More than just a sweet treat: Studies suggest watermelons have curative properties.
By Leslie Locklear
A crisp, sweet slice of watermelon is more than just a refreshing treat: several studies suggest it may actually have healing benefits beyond quenching one’s thirst.
According to several studies, this is mainly because watermelons (Citrullus lanatus), aside from being packed with certain vitamins and amino acids, are exceptionally rich in carotenoids like lycopene, lutein and beta carotene.
Carotenoids, according to experts, are a class of plant pigments responsible for the bright red, yellow and orange hues in certain fruits and vegetables. These fat-soluble phytonutrients, or plant chemicals, are also known for being incredibly potent antioxidants — which means they can help defend the body against oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
As detailed in the Journal of Chemistry, carotenoids are capable of certain feats, such as strengthening the immune system and helping reduce the risk of serious conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and chronic inflammation.
Carotenoids, in addition, are converted by the body to vitamin A, which is essential to normal growth and development.
With that said, here are some of the health benefits of watermelons:
Watermelons can help optimize cardiovascular health
According to a study from Purdue University, the high levels of lycopene found in watermelons are very effective at protecting cells from damage and may in fact, help lower the risk of heart disease.
A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension, meanwhile, found that watermelon extracts helped reduce hypertension and lower blood pressure in obese adults.
In addition to lycopene, two other compounds found in watermelons, citrulline and arginine, were seen to improve cardiovascular health in subjects during testing.
As detailed in the journal Menopause, postmenopausal women who took watermelon extract for six weeks experienced a significant reduction in their blood pressure and arterial stiffness compared to those who did not take watermelon extract. This, the authors of the study said, could be due to citrulline and arginine, as they are known to improve blood flow and may help reduce the accumulation of excess fat.
Watermelons can help minimize inflammation
Watermelons, according to experts, are known for their ability to minimize inflammation in the body. This can be attributed to two factors: lycopene and choline.
Lycopene, as noted earlier, is a potent antioxidant, which means it has the ability to neutralize cell damage. Choline, on the other hand, is an essential nutrient best known for its ability to preserve cell integrity. Together, the two compounds help make watermelon an anti-inflammatory wonder fruit.
Watermelons help with proper hydration
Watermelons are 92 percent water, making them some of the healthiest and most hydrating fruits you can eat.
Aside from water, watermelons are also packed with electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium. This means that besides ensuring that your body is properly hydrated, watermelons can also ensure that it remains in a state of balance.
Watermelons help maintain optimal digestive function
Watermelons also contain dietary fiber, according to dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman.
Fiber, Beckerman said, helps promote a healthy digestive system by moving waste through the digestive tract more efficiently.
Aside from fiber, watermelons also contain prebiotics that help keep your gut microbiome healthy. A healthy gut microbiota is important because it is linked to a healthy immune system, improved blood glucose and insulin levels, better nutrient absorption and good overall health.
Watermelons can help relieve muscle soreness and improve athletic performance
According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, athletes who drank watermelon juice an hour before an intense workout experienced a reduction in muscle soreness, as well as a quicker heart rate recovery. The researchers attributed this to the amino acids citrulline and arginine, which, as noted earlier, are known to help improve circulation.
Citrulline may also help improve athletic performance. According to researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K., participants who took citrulline supplements saw improvements in their performance during high-intensity exercises like cycling and sprinting.
Regular consumption of watermelons can help address metabolic syndrome
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition also found that citrulline helps improve the signs of metabolic syndrome in diabetic, overweight rats. This could prove beneficial for individuals suffering from the same condition.
Watermelons can help prevent certain cancers
Watermelons may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers. This is mainly because of the potent antioxidants found in watermelons, especially the carotenoid lycopene.
Lycopene, according to the National Cancer Institute, successfully reduced prostate cancer cell proliferation in several studies. Furthermore, the phytonutrient was also found to have chemopreventive effects against cancers of the skin, breast, lungs and liver.
You must keep in mind, however that watermelons — as well as other carotenoid-rich superfoods and functional foods — are not nutritional silver bullets that can solve your health issues in the blink of an eye, despite their reported potency and ability to support overall health.
On the other hand, you can treat watermelons and other functional foods as excellent additions to a healthy and well-balanced diet. This, together with regular exercise and healthy lifestyle changes, can help prevent diseases and greatly improve your overall health.
Antioxidant-rich watermelon-strawberry smoothie recipe
When it comes to adding functional foods — especially fruits — to your diet, nothing beats blitzing them up into a smoothie.
Here’s a recipe, adapted from the Minimalist Baker, that you can try.
- 1 1/2 cups fresh organic watermelon, cubed and deseeded
- 1 cup frozen organic strawberries
- 1/2 medium-sized, ripe organic banana, peeled, chopped and frozen
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup unsweetened plain organic almond milk
- 1/4 cup organic lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 tablespoon organic chia or hemp seeds (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until creamy and smooth.
- Check the texture and adjust accordingly: Add more almond milk for a thinner smoothie, or more frozen strawberries for a thicker one.
- Taste and adjust the flavor as needed: Add more lime juice for additional acidity, more bananas for sweetness, or more watermelon for a more intense watermelon flavor.
- Pour into glasses and top with chia or hemp seeds.
- Serve and enjoy!
Note: This drink is best served and enjoyed immediately. Any leftovers can be stored for up to two days in the refrigerator.
Rich in health-supporting vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, minerals and fiber, watermelons are some of the best functional foods you should be adding to your regular diet.