Disclaimer: This information is derived from Food Revolution Network and Healthline and I am greatly appreciative of their vast knowledge and supportive information about this one of the likable fruits in the world.
Watermelon is a flowering plant species of the Cucurbitaceae family and the name of its edible fruit. A scrambling and trailing vine-like plant, it was originally domesticated in Africa. It is a highly cultivated fruit worldwide, with more than 1,000 varieties.
It is my favorite fruit and I can actually eat it any time of day or night. They have the greatest world production, exceeding 63 million tonnes, according to the FAO, with China being the largest producer of watermelons, harvesting over 38 million tonnes annually.
Watermelon in Japan
In Japan, you can buy a cube-shaped luxury watermelon — grown in a square box — at a high-end department store for several hundred dollars. Popular gifts, are solely for display and harvested before ripening.
In the United States, you’re more likely to find watermelons in their natural oblong or round forms for a lot less money.
The sweet flavor and distinct juiciness of watermelons make them popular fruits. So, is watermelon really healthy? What about the sugar content of it? Is it good for people who are diabetic? What is the risk of eating it? Or is there any risk at all?
History of Watermelon
While watermelons are sometimes thought of as the “all-American” summer fruit (at least, by Americans), they’re actually native to Africa. Archaeological remains of watermelon seeds have been discovered in northeastern Africa, dating from approximately 5,000 years ago.
The oldest archaeological finds of dessert watermelons (yes, that’s ‘dessert,’ as in the sweet ending of a meal, not ‘desert’ that is commonly associated with a lack of water) are from Egypt and Sudan.
In a tomb dating to at least 4,000 years ago, scientists found an image of a large, striped, oblong fruit on a tray, further suggesting that the enjoyment of watermelons dates back thousands of years. Sadly, there were no artistic renderings of seed-spitting contests.
The Oldest References
The oldest references to watermelons being sweet are in codices of Jewish laws from Israel dating to the time of the Roman Empire. In fact, the Greek word pepon, Latin pepo, and Hebrew avattiah were all used to describe large, wet fruits with a thick rind, a description that perfectly matches our suspect, the watermelon.
If you close your eyes and think of watermelon, you’ll probably come up with the classic green striped oblong, or the slice of red with black seeds and a white/green rind. That’s the classic dessert watermelon. But there are also two additional species of the plant.
These are the citron (mainly used for preserves and pickles) and the egusi (which is popular in West Africa and grown for its seeds). As for the more common types of watermelons, there are a lot more than you probably realize.
Types of Watermelon
Watermelon is a beautiful fruit as is, but its diversity is truly stunning. While many watermelon varieties can look similar on the outside, their flesh can come in a rainbow of colors, including red, pink, orange, yellow, or even white.
Cutting into a watermelon can become its very own “species reveal” party, without the explosions.
Watermelon rinds, on the other hand, are typically green but don’t always have stripes. Solid green rinds or speckled rinds, as is the case with the Moon & Star variety, are also possible.
All varieties come in round or oblong shapes (when they’re not crammed into growing boxes for aesthetics).
The three most popular types of watermelon enjoyed in the US are :
This is a smaller type of watermelon, which you can usually store in your refrigerator whole. It weighs anywhere from 5-15 pounds. Some popular varieties of icebox watermelon include Sugar Baby, Cal Sweet Bush, and Garden Baby.
Weighing between 15-50 pounds, the picnic watermelon is very large and is the best cut before storing in your fridge, unless your fridge interior is the size of a walk-in closet. Some popular varieties of picnic watermelon include Black Diamond, Crimson Sweet, and Dixie Sweet.
Usually similar in size to picnic watermelons, seedless types are the majority of watermelons you’ll find in grocery stores. Seedless watermelons came about around 50 years ago. And while they don’t contain mature black seeds, they may contain some immature and edible white seeds.
While there’s a common misconception that seedless watermelons are genetically modified, this isn’t the case. They’re actually a sterile hybrid created by cross-pollinating male pollen for watermelon with a female watermelon flower.
In this sense, seedless watermelons are sort of the mule of watermelons, made similarly to crossing a horse and donkey. Popular varieties include King of Hearts, Millionaire, and Crimson.
Figuring out if a watermelon is healthy or not starts with examining its nutritional content. And nutritionally, watermelons contain lots of good-for-you compounds.
As their name suggests, watermelons have a high water content, which helps keep you hydrated. They’re also high in vitamins A and C, potassium, and carotenoids. In particular, watermelons are high in the antioxidant-rich carotenoid lycopene, which gives the flesh its pinkish-red color.
(As a result, red watermelons are naturally higher in lycopene than yellow or pink ones.)
Watermelons are also high in natural sugars (about 9.4 grams of sugar per cup), so they’re high on the glycemic index. But because they’re so high in water, they still turn out to be low on the glycemic load scale.
This means that despite their sweetness, they likely won’t spike your blood sugar when you eat them.
Low in Calories
As far as fruits go, watermelon is one of the lowest in calories — only 46 calories per cup (154 grams). That’s lower than even low-sugar fruits such as berries.
One cup (154 grams) of watermelon has many other nutrients as well, including these vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin C: 21% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Vitamin A: 18% of the RDI
- Potassium: 5% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 4% of the RDI
- Vitamins B1, B5, and B6: 3% of the RDI
Watermelon is also high in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene. Plus, it has citrulline, an important amino acid.
Here’s an overview of watermelon’s most important antioxidants:
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage from free radicals.
Carotenoids are a class of plant compounds that includes alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A.
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid that doesn’t change into vitamin A. This potent antioxidant gives a red color to plant foods such as tomatoes and watermelon and is linked to many health benefits.
Cucurbitacin E is a plant compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Bitter melon, a relative of watermelon, contains even more cucurbitacin E.
11. Health Benefits of Watermelon
The watermelon is mighty in its size and shape, but also in its potential health benefits. Research has found watermelon is a functional food because its flesh, seeds, sprouts, and leaves are full of compounds that may offer protective properties to those who eat them.
Some of the top health benefits of watermelon include:
Drinking water is an important way to keep your body hydrated.
What’s more, high water content is one of the reasons why fruits and vegetables help you feel full.
The combination of water and fiber means you’re eating a good volume of food without a lot of calories.
2. It may help you lose weight.
Watermelon is rich in water and fiber, which help fill you up when you eat it. These nutrients can reduce appetite and potentially prevent overeating that would otherwise contribute to unwanted weight gain.
In one study among 33 overweight or obese adults, researchers found that eating two cups of watermelon daily for four weeks led to a significant reduction in body weight, body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio.
This was compared to the effects of another group who consumed isocaloric, (meaning, the same number of calories as the watermelon) low-fat cookies daily for four weeks instead — which led to an increase in body fat.
3. It may protect against heart disease.
Watermelon is high in compounds that may reduce inflammation, offer antioxidant effects, and help improve lipid profiles. It contains the amino acid L-citrulline, which is the precursor of L-arginine, another essential amino acid used for protein synthesis.
Additionally, eating watermelon has been observed to help increase the synthesis of nitric oxide, a colorless gas that dilates your blood vessels and helps prevent blockages.
Watermelon for Heart Health
Several nutrients in watermelon have specific benefits for heart health. Studies suggest that lycopene may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. It can also help prevent oxidative damage to cholesterol.
Watermelon also contains citrulline, an amino acid that may increase nitric oxide levels in the body. Nitric oxide helps your blood vessels expand, which lowers blood pressure.
4. It may have anticancer properties.
Eating plenty of naturally antioxidant-rich foods is one way that you can help your body better defend itself against cancer.
The L-citrulline content and nitric oxide boosting effects of watermelon may be the reason that watermelon decreases cancer cell proliferation in some animal studies. Watermelon may also regulate the expression of DNA repair enzymes to combat cancer in mice.
Researchers have studied lycopene and other individual plant compounds in watermelon for their anti-cancer effects.
Though lycopene intake is associated with a lower risk of some types of cancer, study results are mixed. The strongest link so far seems to be between lycopene and cancers of the digestive system.
It appears to reduce cancer risk by lowering insulin-like growth factor (IGF), a protein involved in cell division. High IGF levels are linked to cancer.
5. It may be used to help treat ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease characterized by widespread inflammation throughout the digestive tract. It’s a risk factor for colorectal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriasis.
Some research has found that watermelon can help with UC by increasing antioxidant activity and alleviating inflammation.
6. May Lower Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Inflammation is a key driver of many chronic diseases.
Watermelon may help lower inflammation and oxidative damage, as it’s rich in the anti-inflammatory antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C.
In a 2015 study, lab rats were fed watermelon powder to supplement an unhealthy diet. Compared to the control group, they developed lower levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and less oxidative stress.
In an earlier study, humans were given lycopene-rich tomato juice with added vitamin C. Overall, their markers of inflammation went down and antioxidants went up. Watermelon has both lycopene and vitamin C.
As an antioxidant, lycopene may also benefit brain health. For example, it may help delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
7. It may be good for your skin and hair.
The antioxidants in watermelon help protect your skin from sun damage and fight oxidative stress. Antioxidants, like the lycopene in watermelon, may help minimize wrinkles and slow other aging effects related to UV damage.
Two vitamins in watermelon — A and C — are important for skin and hair health.
Vitamin C helps your body make collagen, a protein that keeps your skin supple and your hair strong.
Vitamin A is also important for healthy skin since it helps create and repair skin cells. Without enough vitamin A, your skin can look dry and flaky.
Both lycopene and beta-carotene may also help protect your skin from sunburn.
8. May Help Prevent Macular Degeneration
Lycopene is found in several parts of the eye where it helps protect against oxidative damage and inflammation. It may also prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is a common eye problem that can cause blindness in older adults.
Lycopene’s role as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound may help prevent AMD from developing and getting worse.
For more information on how to keep your eyes healthy, consider reading 20 Foods that Promote Eye Health.
9. It may help support your athletic performance.
Watermelon is a natural source of L-citrulline, which may increase L-arginine bioavailability and nitric oxide production that can aid in exercise performance. There are several studies that have found success in L-citrulline supplementation for improving exercise performance and recovery.
One study among 22 athletically trained males found that oral L-citrulline supplementation for seven days significantly increased plasma L-arginine levels. It also reduced the completion time of a four-kilometer bicycle race by 1.5%, compared to the placebo group.
The athletes also reported significantly reduced muscle fatigue following exercise. Of course, cyclists will not race faster if they have to carry the watermelon with them while they ride.
10. May Help Relieve Muscle Soreness
Citrulline, an amino acid in watermelon, may reduce muscle soreness. It’s also available as a supplement.
Interestingly, watermelon juice appears to enhance the absorption of citrulline.
One small study gave athletes plain watermelon juice, watermelon juice mixed with citrulline or a citrulline drink. Both watermelon drinks led to less muscle soreness and quicker heart rate recovery, compared to citrulline on its own (13Trusted Source).
The researchers also conducted a test-tube experiment, investigating the absorption of citrulline. Their findings suggest that citrulline absorption is most effective when it’s consumed as a component of watermelon juice.
Other research has also looked at citrulline’s potential to improve exercise endurance and performance.
So far, citrulline doesn’t seem to improve exercise performance in the amounts studied, but it’s still an area of research interest.
11. Can Improve Digestion
Watermelon contains lots of water and a small amount of fiber — both of which are important for healthy digestion.
Fiber can provide bulk for your stool, while water helps keep your digestive tract moving efficiently.
Eating water-rich and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, including watermelon, can be very helpful for promoting normal bowel movements.
Downsides to Eating Watermelon
There are plenty of benefits to enjoying watermelon, but there are also some potential downsides to consider.
1. Watermelon Diet
The watermelon diet — like other diets with similar single-food names — is a fad diet intended for quick weight loss. In this diet, you eat nothing but watermelon for three days, and then gradually add back more foods. Not only is this way of eating unsustainable, but it can also be dangerous.
Such restrictive approaches to weight loss are not recommended for pregnant women, people with diabetes, or those with impaired immune function. Watermelon contains an array of vitamins and minerals but lacks protein and other important macronutrients.
Overall, watermelon is best when eaten in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet. It’s never a good bet to rely on one single food to meet all your nutritional needs.
For individuals looking to minimize their intake of FODMAPs, watermelons likely fall into the red light list of foods. FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, are short-chain sugars that can be poorly absorbed in the intestines.
Watermelons are considered a high FODMAP food, as they contain concentrated amounts of fructose and other oligosaccharides. They can cause digestive problems for people with existing digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Though a true watermelon allergy is rare, some people may experience an allergy-like reaction to eating it as a result of what’s called oral allergy syndrome. This phenomenon often coexists with existing ragweed and pollen allergies.
Oral allergy syndrome can occur because the proteins in raw watermelon are similar to pollen proteins found in common allergic plants like ragweed. Bodies occasionally get confused, resulting in a similar allergic reaction.
Watermelon is a refreshing fruit that humans have loved for thousands of years. In modern times, it’s become, in many places, an iconic symbol of summer. There are many types of the watermelon out there — both seeded and seedless — and you can eat them in a variety of ways, on their own, or as part of another dish. So is watermelon healthy?
Yes, it is! Along with their high water content, watermelons offer a lot of health benefits when enjoyed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet.
Please let us know in the comments below:
- Do you eat watermelon? What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy watermelon?
- Have you tried other types of watermelon? What about the seedless watermelon?
- What health benefits did you derive from eating watermelon?
Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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