Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), which is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa, is a popular food in the United States. In 2017, the U.S.'s annual per capita consumption was approximately 16.1 pounds of watermelon per person.
A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, watermelon is a cousin to cucumber, pumpkin and squash, and over 50 varieties exist. The most common ones you’ll find are seeded, seedless, icebox, picnic and yellow or orange-fleshed watermelon, and they can range in size from about five pounds to 200 pounds. Within each of these main groups there are many sub-varieties.
Watermelon flesh ranges from bright red to yellow and orange, and the color of the skin and rind may vary as well, from bright green to yellow. When selecting a watermelon, look for one with a firm skin that is heavy for its size and free of gashes, bruises or dents. Another good sign is a yellow spot on the underside of the melon from where it sat on the ground while it was growing.
Aside from being delicious, this refreshing fruit also boasts numerous health benefits. Here are some great reasons to include it in your diet.
It’s Very Hydrating
This probably won’t come as a surprise, so to state the obvious, watermelon is named for its high water content (about 92 percent). This makes it a great option for helping you stay hydrated on a hot summer day. Because even mild dehydration can make us feel sluggish and tired, watermelon juice or enjoying watermelon as a snack or as part of a meal can help you perk up. Trying to feel like a functioning human the morning after a few too many drinks? Watermelon can help ease hangover symptoms like headaches that are related to alcohol’s dehydrating effects.
It Contains Important Electrolytes
Watermelon also provides potassium and magnesium, two electrolytes that are key to muscle and nerve function. A one-cup serving of watermelon will provide 170 milligrams of potassium (about 5 percent of your daily needs) and 15.2 milligrams of magnesium (about 4 percent of your daily needs).
Because of their role in many cellular activities, these two electrolytes can be very helpful for alleviating headaches and muscle cramps. Rather than reaching for a sports beverage after a tough workout, enjoy cut-up watermelon with a pinch of sea salt (for sodium) to replenish what you sweat out.
A Source of Antioxidants
Another great reason to make watermelon part of your diet is that is contains antioxidants. Watermelon is a good source of Vitamin A and C—about 17 percent and 20 percent of your daily needs, respectively—two nutrients that are key for proper immune system function as well as skin health. It also provides the antioxidant lycopene, which gives certain fruits and vegetables a bright red color, and has been noted for its benefits to heart health. Tomatoes get the most attention when it comes to lycopene, but you’ll also find it in watermelon, papaya and guava, among other pink and red fruits and vegetables.
It’s Low In Calories
Watermelon’s high water content also means it’s lower in calories per serving than many less water-rich fruits. One cup of diced watermelon only contains about 45 calories. That’s about half of what you’ll get in the same serving size of blueberries (85 calories per cup), a medium apple (95 calories) or a medium banana (105 calories), just to name a few. The high water volume also helps it feel more filling. Aside from physically filling you up, water helps fiber do its job in the GI tract as the fiber absorbs the water and expands to take up more space in the stomach, slowing digestion so you don’t burn through your meal or snack as quickly.
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How To Enjoy Watermelon
While you can enjoy watermelon on its own simply sliced and eaten with your hands or with a fork or spoon, watermelon also can be used raw or grilled in foods like salads or desserts, as well as in refreshing alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
Try a classic feta, cucumber and watermelon salad with mint as a summery side dish. Watermelon also works very well in gazpacho, which you can easily whip up in a blender. Throw a few slices on the grill for a quick, low-calorie dessert. For a fun twist on cake, you can remove the rind from a watermelon, cover it with whipped cream, and decorate.
As mentioned earlier, watermelon juice is a refreshing alternative to sports drinks, and it plays well with lime and sea salt. Blending up watermelon juice with ice is an easy way to make a slushie that’s delicious as is but that can also be spiked with vodka or tequila. If you want to get creative, you can carve the melon out to use as a serving bowl.
However you decide to enjoy it, watermelon is a delicious, nutritious way to support your overall health.