The World's Healthiest Foods
Watermelon

No other fruit says summer like the subtly crunchy, thirst quenching watermelon. Although watermelons can now be found in the markets throughout the year, the season for watermelon is in the summer when they are sweet and of the best quality.

As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the watermelon is related to the cantaloupe, squash and pumpkin, other plants that also grow on vines on the ground. Watermelons can be round, oblong or spherical in shape and feature thick green rinds that are often spotted or striped. They range in size from a few pounds to upward of ninety pounds.

 


Health Benefits

Watermelon is not only great on a hot summer day, this delectable thirst-quencher may also help quench the inflammation that contributes to conditions like asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and arthritis.

Sweet, juicy watermelon is actually packed with some of the most important antioxidants in nature. Watermelon is an excellent source of vitamin C and a very good source of vitamin A, notably through its concentration of beta-carotene. Pink watermelon is also a source of the potent carotenoid antioxidant, lycopene. These powerful antioxidants travel through the body neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals are substances in the body that can cause a great deal of damage. They are able to oxidize cholesterol, making it stick to blood vessel walls, where it can lead to heart attack or stroke. They can add to the severity of asthma attacks by causing airways to clamp down and close. They can increase the inflammation that occurs in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and cause most of the joint damage that occurs in these conditions, and they can damage cells lining the colon, turning them into cancer cells. Fortunately, vitamin C and beta-carotene are very good at getting rid of these harmful molecules and can therefore prevent the damage they would otherwise cause. As a matter of fact, high intakes of vitamin C and beta-carotene have been shown in a number of scientific studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce the airway spasm that occurs in asthma, reduce the risk of colon cancer, and alleviate some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. A cup of watermelon provides 24.3% of the daily value for vitamin C, and, through its beta-carotene, 11.1% of the DV for vitamin A. Watermelon is rich in the B vitamins necessary for energy production. Our food ranking system also qualified watermelon as a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of vitamin B1, magnesium, and potassium. Part of this high ranking was due to the higher nutrient density of watermelon. Because this food has a higher water content and lower calorie content than many other fruits (a whole cup of watermelon contains only 48 calories), it delivers more nutrients per calorie - an outstanding health benefit!

Watermelon is also a very concentrated source of the carotenoid, lycopene. Well known for being abundant in tomatoes and particularly well absorbed from cooked tomato products containing a little fat such as olive oil, lycopene is also present in high amounts in watermelon and mangoes. Lycopene has been extensively studied for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties. In contrast to many other food phytonutrients, whose effects have only been studied in animals, lycopene has been repeatedly studied in humans and found to be protective against a growing list of cancers. These cancers now include prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancers. A study published in the November 2003 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in patients with colorectal adenomas, a type of polyp that is the precursor for most colorectal cancers, blood levels of lycopene were 35% lower compared to study subjects with no polyps. Blood levels of beta-carotene also tended to be 25.5% lower, although according to researchers, this difference was not significant. In their final (multiple logistic regression) analysis, only low levels of plasma lycopene (less than 70 microgram per liter) and smoking increased the likelihood of colorectal adenomas, but the increase in risk was quite substantial: low levels of lycopene increased risk by 230% and smoking by 302%.(December 31, 2003) The antioxidant function of lycopene – its ability to help protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage – has been linked in human research to prevention of heart disease. Protection of DNA (our genetic material) inside of white blood cells has also been shown to be an antioxidant role of lycopene.

Protection against Macular Degeneration

Your mother may have told you carrots would keep your eyes bright as a child, but as an adult, it looks like fruit is even more important for keeping your sight. Data reported in a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Archives of Opthamology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.

In this study, which involved 77,562 women and 40,866 men, researchers evaluated the effect of study participants' consumption of fruits; vegetables; the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; and carotenoids on the development of early ARMD or neovascular ARM, a more severe form of the illness associated with vision loss. Food intake information was collected periodically for up to 18 years for women and 12 years for men. While, surprisingly, intakes of vegetables, antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids were not strongly related to incidence of either form of ARM, fruit intake was definitely protective against the severe form of this vision-destroying disease. Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but watermelon can help you reach this goal. What could be more delicious on a hot summer's day than a slice of sweet, refreshing watermelon? For the best ever summer spritzer, blend watermelon with a spoonful of honey and a splash of lemon or lime, then stir in seltzer water and decorate with a sprig of mint. If you didn't experience the fun of a seed spitting contest as a child, it's not too late to introduce this summer ritual to your children or the child in you! (July 10, 2004)

Description

If you have ever tasted a watermelon, it is probably no surprise to you why this juicy, refreshing fruit has this name. Watermelon has an extremely high water content, approximately 92%, giving its flesh a crumbly and subtly crunchy texture and making it a favorite thirst-quenching fruit.

As a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the watermelon is related to the cantaloupe, squash and pumpkin, other plants that also grow on vines on the ground. Watermelons can be round, oblong or spherical in shape and feature thick green rinds that are often spotted or striped. They range in size from a few pounds to upward of ninety pounds.

While we often associate a deep red-pink color with watermelons, in fact there are varieties that feature orange, yellow, or white flesh. While most watermelons have seeds that are black, brown, white, green or yellow, a few varities are actually seedless.

The scientific name for watermelon is Citrullis lanatus.

History

Originating in Africa, watermelons were first cultivated in Egypt where testaments to their legacy were recorded in hieroglyphics painted on building walls. The fruit was held is such regard that it was placed in the tombs of many Egyptian kings. It is not surprising that watermelon played such an important role in this country, and subsequently in countries in the Mediterranean region, since water was often in short supply in these areas, and people could depend upon watermelon for its thirst-quenching properties.

Watermelons were brought to China around the 10th century and then to the Western Hemisphere shortly after the discovery of the New World. In Russia, where much of the commercial supply of watermelons is grown, there is a popular wine made from this fruit. In addition to Russia, the leading commercial growers of watermelon include China, Turkey, Iran and the United States.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Watermelon:

Wash the watermelon before cutting it. Due to its large size, you will probably not be able to run it under water in the sink. Instead, wash it with a wet cloth or paper towel.

Depending upon the size that you desire, there are many ways to cut a watermelon. The flesh can be sliced, cubed or scooped into balls. Watermelon is delicious to eat as is, while it also makes a delightful addition to a fruit salad. Jam, sorbet and juice are some nutritious and delicious things you can make with watermelon.

While many people are just accustomed to eating the juicy flesh of the watermelon, both the seeds and the rind are also edible.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Watermelon is a wonderful addition to fruit salad.

In Asian countries, roasted watermelon seeds are either seasoned and eaten as a snack food or ground up into cereal and used to make bread.

A featured item of Southern American cooking, the rind of watermelon can be marinated, pickled or candied.

Purée watermelon, cantaloupe and kiwi together. Swirl in a little plain yogurt and serve as refreshing cold soup.

Watermelon mixed with thinly sliced red onion, salt and black pepper makes a great summer salad.

Safety

Watermelon is not a commonly allergenic food, is not known to contain measurable amounts of goitrogens, oxalates, or purines, and is also not included in the Environmental Working Group's 2003 report "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce" as one of the 12 foods most frequently containing pesticide residues.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Watermelon
1.00 cup
48.64 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 14.59 mg 24.3 9.0 excellent
vitamin A 556.32 IU 11.1 4.1 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.22 mg 11.0 4.1 very good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.12 mg 8.0 3.0 good
potassium 176.32 mg 5.0 1.9 good
magnesium 16.72 mg 4.2 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Cho E, Seddon JM, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Prospective study of intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and carotenoids and risk of age-related maculopathy. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 Jun;122(6):883-92.
  • Edwards AJ, Vinyard BT, Wiley ER et al. Consumption of watermelon juice increases plasma concentrations of lycopene and beta-carotene in humans. J Nutr 2003 Apr;133(4):1043-50.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Erhardt JG, Meisner C, Bode JC, Bode C. Lycopene, beta-carotene, and colorectal adenomas. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;78(6):1219-24.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2005-05-06 15:11:32
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation