More than any other fruit in the melon family – the watermelon is the most iconic, the most instantly recognizable. After all, at first glance, can you identify a honeydew from a cantaloupe?
Watermelon is a perennial favorite during the summertime, with its juicy hydration and light but oh-so-distinctive flavor that is just sweet enough. Its green striped rind and deep, rich pink flesh dotted with black seeds has also made for quite the design motif, appearing on everything from umbrellas, towels, napkins, pool floats, to garments such as T-shirts and shorts.
And watermelon has health benefits beyond just the “feel good” experience of simply enjoying eating it.
Fun Market Statistics
According to FONA International, a global leader in the development of flavors and flavor technology, if you like watermelon, you’re in great company – and it’s a huge crowd. FONA’s social media analysis shows that watermelon has 68% positivity presence, with 24 mentions per minute.
Further, “More than twice the number of consumers said they’d possibly purchase watermelon-flavored products than other fruit-flavored products. Compared to pineapple and lime flavors, watermelon is a rated higher for the attributes of unique, fun, indulgent, exciting and refreshing.”
As of June 22, 2020, there are 1,160 recipes featuring watermelon on www.cookpad.com, ranging from desserts and drinks to salsas, sides and appetizers. Trending ways to eat watermelon include sprinkling exotic seasonings such as smoked paprika, as well as combining it with fresh ricotta cheese and basil, finished with extra virgin olive oil.
And when it comes to products, the US introduces nearly 25% of all watermelon-flavored products – and the top five watermelon product categories in the US are candies, juice drinks, alcoholic beverages, flavored water and other beverages.
As is, a slice or a ball, provides fiber, vitamins, minerals and specific phytonutrients. According to the USDA Food Composition Database, two cups of watermelon nourishes your body with: 8% vitamin A, 6% B6, 25% C, 6 % magnesium, 6% potassium, 8% thiamin and 2% phosphorus. It is only 80 calories and is fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. And – watermelon is officially American Heart Association Heart-Check Certified, as research demonstrates it provides cardiovascular protective benefits.
Watermelon is the top provider of lycopene – more so than tomato. One serving size of two cups diced watermelon has approximately 12.7 mg of lycopene, compared to one small whole tomato with approximately 2.3 mg. Lycopene is a carotenoid (type of specialized antioxidant) and has been studied for its role in reducing blood pressure. One meta-analysis has concluded that consuming approximately 12 mg of lycopene a day may effectively decrease systolic blood pressure.
Watermelon is rich in the amino acid L-citrulline, which, depending on the cultivar, can provide between approximately 285 to 1266 mg per two-cup serving.
Humans easily absorb L-citrulline from watermelon, which also increases plasma arginine concentrations. Arginine is necessary to produce nitric oxide, which is a vital biochemical to support cardiovascular and immune function.
One study of nine individuals with prehypertension (134/77) supplemented with watermelon/L-citrulline or placebo for six weeks, followed by a four-week washout and then crossover. Results showed that watermelon supplementation improves aortic hemodynamics.
Watermelon may also have blood sugar health benefits as well. One team investigated the differences between whole watermelon, products made from watermelon rind (WR) and watermelon skin (WS) would remedy metabolic complications in mouse subjects that were given either a high-fat diet or a low-fat diet for 10 weeks. Body weights, food intake, and glucose tolerance were measured as well as amounts of serum insulin, inflammatory markers, microbiome composition and the relative liver concentrations of 709 biochemicals were measured at the study’s conclusion.
The authors concluded that in obese male mice, supplementation with each of the watermelon products to a high-fat diet improved fasting blood glucose, circulating serum insulin concentrations, and changes in liver metabolite accumulation. “At a modest level of supplementation to a high-fat diet, fiber-rich additives made from WR and WS further improved glucose metabolism and energy efficiency and shifted the microbiome composition,” they wrote.
As prior studies have examined the consumption of watermelon L-citrulline and L-arginine on blood pressure, researchers evaluated the effects of watermelon extract on ankle blood pressure and cAIx (carotid augmentation index) versus placebo in 14 volunteers. They found that after six weeks, supplementation with watermelon extract containing 6 g of l-citrulline/l-arginine reduced blood pressure in the ankles of middle-aged obese and hypertensive individuals.
Watermelon may also be a wise choice to consume during training or intense workouts as it may help boost recovery.
One study analyzed the effect of Fashion® brand watermelon juice enriched in L-citrulline in physical performance and biochemical markers after a half-marathon race. In the
randomized, double-blind, crossover study, amateur male runners performed two half-marathon races two hours after drinking the watermelon beverage or placebo.
Muscle soreness perception in the watermelon beverage group was significantly lower from 24 to 72 hours after the race. The watermelon juice enriched in L-citrulline dose diminished muscle soreness perception from 24 to 72 h after the race and maintained lower concentrations of plasma lactate after an exhausting exercise.
Another similar study investigated the potential of watermelon juice as a functional beverage for athletes. In the in vivo experiment (maximum effort test in a cycloergometer), seven athletes consumed 500 mL of natural watermelon juice (1.17 g of l-citrulline), enriched watermelon juice (4.83 g of l-citrulline plus 1.17 g from watermelon), and placebo. Both watermelon juices helped to reduce the recovery heart rate and muscle soreness after 24 hours.
However, researchers also looked at the effects of watermelon juice consumption on nitric oxide bioavailability and hence, exercise performance in eight healthy active adult men and found that while watermelon juice increased baseline plasma nitrite and improved muscle oxygenation during moderate exercise, it did not improve time-to-exhaustion during severe intensity exercise.
A Word About Those Seeds
Some may remember those watermelon seed spit distance contests, and others remember the old wives tale that if you swallowed a watermelon seed, it will grow inside you.
While there are now many varieties with tiny white seeds and no larger black ones, those seeds have nutritional value as well. They can be sundried and consumed as a tasty snack. They contain high protein, healthy fats, and are a good source of vitamin B. Roast and sprinkle over a salad, blend in dips and sauces.
Oh, and you can prepare a tasty Indian dish – sabzi -- with the rinds. So the whole watermelon can be consumed.
Hippocrates’s ancient declaration – “let food be thy medicine” continues to be validated. This summer is the perfect time to buy fresh watermelons, serve them up any which way and enjoy all its benefits.