Summer's Superfood: Watermelon

Watermelons recently outgrew their identity as just a favorite summertime “snack”. Thanks to scientific research, watermelons have joined the ranks of highly regarded health promoting foods, boasting some impressive (and surprising) health benefits, including fighting inflammation, have antioxidant properties, and supporting cardiovascular health.

Watermelons originated in Africa, probably Southern Africa, where wild watermelons such as the Makataan are found. But Harry Paris, a horticulturist at the Agricultural Research Association in Israel, has found evidence that the first watermelons were cultivated in northern Africa along the Nile River. North and South America were more recently introduced to watermelons by European colonialists. Now there are over 300 varieties of watermelon grown in the United States and Mexico. These varieties range in sweetness, juiciness, and even color.

The nutrient content for watermelons is fairly impressive considering they are around 92% water. They are a good source of vitamin C, copper, vitamin A, potassium, biotin, magnesium, vitamin B1, and vitamin B5, vitamin B6.

More Lycopene Than Tomatoes

Watermelons are rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, and triterpenoids -- but their new claim to fame is the abundant amount of the antioxidant lycopene, which can give foods a red and pink pigment. Lycopene is an amino acid that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as protecting against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (1). It is usually associated with tomatoes, but watermelons are actually a more concentrated source of lycopene.

Citrulline: Anti-Aging, Heart Healthy, Performance Enhancer

Citrulline is another abundant compound in watermelon. There is exciting evidence that citrulline, an amino acid, may slow down the aging process, as well as prevent excess fat accumulation. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers concluded that citrulline “favourably modulates body composition and protects against lipid oxidation and, thus, emerges as an interesting candidate to help prevent the aging process” (3).

Citrulline has also become popular in athletic communities since it has been shown to enhance anaerobic athletic performance and reduce muscle soreness. (2) When citrulline enters the body it can also be converted to L-arginine, an amino acid which directly produces nitric oxide, which increases blood flow, supports cardiovascular health, and increases athletic performance (read more about nitric oxide here). L-arginine is also referred to as the “the best anti-aging remedy. 

Additionally, cucurbitacin E (also found in watermelon), reduces inflammation and pain by blocking the same enzyme as aspirin and ibuprofen -- cyclooxygenase (3).

More quick facts about watermelon:

  • Can be considered a fruit or a vegetable
  • The heaviest watermelon ever grown was 350.5 pounds
  • The rind is also edible, and is actually very nutritious
  • 3.2 billion pounds of watermelon were produced in the U.S. during 2014 (4)
  • They are cousins to cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash
  • Early explorers used watermelons as canteens
  • The interior can be red, pink, orange, yellow, or white