Watermelon: Best Summer Companion and a Friend for Life

Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

What would summer be without a sweet juicy watermelon? A refreshing smoothie may be the way to go, but nothing beats the perfect combination of a watermelon and salty feta salad. This big ball of water is also a low-calorie nutritional package. We’ll explore the amazing health benefits of watermelon and share some recipes and tips on picking out the perfect one. Get onboard for some fun ways to enjoy this iconic summer flavor!

Watermelon’s facts

Be amazed – watermelons are berries! They belong to a group of fruit pepos that have flat seeds and pulpy flesh. They are also botanically a vegetable—being a cousin of cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash!

Since ancient times, watermelons have been an enriching history. Watermelon seeds have been recovered that are over 5000 years old from Northeast Africa, and Egyptians grew them and even left watermelon with the dead for nourishment in the afterlife (1). 

By the 10th century, watermelons popped up in China, which is now the top global producer (2). They also spread to the New World via the transatlantic slave trade or merchant ships.

Sweet watermelon nutrition

Despite rumors, a watermelon seed will never grow in your belly! In fact, watermelon seeds are edible and super nutritious, especially when sprouted. They are rich in protein, minerals, and good fats and can be used as watermelon seed oil or seed meal (3, 4).

A watermelon can weigh around 10 kg with the skin, but some are smaller! Without the skin, you may get close to 7 kg of flesh.

According to the USDA, here is the nutritional breakdown of just 100 grams of watermelon (5):

  • Calories: 30 kcal
  • Water: 91.4 g
  • Protein: 0.61 g
  • Fat: 0.15 g
  • Carbs: 7.55 g
  • Fiber: 0.4 g
  • Sugar: 6.2 g

Sugariness without the guilt

Watermelons can easily satisfy sweet cravings. A serving of 100 grams of flesh provides only about 3% of your recommended daily value (DV) of carbs. So it only slightly impacts blood sugar levels (6).

Best of all, watermelon is a healthy dessert option. It’s almost fat-free, cholesterol-free, and sodium-free, with a small amount of fiber (5).

Load up with vitamin C 

Each bit of a juicy watermelon has good nutritional value, especially for vitamin C and copper. Here are the key micronutrients in every 100 grams of the fruit:

  • 9% DV of vitamin C – boosts immune system, works as antioxidant, and essential for developing and maintaining connective tissues such as gums and for wound healing.  (7).
  • 3% DV of vitamin A – important for the immune system and eye health (8).
  • 3% DV of vitamin B6 – may help brain function, improve mood, and helps with morning sickness (9).
  •  4% DV of copper – keeps your nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissues healthy (10).
  • 2% DV of potassium – supports kidney, bone, and heart health (11).

Abundant antioxidants

Watermelon is considered a ‘lycopene leader’ among fruits and vegetables. It contains higher levels than even tomatoes. This powerful antioxidant is actually responsible for the fruit’s vibrant cherry red color (12).

Beta-cryptoxanthin is another watermelon pigment that strengthens your joints by reducing inflammation (13).

The red watermelon flesh is also packed with β-carotene and vitamin C. Citrulline, another antioxidant, is mostly found in the white flesh near the rind (14, 15). Think of adding the rind to smoothies too.

Interestingly, watermelon is less acidic than other antioxidant providers like citrus fruits and tomatoes. So there’s no need to worry about acid reflux or heartburn.

Watermelon vs. Other melons

Compared to cantaloupe and honeydew, watermelon has a lower sugar content and fewer calories (5, 16, 17). It’s also the only melon that’s a rich source of lycopene. However, watermelon is lower in fiber and some minerals.

Each type of melon has its specific benefits. Cantaloupe is a better source of vitamins A and C. Honeydew is a winner for vitamin K. All melons are refreshing and sweet, so you can’t go wrong with any of them!

Watermelon is mostly made up of water with a low-calorie count. It’s high in vitamins like C and A and also contains some copper. It’s relatively rich in antioxidants, particularly lycopene. Compared to other melons, watermelon contains less sugar and fewer calories.

Amazing health benefits of watermelon

The nutritional content of watermelon can positively impact your health. Here are eight legit reasons to definitely add watermelon to your shopping list.

A serious thirst quencher

Even slight dehydration (losing just 1-2% of water) can cause a decrease in concentration, slowed response time, and fatigue (18).

For a refreshing way to stay hydrated on hot summer days, watermelon is a no-brainer! As its name implies, it’s almost 92% water with electrolytes for cooling down (5).

Good hydration, together with fiber, can keep your appetite in check but don’t skip on straight-up water, which is needed for basic bodily functions (19). 

A heartfelt superfood

Thanks to its antioxidants, watermelon is a wonderful addition to a heart-healthy diet (20). It is one of the few foods that contain citrulline, which can help improve your blood flow (14, 21).

This natural compound supports nitric oxide production, a gas molecule that relaxes and expands the tiny muscles around your blood vessels. It has a cool-down effect and is associated with decreasing blood pressure (22).

Additionally, the high lycopene content from watermelon can help lower bad (LDL) and improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels. These levels of good balance are key to avoiding heart disease (12).

Eating watermelon, or drinking its juice, has been associated with a decrease in aortic blood pressure in pre-hypertensive patients, possibly due to effects from citrulline relaxing blood vessels. (23, 24). The results are encouraging, but more research is needed.

A potential kidney cleanser

Watermelon is traditionally known to protect against kidney diseases and help with urine flow. Native Americans have used the fruit for centuries to treat water retention and kidney stones (4, 25).

Plus, watermelon’s high water content may aid in flushing out fluids from the kidneys by fostering urination. 

A tonic for youthful skin

Watermelon is a smart way to stay hydrated, which supports looking and feeling younger.

Furthermore, watermelon contains antioxidants such as lycopene and β-carotene, important antioxidants that have been shown to reduce UV (sun) induced cell damage in the lab. This has implications for further research into using diets to help keep your skin healthier and younger-looking. However, you should continue to protect yourself from the sun’s UV exposure (27).

The vitamin content is another skin tonic. Vitamin C can help your body produce collagen, keeping your skin elastic as you age (28). Vitamin A can help repair skin cells and prevent dryness (29).

A post-workout snack

Watermelon may not be a choice for building muscle and strength due to its low protein, but this fruit is still a great choice for staying hydrated and recovering quickly from training.

The potassium and electrolyte content is high enough to help reduce muscle cramps  (30). Citrulline additionally improves blood flow to soothe muscle tension and soreness. 

While the evidence isn’t conclusive (31), some studies reveal that drinking watermelon juice leads to less muscle soreness and faster heart rate recovery after exercise (21, 32).

An everyday cancer fighter

Once again, lycopene in watermelon comes into play with cancer. Lycopene has been shown to reduce the amount of cell division in Prostate Cancer cells, resulting in the death of cancerous cells. (33) It is believed lycopene binds and deactivates the hormone IGF-1, which normally causes cancer cell growth and is associated with multiple types of cancers (34).

In a study, men who get a lot of lycopene have a 25% lower risk of prostate cancer and a 44% lower risk of other types of cancer (12). A review of multiple research studies of lycopene and prostate cancer showed higher lycopene consumption/circulating concentration was associated with a lower risk of Prostate Cancer (35). 

So, to reduce your cancer risk, consider adding watermelon to your healthy diet.

A natural remedy for libido

Watermelon is sometimes called ‘nature’s Viagra’. This is because citrulline and arginine, both found in watermelon, can act as natural remedies for impotence (36).

Many people don’t realize that erectile dysfunction is closely related to the condition of blood vessels. Citrulline and arginine can relax blood vessels in the male reproductive system, leading to a natural erectile response.

A study observed that men with erectile dysfunction (ED) had lower levels of citrulline, arginine, or both (37). Additionally, arginine has a stimulating effect that may boost libido and reduce frigidity.

Watermelon is a hydrating fruit that has implications for promoting heart, kidney, and skin health. It may also help prevent cancer and muscle soreness due to its high water and antioxidant content, like lycopene and citrulline. However, we still need more research to fully understand this fruit’s dope benefits.

Cautions

Watermelon is usually fine for most people. However, there are some things to consider:

  • Watermelon contains a lot of fructose, which can cause digestive problems for some sensitivities. Diabetics should watch portion sizes.
  • If you have digestive issues like IBS or UC, you might want to skip watermelon to avoid bloating and stomach cramps (38).
  • Watermelon allergies are rare but more common in those sensitive to pollen or grasses (39). A common sign is mouth and throat itch (40).
  • A recent study in rats found that diets containing 2.5% or 5% watermelon seeds may harm the kidneys and testes. However, more human studies are needed (41).
  • Watermelon can effectively lower blood pressure. If you have low blood pressure, you should avoid watermelon.
  • Watermelon contains a high content of tyramine, an amino acid that could trigger migraines.
  • Watermelon ranks 33rd on the Environmental Working Group’s list of foods with high pesticide loads (42). Organic or IPM (Integrated Pest Management) grown watermelons are better, and you should wash your watermelons thoroughly before cutting.
  • Watermelon may carry harmful bacteria like Salmonella, which can cause your illness. Before cutting, wash the exterior first.

Watermelon hasn’t shown any interaction with medications. It is considered safe to eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

How to pick the perfect watermelon

To enjoy fresh and local watermelon, check your nearby market or stand that sells in-season fruit. Watermelon is at its best from July to September, depending on where you live.

For more lycopene, wait until your watermelon is fully ripe. As the watermelon ripens, it also gains more β-carotene and antioxidants and tastes sweeter (43).

A good watermelon should be firm, symmetrical, and free from bruises, soft spots, or dents. To choose a perfectly ripe watermelon, here are some tips:

  • Check its shape. Round watermelons are more flavorful than oval or oblong ones. So choose smaller, more circular fruits.
  • Look for the field spot. This is the area where the watermelon rested on the ground. A creamy, yellow spot indicates peak ripeness. If it’s white or pale, it won’t be flavorful.
  • Go for the webbing. It’s those brown, web-like lines or scars on the watermelon. They come from bees pollinating the blossom. More pollen equals more flavor and sweetness.
  • Pick it up. A ripe watermelon will be 92% water, so it should be pretty heavy!
  • Give it a knock. Do you hear a deep, hollow, and rumble sound? That means it’s ripe and has a solid structure.

How to store and prep a watermelon

To keep your juicy watermelon fresh and delicious, store it in a cool and dry place until you’re ready to enjoy it. Avoid exposing it to heat, as this can dry out the flesh.

  • Chop off both ends to reveal the inside. 
  • Then, place the sliced end face-down and cut off the skin. The sliced end face-down and cut off the skin. 
  • Slice from the top downwards to the bottom. 
  • Repeat this process around the entire fruit.

Once you cut the watermelon, you can store it in the fridge for several days. Use a closed container or a plastic bag to keep it fresh for longer. The bigger the pieces, the longer they will stay fresh and tasty.

Freezing watermelon is not a good idea unless you’re planning to make a smoothie. Freezing will wither the rind and create a mealy texture that most people don’t like.

Wonderful ways to enjoy watermelon

Watermelon is super versatile. it can add sweet notes to any salad, smoothie, and even salsa. Here are a few recipes to try out: 

1. Watermelon feta salad

Watermelon adds a lovely pink hue to a salad and is perfect for beating the heat.

Ingredients: 4 cups cubed watermelon, 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, 2 tablespoons (tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp fresh lime juice, salt and pepper

Directions:

  • Mix watermelon, feta cheese, and mint in a large bowl.
  • Whisk olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
  • Drizzle the dressing over the watermelon mixture and toss gently.
  • Chill and serve.

The sweet watermelon goes great with the briny feta cheese and fresh mint. The dressing adds a tangy and slightly spicy kick to the salad. For a fun contrast, you can try topping it with some cayenne, sea salt, and arugula.

2. Watermelon smoothie

For a little more than straight-up watermelon juice, try a watermelon smoothie. Watermelon mixes well with other types of berries, especially frozen ones.

Ingredients: 2 cups of cubed watermelon, 1 cup of frozen strawberries, 1 tbsp of honey, 1/2 cup of plain yogurt, and ice cubes.

Directions:

  • Put all the ingredients, except ice cubes, into a blender.
  • Blend until the mixture is smooth.
  • Add ice cubes and blend again until creamy and frothy.
  • If too thin, add some more fruit.
  • Pour it into a glass and enjoy!

This recipe is just the tip of the iceberg. Get creative and try out different ingredients to craft your perfect watermelon smoothie. It will keep you going all day long. Hello, summer!

3. Grilled watermelon

Looking for a fun and tasty touch to your party? Try grilling some watermelon slices with a little bit of honey, lime, salt, and mint!

Ingredients: 1 small seedless watermelon (cut into 1-inch thick wedges), 2 tbsp honey and fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt, and chopped fresh mint leaves.

Directions:

  • Set the grill to high heat.
  • Mix honey, lime juice, and salt in a small bowl.
  • Brush the honey mixture onto both sides of the watermelon slices.
  • Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until grill marks appear.
  • Remove from the grill and sprinkle with fresh mint leaves.

This unique twist will add a pleasantly smoky flavor to the watermelon that’s sure to impress your guests.

Tip: Don’t let your watermelon seeds go to waste. Roast them for a crunchy snack and even sprinkle them on other dishes.

Are black and white watermelon seeds different?

The white seeds in watermelon are actually just the start of the seed that didn’t fully mature. This means they’re totally okay to eat. Other than that, there is not much difference

Is it safe to eat the seeds and rind of a watermelon?

The entire watermelon, including the seeds and rind, is edible. This means watermelon is zero food waste. Although the green skin is edible, it can be a little bitter and needs to be cooked.

How did seedless watermelons come to be?

Seedless watermelons are not genetically modified. Instead, they are a cross between a watermelon with 22 chromosomes with another one with 44 chromosomes. This process is similar to making a mule from breeding a horse and a donkey.

Are square watermelons for real?

Yes, they are! In Japan, square glass boxes are used to grow watermelons into a square shape for easy transportation and storage. Although the Japanese prefer smaller watermelons that don’t roll around, these can cost around $100!

 What’s special about yellow watermelon?

Yellow watermelon has yellow flesh and is sweeter, with a slight honey flavor. While yellow watermelon may have its own nutritional benefits, current research focuses mostly on the pink-fleshed varieties.

 Is it safe to only eat watermelon for a kidney cleanse?

Eating watermelon daily is fine, but there is no evidence that a watermelon diet or fast can cleanse your kidneys. In fact, this type of diet can deprive your body of important nutrients, similar to other fad diets or cleanses.

Can watermelon help with weight loss?

Watermelon may aid in weight loss due to its low-calorie count, but it does not directly burn fat. By swapping unhealthy snacks for watermelon, you may feel fuller and reduce your overall calorie count.

Are watermelons good for my eyes?

Watermelon contains antioxidants like lycopene, vitamin C, and lutein that nourish your eyes. Have you tried watermelon feta salad? Or experiment with other neat watermelon recipes? Share your ideas with us!

Summary

Here are the key points to remember about watermelons. You can keep these in mind to plan nutritious meals or impress your friends with some facts.

  • Watermelon is a healthy and refreshing fruit low in calories, high in water, and full of antioxidants like lycopene and citrulline.
  • It can do wonders for your body, like keeping you hydrated, promoting youthful skin, and improving heart health.
  • Go beyond just snacking on watermelon and explore creative new recipes. This will enliven your soul with a special dose of Vitamin P (pleasure).
  • Enjoy watermelon in moderation. While generally safe, a few considerations for diabetes, digestion, and pollen sensitivity should be noted.

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Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

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