I recently wrote a post weighing the nutrition of cantaloupe versus honeydew melons and I had more than one person ask “what about watermelon.” While it’s my opinion that cantaloupe and honeydew are the “best” melons by far, the masses prefer watermelon.
Watermelon is often thought of as an empty food – mostly water, sweet taste, but not much in the way of nutrition. This simply isn’t the case. In fact, all the water taking up space in these pink, fleshy melons make them a really nutrient-dense food. Nutrient density is measured by nutrient to calorie ratio, so since water has no calories, watermelon is really nutrient dense! Keep reading to find out all the health benefits.
Although a watermelon is sweeter than an apple, it actually contains about half as much fruit sugar. And while it’s somewhat tricky to find an organic watermelon, come August you’ll be able to get local ones. And here is some more good news: Watermelons are on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “Clean 15” conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the least amount of residual pesticides.
Like its cousin the cantaloupe, watermelon is a good source of beta carotene, a carotenoid phytonutrient that is the precursor to vitamin A. Watermelon is quite high in many of the carotenoids including lycopene, which is more famous for being found in tomatoes. Lycopene is the antioxidant compound that gives watermelon its rosy colour. It may even be a more powerful antioxidant than other carotenoids such as beta carotene. Scientific studies have found that the consumption of lycopene-rich foods can reduce the risk of heart disease in women, protect men from prostate cancer and atherosclerosis. It’s also been found to help prevent cancers of the cervix, bladder and pancreas.
Add to its profile the fact watermelon is a good source of vitamin C and you see its potential as an antioxidant powerhouse. It may not keep the ants away from your picnic, but at least you’ll be protected from free radical damage! Watermelon is also a good source of B6 and B1, potassium, silicon and magnesium.
Watermelon is a mild diuretic and so is considered a rejuvenating blood tonic. It’s also a very alkalinizing food. Watermelon has antibacterial and anticoagulating effects, works as a digestive aid and a mild laxative. It lubricates the intestines and regulates lower digestion.
And recently scientists found a natural substance present in melons that may help with stress. The substance is an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful antioxidant that breaks down potentially harmful oxygen molecules in cells. SOD has the potential to prevent free radical damage to tissues.
In the study, subjects who received melon juice concentrate capsules were observed to have significantly lessened stress and fatigue markers. Concentration, weariness, insomnia and irritability were all markedly improved in the group receiving the melon concentrate.
Similarly, an animal study out of Japan found that stress-induced impairment to cognitive function was prevented by the same type of melon extract (SOD). This study also found the melon extract increased the brain’s antioxidant defenses and prevented impairment of spatial memory caused by stress. It’s no wonder that watermelon has traditionally been used to help with depression.
So don’t hold back on this delicious summer treat.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto. Doug specializes in private in-home holistic cooking lessons.