Even though July (the month of my birth) is the peak harvest time for these melons I really consider Memorial Day (in the US) to be the ‘official’ start of watermelon season. Memorial Day weekend has just past and I must admit to eating more than my fair share of this plump juicy delicacy. You know my favorite time to eat watermelon? First thing in the morning – for breakfast!
Does that sound odd to you? It shouldn’t. As its name suggests, watermelon is an excellent way to hydrate in the morning. What's less well known is that this juicy fruit is among the best sources of lycopene; a nutrient found in red fruits and vegetables that's important for vision, heart health, and cancer prevention.
Best of all, watermelon contains just 40 calories per cup, landing it on lists of so-called ‘negative-calorie’ foods that supposedly burn more calories during digestion than they add in. (Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's no reason to not eat watermelon!)
Watermelon is now the most-consumed melon in the US (followed by cantaloupe and honeydew). This cousin to cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash is thought to have originated in Egypt close to 5,000 years ago, where it is depicted in hieroglyphics.
Today, upwards of 300 watermelon varieties are grown in the US and Mexico (although only about 50 are popular). You may think you know everything there is to know about this summertime fruit, watermelon is more than just delicious, it's a super-healthy addition to your diet but allow me to surprise you…
- Watermelon Is a Fruit and a Vegetable - Remember how watermelon is related to cucumbers, pumpkin, and squash? That's because it's part vegetable and part fruit (it's a sweet, seed-producing plant, after all). The other clue that watermelon is both fruit and vegetable? The rind is entirely edible…
- You Can Eat Watermelon Rind and Seeds - Most people throw away the watermelon rind, but try putting it in a blender with some lime for a healthy, refreshing treat. Not only does the rind contain plenty of health-promoting and blood-building chlorophyll, but the rind actually contains more of the amino acid citrulline than the pink flesh. Citrulline is converted to arginine in your kidneys, and not only is this amino acid important for heart health and maintaining your immune system, but it has been researched to have potential therapeutic value in over 100 health conditions. While many people prefer seedless watermelon varieties, black watermelon seeds are edible and actually quite healthy. They contain iron, zinc, protein, and fiber. (In case you were wondering, seedless watermelons aren't genetically modified, as they're the result of hybridization.)
- Watermelon Juice May Relieve Muscle Soreness - If you have a juicer, try juicing about one-third of a fresh watermelon and drinking its juice prior to your next workout. This contains a little over one gram of l-citrulline, an amino acid that seems to protect against muscle pain. One study found that men who drank natural unpasteurized watermelon juice prior to their workouts had reduced muscle soreness 24 hours later compared to those who drank a placebo.
- Watermelon Has More Lycopene Than Raw Tomatoes - Lycopene is a powerful carotenoid antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables a pink or red color. Its most often associated with tomatoes, but watermelon is actually a more concentrated source. Compared to a large fresh tomato, one cup of watermelon has 1.5 times the lycopene (6 milligrams (mg) in watermelon compared to 4 mg in a tomato). More on why lycopene is so important shortly…
- It's Mostly Water - This might not be surprising, but it's still a fun fact; watermelon is more than 91 percent water. This means that eating watermelon with you on a hot summer day is a tasty way to help you stay hydrated and avoid dehydration (it's not a substitute for drinking plenty of fresh water, however).
- Some Watermelon Are Not Red or Pink Inside - The Yellow Crimson watermelon has yellow flesh with a sweeter, honey flavor and the Orange Tendersweet has orange flesh that is crisp and juicy with just a hint of honey flavor. It's likely that yellow and orange watermelon offers their own unique sets of nutritional benefits, but most research to date has focused on the pink-fleshed varieties.
- Watermelon is an Ideal Health Food – Why? Because it doesn’t contain any fat or cholesterol, is high in fiber and vitamins A & C and is a good source of potassium.
- Early Explorers Used Watermelons as Canteens.
- Watermelon is Grown in About 100 Countries Worldwide - In China and Japan watermelon is a popular gift to bring a host. In Israel and Egypt, the sweet taste of watermelon is often paired with the salty taste of feta cheese.
- Watermelon Can Boost Brain Power - Watermelon can help you boost your brain power? The thing is, watermelon is an excellent source of Vitamin B6, which is vital for normal brain function. Moreover, the water percentage in this delicious fruit is similar to the water percentage in the brain.
Also worthy of note, the lycopene in watermelon appears to be quite stable, with little deterioration occurring even after it's been cut and stored in the refrigerator for more than two days. In one study, it took about seven days of storage for the lycopene to deteriorate, and then it was only by about 6 percent to 11 percent.
So what makes lycopene so important? Lycopene's antioxidant activity has long been suggested to be more powerful than that of other carotenoids, such as beta-carotene. In one study, after controlling for other stroke risk factors, such as older age and diabetes, they found that men with the highest blood levels of lycopene were 55% less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels of lycopene.
A 2014 meta-analysis also revealed that lycopene decreased stroke risk (including stroke occurrence or mortality) by more than 19%. In addition to lowering your risk of stroke, lycopene has been shown to have real anti-cancer activity, likely due to its potent antioxidant properties.
A 2014 meta-analysis of 10 studies also showed that dietary lycopene may protect against the risk of ovarian cancer among postmenopausal women. There is also some evidence from animal studies that lycopene may help with cancer treatment as well.
One study found that lycopene treatment reduced the growth of brain tumors while another showed frequent lycopene intake suppressed breast tumor growth in mice.
"Watermelon supplementation reduced aortic BP [blood pressure] and myocardial oxygen demand during CPT [cold pressor test] and the magnitude of the cold-induced increase in wave reflection in obese adults with hypertension. Watermelon may provide cardioprotection by attenuating cold-induced aortic hemodynamic responses."
Consider this, in your body the citrulline in watermelon is converted into a chemical called L-arginine, which is a precursor to nitric oxide. Adequate nitric oxide is required to enable you blood vessels to stay relaxed and open for blood flow, which is one reason why this ‘wonder-melon’ may help lower blood pressure.
And there is more…
L-arginine may also help with erectile dysfunction by helping to relax your blood vessels, including those supplying blood to your penis – and that's why watermelon is sometimes referred to as "Nature's Viagra." In fact, citrulline supplementation has been found to improve erection hardness in men with mild erectile dysfunction.