
While there is some concern regarding the absorption rates of lycopene from watermelon (scientists believe that foods that are heated show more of a concentrated absorption rate), scientists from the Agricultural Research Service determined that fresh watermelon has as much if not more lycopene as cooked tomato juice.
Lycopene has long been shown to possess preventative qualities against many cancers. In fact, the abundance of lycopene in watermelon is also believed to reduce the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and liver cancers. In a study published in the Journal of Medical Sciences researchers observed the activity against human breast and liver cancer cells after the introduction of watermelon extract. The cells were seen to experience cell apoptosis (or cell death) at a rate of 50% when introduced to watermelon juice.
Watermelon to Regulate Digestion
Watermelon is an excellent source of water and dietary fiber, two key ingredients the body requires for a healthy digestive tract. Watermelon can also help prevent constipation, reduce swelling from water retention, and promote regularity within the gastrointestinal tract.
Watermelon for Hydration
Made of nearly 92% water that includes an abundance of electrolytes, watermelon is a powerful food source to replenish the body during extreme heat, after a workout, or during other intense stress.
Watermelon is often also suggested as a preferred snack for pregnant women to enjoy throughout their pregnancy, providing much-needed hydration while simultaneously alleviating symptoms of nausea and morning sickness.
Watermelon for Workouts
In addition to its hydration powers, watermelon also contains a sizable concentration of the amino acid citrulline, especially in its white rind. L-citrulline converts to arginine, which has been shown to help increase nitric oxide levels in the blood and play a beneficial role in heart health. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels, lowers high blood pressure, increases blood flow, and helps you work out harder and stronger and even recover faster with far less muscle soreness according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Watermelon also offers up a nice dose of potassium, 5% of the daily value in fact, which is crucial for muscle function. When you work out intensely, you lose this electrolyte through your sweat, and watermelon can help replenish your potassium stores. And with 11.6 carbs per 1-cup serving, watermelon also helps replenish glycogen after an intense workout.
Watermelon Juice Benefits
Many of the same health benefits found in freshly chopped watermelon are also found in freshly squeezed watermelon juice, including high concentrations of the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Watermelon juice is also an alternative to electrolyte-enhanced drinks such as Powerade or Gatorade and is extremely low in calories and added sugar.
Caution for Too Much Watermelon
Foods abundant in lycopene and vitamin C, such as watermelon, can have a laxative effect if eaten in excess either through food sources or by taking too many supplements.
Watermelon is also rich in potassium, and there is some evidence to suggest that too much potassium can lead to hyperkalemia which creates an abnormal heart rhythm. This is extremely rare, but also extremely dangerous. It’s best to consult with a health professional if you have concerns about your daily intake of watermelon, either through fresh sources or a supplement.
How to Choose a Watermelon
The best watermelons are firm, heavy, and symmetrical. Look for a watermelon that has a sizable discolored spot different from the rest of the skin. The larger the spot, the sweeter it will be. Any wrinkling or webbing within the spot is sure to produce delicious flesh as well.
Another recommendation is to tap the watermelon to test the texture inside. (This takes some practice and some validation of chopping up “good” watermelons.) You’ll want to listen for a hollow sounding thud, which means the fruit is stable and intact.
Watermelon is surprisingly versatile. While the fresh, chopped variety is undoubtedly the easiest to consume, there’s a whole lot more you can do with your watermelon.
Watermelon is delicious chopped finely and tossed into a fresh summer salad. You can also add chunks to your favorite smoothie recipe, such as this super refreshing Watermelon Swirl Smoothie.
And don't just throw out those watermelon seeds. When you sprout, shell, and dry them, they make for a tasty treat full of protein. Check out this recipe for roasted watermelon seeds from the Spruce Eats if you don't believe us. We're munching on them now!