Spoiler alert: Watermelon isn’t just made of water and sugar, despite a widespread belief to the contrary. Watermelon is a pretty nutrient-dense food, providing high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And the health benefits of watermelon are unstoppable. Did you know watermelon possesses the highest concentration of lycopene of any fruit or vegetable (even more than tomatoes!)?
Watermelon is also extremely low in calories, making it a delicious and nutritious snack for the health-minded. It’s a favorite, refreshing item frequently seen at summer barbecues and picnics, helping many people cope with the heat by indulging in a guilt-free, sweet treat. And because it’s 90% water, it’s an excellent source of natural rehydration.
All About the Watermelon
Watermelons are a member of the Cucurbitaceae gourd family that also includes honeydew, cantaloupe, pumpkin, zucchini, and over 975 species of food and ornamental plants. 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 around 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—prostate, breast, and even liver cancer. 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 relatively high in 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, which is 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 symptoms of asthma.
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 the chemical composition that gives fruits and vegetables their red pigment. Tomatoes are another rich source of lycopene, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture, watermelon contains about 40% more lycopene than 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.
The abundance of lycopene in watermelon is also believed to reduce the risk of certain cancers including breast, prostate, and liver cancer. 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.
Lycopene has long been shown to possess preventative qualities against many cancers. Lycopene is a carotenoid—one of the powerful antioxidants that promote healthy cell growth and reduce free radicals within the body.
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
Since watermelon is made of 90% 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 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 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 way to consume it, 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.