Refreshing Health Benefits of Watermelon

There's nothing better than biting into a big, juicy wedge of fresh watermelon on a hot, summer day! It's an amazing way to replenish the fluid that your body loses on a scorching day.

I mean, no summer BBQ is complete without the ceremonial watermelon cutting and inevitable sticky fingers and chins.

So while you’re enjoying this carefree treat, I just thought you should know that you’re also eating something totally healthy and nutritious.

After all, watermelon’s water content sure makes up for those salty hot dogs and mile-high burgers you ate earlier…

That’s because watermelon is actually 92% water – talk about staying hydrated! I bet this is a huge reason why watermelon is so ubiquitous during the summer when sweating in the heat causes us to become dehydrated.

You see, watermelon is related to other water-bearing fruits and veggies like cantaloupe and cucumber, but it’s also related to healthy squashes like zucchini and pumpkin. So it has the ‘best of both worlds’ kind of thing going on.

Since watermelon is so water-filled, you can also buy it as cold pressed juice or toss it in your smoothies for some extra vitamins and amino acids.

Amino acids, the essential building blocks of proteins that can’t be made by your body, but are desperately needed. You’d never think watermelon might contain those, right?

If you thought watermelon was just a tasty water replacer, think again. There’s a lot more to this melon than meets the eye.

What’s Actually Inside Watermelon?

Watermelon contains a slew of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

Just one cup of watermelon provides:

  • 17% of vitamin A – 865 IU
  • 21% of vitamin C – 12.3 mg
  • 5% potassium – 170 mg
  • Thiamin – 0.050 mg
  • Riboflavin – 0.032 mg
  • Niacin – 0.271 mg
  • Vitamin B6 – 0.068 mg
  • Folate – 5 ug
  • Magnesium – 15 mg
  • Phosphorus – 17 mg
  • Zinc – 2 mg
  • Copper – trace amounts
  • Manganese – trace amounts
  • Selenium – trace amounts
  • Choline – trace amounts
  • Lycopene – 6979 mcg

Hello nutrients! It’s hard to believe you get all of that for a mere 46 calories!

Watermelon isn’t as high in antioxidants as other fruits like blueberries, but it does have citrulline – an amino acid, and lycopene – the antioxidant that makes tomatoes so healthy for us.

Watermelon is King of Citrulline

Watermelon is the absolute best source of citrulline in our diets.

While you’ll find citrulline in the juicy red flesh part of the watermelon, the highest concentrations actually live in the white rind.

Which, newsflash: you can eat.

I never knew that every part of the watermelon is completely edible, not just the juicy red flesh. You can cut away the red pulp and throw the rind into a blender for a delightful smoothie addition.

When our bodies digest citrulline, it gets converted into arginine, another essential amino acid. Watermelon has been shown to increase both citrulline and arginine levels in our blood so we have more to use.

These amino acids promote blood flow, leading to cardiovascular health, improved circulation, and according to research at Texas A&M University, erectile dysfunction improvement“, which may be why it’s sometimes referred to as the Viagra of the fruit world.

Even though there’s a ton of citrulline in watermelon, we can’t rely on it as our only source of arginine. In fact, you’d have to eat 5 pounds of watermelon to get your RDI of arginine.

Watermelon has More Lycopene than Tomatoes

One cup of fresh watermelon has 1.5 times the amount of lycopene found in a large fresh tomato.

Lycopene is a phytonutrient, which means it’s a nutrient that’s naturally occurring in plants and is also beneficial to our health when eaten.

Lycopene is responsible for giving that characteristic red color to watermelon, tomato, guava, and red grapefruit. The more your watermelon ripens, the darker it will be, and the higher your lycopene concentration becomes.

Phytonutrients get our cells to function and communicate at optimal levels. When they’re working together effectively, our bodies can follow through on important enzyme reactions, leading to processes such as:

  • Creating healthier tissues and organ systems
  • Detoxifying foreign substances
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Maintaining muscles that will perform when called upon

So what else does watermelon specifically do for our bodies?

I bet you thought watermelon was all sugar and water, but I’m going to shed some light on the secret powers of this incredible fruit.

Here’s some of the best health benefits watermelon provides for our bodies.

Lowers Blood Pressure & Improves Heart Health

Watermelon's high levels of lycopene are very effective at protecting cells from damage and may help lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study at Purdue University.

Also, the fruit's concentrations of citrulline and arginine are good for your heart. Arginine can help improve blood flow and may help reduce the accumulation of excess fat.

A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that watermelon extracts helped reduce hypertension and lower blood pressure in obese adults.

One joint study from Purdue University and the University of Kentucky aimed to test the theory that the citrulline in watermelon could have benefits for cardiovascular health.

They split up groups of mice and fed half the group water containing 2% watermelon juice, while the other half received the same amount of water “supplemented with a solution that matched the carbohydrate content of the watermelon juice”.

After all the mice ate a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fat, researchers noticed that the mice drinking the watermelon juice had about 50% less LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, and also had close to a 50% reduction in the plaque in their arteries.

On top of those amazing results, the mice on the watermelon beverage only gained 30% of the weight that the non-watermelon drinkers gained.

When researchers analyzed the levels of citrulline in both rat groups, they noticed elevated levels of the amino acid in the watermelon mice, which means their bodies were able to take full advantage of it.

Scientists believe that the citrulline in watermelon is able to lower cholesterol, decrease bad cholesterol, and even fight weight gain.

Another study published in the American Journal of Hypertension proved that watermelon extract reduced blood pressure and even hypertension in obese adults. Reducing high blood pressure decreases all those scary risks for heart disease, so this is great news indeed.

Combats Insulin Resistance

We know that our bodies need the hormone insulin to help regulate our blood sugar levels.

But when you become insulin resistant, like when you have type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin, but the cells won’t do their job and become resistant to the way insulin is meant to work. Because of this, it becomes very hard to keep blood sugar levels stabilized and leads to high blood glucose levels and obesity.

However, some studies link the arginine in watermelon to decreased insulin resistance, meaning it’s easier for the body to use insulin with the help of arginine found in watermelon.

It may seem counter intuitive for diabetics to eat because it has simple sugars such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose, and has a very high GI Index coming in around 72. So I’m not suggesting that you do in fact start chowing down on it too much. But according to the research, a little bit here and there might provide some benefits.

Fights Inflammation

"The lycopene in watermelon makes it an anti-inflammatory fruit," Jarzabkowski said. Lycopene is an inhibitor for various inflammatory processes and also works as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals. Additionally, the watermelon contains choline, which helps keep chronic inflammation down, according to a 2006 article published in Shock medical journal.

Reducing inflammation isn't just good for people suffering from arthritis. "When you're sick, you have cellular damage, which can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, smoking, pollution, disease, and your body becomes inflamed," Jarzabkowski said. "It's called 'systemic inflammation.'" In this way, anti-inflammatory foods can help with overall immunity and general health. 

Prevents Cancer

Lycopene’s free radical fighting is most important for defeating potentially cancerous cells.

The National Cancer Institute says that results from several animal studies indicate that “lycopene may have chemopreventive effects for cancers of the prostate, skin, breast, lung, and liver”.

As Dr. Mercola mentions: “One study found that lycopene treatment reduced the growth of brain tumors while another showed frequent lycopene intake suppressed breast tumor growth in mice”.

While watermelon has the most concentrated form of lycopene found in food, there still haven’t been enough studies to tout concrete anticancer properties in humans yet. But the science is definitely on a promising path.

Hydrate with Natural Electrolytes

Put down that energy drink! Not only do those drinks contain way too much caffeine for your system, but there’s also a heaping amount of not-healthy-for-you sugar.

Instead, pack some watermelon slices, or juice up some cold watermelon for your water bottle to beat dehydration.

Sure, watermelon is made of 92% water, but it’s also full of important electrolytes to keep you hydrated. The best electrolyte in watermelon is potassium. It helps manage hydration levels in the body and allows oxygen to make the rounds to all the cells. It’s also important for regulating heartbeat and muscle function.

What’s worse is that an imbalance of potassium and sodium (like when you eat lots of salty foods and not enough fruits and veggies) can increase your risk for developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and even stroke.

With 5% potassium per serving, watermelon’s a quick way to load up on water and electrolytes. But potassium’s also great for your digestion.

Promotes Healthy Digestion and Prevents Kidney Stones

The sugar in watermelon will give you a quick mental boost, the water will rehydrate you, and the fiber will hold you over until your next meal.

“Watermelon contains dietary fiber for digestive health as well as potassium, a mineral that helps keep blood pressure capped”, says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health’s contributing nutrition editor.

But the potassium in watermelon is also really good at eliminating toxins and clearing waste from our blood. If we’re unable to clear out these toxins, it builds up in our kidneys and may lead to higher concentrations of uric acid in our blood, which may create kidney stones.

Since watermelon is a natural diuretic, it’s common to feel like you have to pee more than usual. But this is a good thing!

Every time you use the restroom, you’re eliminating waste from your body and helping out your kidneys. Watermelon is a safe and effective way to de-stress your kidneys, unlike other diuretics like coffee or weight loss pills.

Keeps Your Skin Looking Good

We all know that staying hydrated is super important for healthy looking skin and hair, but did you know that vitamins A and C will also help you look your best?

There’s around 18% of vitamin A in just one serving of watermelon, and 21% of vitamin C.

Vitamins A and C helps moisturize your skin and hair and build and maintain collagen, making it look smooth and supple.

Vitamin A has a molecular structure that’s tiny enough to get into the lower layers of skin, where it finds collagen and elastin”, so it moisturizes deeply to fight fine lines and wrinkles and improve the actual texture of your skin by keeping it ultra hydrated.

Vitamin C works hand-in-hand with vitamin A by building and maintaining our collagen levels, “which provides structure to skin and hair”. Remember, 80% of our skin is collagen so we want to make sure it’s always looking great.

Foods rich in vitamin C offer protection from damaging sun rays and lighten dark skin spots. You’ll also notice faster wound healing thanks to vitamin C as well.

There’s even a bit of manganese in every cup of watermelon, which “acts as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, reducing swelling and infection in the skin”.

Your tanned skin will love you for eating all that watermelon this summer and you’ll be looking extra radiant.