Everything You Need To Know About Watermelon

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Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

The watermelon is a popular and delicious fruit, most commonly enjoyed during summertime, and is scientifically known as Citrullus lanatus. It is related to zucchinis, cucumbers and melons, and is packed full of important nutrients while also being low in calories and high in water content.

This juicy and refreshing fruit is particularly known for its potent antioxidant content, and offers some impressive health benefits. Watermelons are most commonly eaten fresh and all by themselves, but they also make a delicious soup, smoothie or salad.

Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about watermelon, and why they should be a part of your diet.

8 Fun Facts About Watermelon

Before getting into the nitty gritty on watermelon nutrition facts and health benefits, check out these fun facts you probably never knew about the watermelon. It truly is an exciting fruit!

  1. There are over 1,200 watermelon varieties in existence around the world.
  2. Watermelon is technically a vegetable, and is related to pumpkins, cucumbers and squash. But in culinary terms, it is treated as a fruit.
  3. In certain countries in Asia (particularly in Japan and China), watermelon is commonly given as a gift.
  4. The Mediterranean diet often pairs salty feta cheese with sweet watermelon. Yum!
  5. While we usually don’t, you actually can eat the rind and seeds of the watermelon.
  6. Watermelon is a whopping 92% water by weight, which is why it’s so incredibly refreshing on a hot day.
  7. The largest watermelon ever grown on record weighed almost 270 pounds, recorded in the Guinness World Record book in 2013. Wow.
  8. Last but certainly not least, the watermelon is Ohio’s official state vegetable.

Watermelon Nutrition Facts

Some people make the false assumption that watermelon is just water without much nutritional value, but that is definitely not the case. Just one cup of diced watermelon offers the following:

  • Calories: 30
  • Protein: 0.6 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 7.6 grams
  • Fat: 0.2 grams
  • Calcium: 11 mg
  • Magnesium: 15 mg
  • Phosphorus: 17 mg
  • Potassium: 170 mg
  • Vitamin C: 12.3 mg
  • Vitamin A: 855 IU

Watermelon is also a rich source of lycopene and citrulline, two potent plant compounds with their own unique nutritional benefits. The vitamins and minerals of most notable importance in this tasty fruit include vitamin C, potassium, copper, vitamin A and vitamin B5.

It offers a small amount of fiber, and while it does have a relatively high glycemic index (a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels), it is fairly low in carbohydrates so does not have a huge effect on blood sugar levels.

Health Benefits of Watermelon

Not only does watermelon offer the perfect treat on a hot day, but it packs a pretty big punch when it comes to health benefits, too.

High in Important Plant Compounds and Antioxidants

Watermelon is rich in plant compounds and antioxidants, which are big reasons as to why this fruit can absolutely be considered a superfood.

Lycopene is a plant compound that has been extensively studied, and watermelon is right up there with tomato in being one of the best sources. Lycopene is a carotenoid phytonutrient that is most well known for its role in heart health, and is now the most commonly consumed lycopene-containing food in the United States, taking front-row seat in front of tomatoes.

Citrulline is another plant compound that has received attention lately, and is an amino acid found in the flesh of watermelon. Citrulline is converted to arginine by the body, which is essential for optimal blood flow.

Beta Carotene and vitamin C are two powerful antioxidants that are also found in fairly high amounts in the watermelon.

Interestingly, these plant compounds are most potent when the watermelon is at its ripest, so allowing the fruit to fully ripen before eating it is key for maximum nutritional benefit.

Lowers Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association, deaths associated with high blood pressure are on the rise, even though deaths caused by heart attacks and strokes have decreased.

That means that now more than ever, eating foods that support healthy blood pressure is key, and watermelon definitely fits into this category.

The blood pressure lowering benefits of watermelon are also linked back to its citrulline content, which converts to the amino acid, arginine. Both arginine and citrulline are essential for nitric oxide production, which is a molecule that allows our blood vessels to dilate and relax. This process is what also leads to blood pressure reduction.

Fascinatingly, supplementation with watermelon juice (see our easy recipe below on how to make this), and other forms of watermelon supplementation has been found to relax stiff arteries in people with high blood pressure.

Reduces Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a hormone in the body that is responsible for regulating blood glucose levels (blood sugar levels). Insulin resistance refers to the condition where our cells become resistant to insulin’s effects (this can be due to various factors, a main one being a high-sugar diet over time), which can lead to chronically high blood sugar levels, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Watermelon juice and supplementation has been used to reduce insulin resistance due to its high levels of arginine, which have been linked to improved insulin resistance.

Improves Muscle Recovery After Exercise

You might be especially surprised to find out that watermelon can be a great, post-workout snack. This is because initial research has shown that the citrulline content of watermelon juice could improve muscle recover after exercise. And what better way to finish a tough exercise session than with refreshing and juicy watermelon? Along with plenty of water.

Watermelon Varieties

All types of watermelon share a sweet, juicy taste and solid rind. However, they do vary in terms of their seed content, size, color, and to a certain extent, taste. While many watermelon varieties exist around the world, here is a simple breakdown of the most commonly consumed varieties of watermelon.

Seedless Watermelon

Could life get any better than the deliciousness of watermelon without the hassle of its seeds? These seedless watermelon varieties came about in the 1990s exactly for that reason. “Seedless” is a bit of a lie, as seedless varieties do have very small, underdeveloped seeds, which are edible. While seedless watermelons are just as juicy and sweet as any other variety, they are more complicated to grow.

Common seedless varieties include the Trio, Nova, Crimson, Millionaire, and respective King, Jack, and Queen of Hearts.

Picnic Watermelon

Picnic watermelon varieties are bigger and often rounder, and the most common varieties include Black Diamond, Jubilee, Crimson Sweet and Charleston Gray. These are the watermelons we think of (and commonly buy) with the bright red flesh and green rind.

Icebox Watermelon

Icebox watermelons are usually much smaller—like a personal watermelon all for you—and their two most popular types are called Sugar Babies and Tiger Babies (just adorable). These watermelons mature in only 75 days, and are especially sweet.

Yellow and Orange Watermelon

Yellow and orange watermelon varieties can be either seeded or seedless, and the main difference is the color of their flesh. They are similar in terms of taste yet might be a bit smaller, although it depends on the exact variety.

FODMAPs and Allergies

While watermelon is well tolerated by most people, it is worth mentioning that they are a FODMAP food. If you have no idea what this means, you’re likely in the clear, but for those who are sensitive to foods that fall into this category, watermelon will need to be avoided.

FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that some people cannot digest, and symptoms usually include gas, stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation.

An actual allergy to watermelon, however, is quite rare, and when it does exist it usually expresses itself in the form of itchy mouth and swelling of the lips, throat, tongue and ears.

10 Ways to Incorporate Watermelon Into Your Diet

Aside from simply slicing into a watermelon and enjoying it as-is, there are some other ways you can incorporate watermelon into your diet as well. Really, any way you choose, it’s hard to go wrong.

1. Make a Watermelon Smoothie

Combine the sweetness of watermelon with the tartness of strawberries, and you’ve got one delicious (and nutritious) smoothie. In a blender, combine strawberries (fresh or frozen), watermelon, half a banana, the juice of one lime and a base of your choice, such as unsweetened almond, coconut, or regular milk. Combine it with a bit of ice, blend and serve! Yum.

2. Enjoy Watermelon Juice

Cooking pretty much doesn’t get any easier (or more delicious) than watermelon juice. Simply blend the flesh of one watermelon with the juice of one or two limes (it’s best to remove the seeds first if you’re using a seeded watermelon variety), and serve. If you prefer zero pulp, go ahead and strain your juice first, but that’s optional.

3. Indulge in a Watermelon Cocktail

Not only does watermelon increase the nutritional benefits just a bit of your cocktail, but it also eliminates the need to add sugar, because it is naturally so sweet already. For a super easy cocktail idea, simply mix together some sparkling wine or champagne with watermelon juice and fresh lime. Or mix it up by making a watermelon margarita or mojito. Again, you can’t go wrong! These make for a perfect cocktail on a hot day.

4. Make a Sweet and Salty Salad

Few things on this earth go together more perfectly than watermelon and feta cheese (and most chefs would agree). Chop and chill your watermelon in the fridge, then combine with olive oil, lime or lemon juice, a bit of salt and pepper, fresh mint leaves and crumbled feta cheese. Pair this with fish, chicken, or steak (your best bet) for a delightful, colorful and nutrient-packed meal.

5. Grill Your Watermelon

If you’ve never tried grilled watermelon, you are missing out. Remedy that situation ASAP by brushing watermelon slices with some olive oil and grilling them for about 5 minutes on each side, then sprinkling them with a bit of salt and pepper. You won’t be sorry. You could also cut them into chunks and include them as an ingredient on grilled kebobs.

6. Convert It Into a Fruit Bowl

There are a lot of seriously creative ways to do this, but the simplest involves cutting off the top of the watermelon (enough so that the inside will be accessible), and then scooping out the flesh. Chop the flesh into small pieces and mix it with other chopped fruit of your choice, and feel free to spice it up with cinnamon, mint, etc. Then put it all into your hollowed-out watermelon, using it as a fruit bowl. This makes for a fun party dish!

7. Make a Sweet and Spicy Watermelon Salsa

While you probably don’t think of watermelon as a spicy kind of fruit, that is the very reason it goes so well in a salsa dish. The sweet taste and crispy texture of watermelon mixed with the spicy bite of chili make watermelon salsa a culinary experience you won’t forget.

To make it, simply dice watermelon (seedless varieties work best here), and combine it with minced jalapeno (or other hot) peppers, diced onion, lime or lemon juice, minced cilantro and a bit of salt to taste.

8. Opt for Healthier Ice Cream (Made From Watermelon)

This is really more like a sorbet, but has only two ingredients and is quick and easy. Conventional, dairy ice cream is delicious, but it is also quite high in fat, calories and added sugars. Making your own ice cream from watermelon (bananas work well, too) gives you a delicious treat with far more nutritional value.

All you’ll need is the flesh of about half a watermelon and 1 cup of canned coconut milk. Cut the fruit into chunks and place it in the freezer for about four hours, or more. Then, add the frozen chunks to a food processor with one half-cup of the coconut milk and blend. Add the rest of the coconut milk only as needed, depending on the consistency you’d like. Serve immediately for a creamy sorbet, or place in the freezer and serve later for a colder, crispier version.

9. Give Your Kiddos Homemade Watermelon Popsicles

If your kids are popsicle lovers—and really what kid isn’t—but you’d prefer to avoid the loads of sugar and artificial ingredients that store-bought popsicles usually contain, these watermelon popsicles are your answer. Similarly to the ice cream, you’ll need about 3 cups of seedless watermelon (does not need to be frozen), 1 cup of whole-fat coconut milk (you can substitute for cow’s milk if you prefer), and popsicle molds.

Blend your watermelon and milk, pour into the molds, and freeze for about four to five hours. Keep these on hand when your kids are begging for something sweet, and rest assured they are being nourished as well as getting their sweet tooth satisfied.

10. Relish in Refreshing Watermelon Gazpacho

Did you ever imagine that tomato and watermelon would go together? If not—and you probably haven’t— you will likely change your mind once you make the gazpacho recipe listed below. High quality tomatoes are key here (canned will make the taste notably inferior), so splurge on heirloom tomatoes for this dish, if possible.

How to Cut a Watermelon

Some people avoid watermelon because it can be kind of a pain to cut. While this is true, learning some tips and tricks for properly cutting into a watermelon will make the job much easier, and will hopefully motivate you to include this nutritious food more often in your diet. There is no “right” way, but there are certainly ways that make it drastically more efficient.

First, place your watermelon on a cutting board and be sure you are using a sharp, big knife. Cut the fruit in half lengthwise, then cut each of those halves in half. You now have watermelon quarters.

Next, one quarter at a time, slice two(ish)-inch thick wedges, being careful not to cut all the way to through the rind, just to where the rind starts. These cuts should be width-wise. Now, turn the watermelon quarter length-wise and make similar size cuts, basically turning your watermelon flesh into a square checker-board.

Last, using the same knife, cut the fruit out just above the rind (hold the pieces in place as you do this if needed), and then dump them all into a big bowl or plate.

Done!

Of course the even easier way is just cutting it into wedges and eating them raw, but for fruit salads or other purposes, you’ll need to remove the flesh from the rind.

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho Recipe

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho

This recipe makes about 16 cups of soup, so feel free to cut it in half if you’d prefer to make less.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds of ripe tomatoes, peeled
  • 2 bell peppers (red is best)
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled
  • 2 medium sized onions, peeled and chopped
  • quarter bunch of cilantro, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 6 cups of watermelon
  • 4 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. First of all, if you’re not sure how to peel a tomato, there are lots of good resources on the internet that explain it. Do this first, as the tomatoes will need to be blanched and peeled (don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds).
  2. Once they are peeled, core and chop the tomatoes.
  3. Next, chop your bell pepper and cucumber into small enough pieces to work in your blender.
  4. Now, add your bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, cilantro and onion into a blender and blend until all is creamy.
  5. Next, chop your watermelon into chunks (good thing you already know how to do that!), and add it to the blender along with the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend together until well pureed.
  6. Add a bit more salt and pepper if necessary, chill in the refrigerator until it’s cool, and serve! To get extra fancy, drizzle with a bit of olive oil on top.

Watermelons are tasty, refreshing, packed with nutrients and surprisingly versatile. Whether you just eat them raw as a summertime treat or whip them into a soup, salad or cocktail, the watermelon should definitely be a regular addition to your fruit repertoire.

Sources
  1. “Basic Report:  09326, Watermelon, raw,” United States Department of Agriculture website, accessed 21 August 2017, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2393?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=50&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=watermelon&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=.
  2. Arab and S. Steck, “Lycopene and Cardiovascular Disease,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000 Jun; 71(6): 1691s-1695s, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/6/1691s.full.
  3. P. Fayh et al., “Effects of L-Arginine Supplementation on Blood Flow, Oxidative Stress Status and Exercise Responses in Young Adults with Uncomplicated Type I Diabetes,” European Journal of Nutrition, 2013 Apr; 52(3): 975-983, Epub 2012 Jul 6, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22763798.
  4. American Heart Association, “High Blood Pressure Causing More Deaths Despite Drop in Heart Disease, Stroke Deaths,” American Heart Association (blog), posted 19 December 2014, accessed 21 August 2017, http://news.heart.org/high-blood-pressure-causing-deaths-despite-drop-heart-disease-stroke-deaths/.
  5. Houston and L. Hays, “Acute Effects of an Oral Nitric Oxide Supplement on Blood Pressure, Endothelial Function, and Vascular Compliance in Hypertensive Patients,” The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 2014 July; 16(7): 524-529, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jch.12352/full.
  6. Figueroa et al., “Effects of Watermelon Supplementation on Aortic Blood Pressure and Wave Reflection in Individuals with Prehypertension: A Pilot Study,” American Journal of Hypertension, 2011 Jan; 24(1): 40-44, Epub 2010 Jul 8, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20616787.
  7. Claybaugh et al., “L-Arginine Supplementation in Type II Diabetic Rats Preserves Renal Function and Improves Insulin Sensitivity by Altering the Nitric Oxide Pathway,” International Journal of Endocrinology, 2014; 2014: 171546, Epub 2014 Jan 12, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2014/171546/.
  8. Grant, “Watermelon Plant Varieties: Common Types of Watermelon,” Gardening Know How (Blog), last updated 19 Jan 2016, accessed 21 August 2017, https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/watermelon/types-of-watermelon.htm.

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Originally from LA but have found home in a small city and while studying at Boise State University have discovered an interest and passion for health and nutrition. I love learning and discovering everything there is to know about how we can improve our lives with better understanding of what helps to keep our body and mind healthy and strong.