The Health Benefits of Watermelon (Besides Keeping You Hydrated)
From enhanced recovery to staying hydrated, there are loads of benefits of eating watermelon—as if being sweet, juicy, and the epitome of summer happiness wasn't enough.
Nothing says summer quite like biting into a pink watermelon wedge on a hot day. Perhaps surprisingly, there are actually loads of health benefits of watermelon. It's not just for kids—or for summer. "Watermelon is good for everyone," says Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D.N., adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.
Here, catch up on just six of the health benefits of watermelon that are going to make you want to eat this summer fruit fast before it's gone.
It's low in sugar and high in nutrients.
The benefits of eating watermelon start with the fact that it's extremely low in calories—only 46 per cup, compared to 86 calories per cup for blueberries and 56 per fruit for one peach. It's also especially low in sugar for a fruit. And, like all fruit, that sugar is naturally-occurring fructose—way healthier than added sugar, says Young.
The summer staple is also high in vitamin C, A, B1, B5, B6, and beta carotene, lycopene, potassium, and magnesium. (Plus, watermelon seeds are surprisingly healthy for you too, and are rich in vitamin E and phytonutrients.)
Fun fact: The super distinctive smell of watermelon is created by its medium- and short-chain fatty acids and naturally fragrant oils like geranial and ß-ionone.
It might help fight disease.
"Because it's high in antioxidants—namely, vitamins A and C—it may help to reduce risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer," explains Young.
In fact, studies show watermelon has a more unique kind of lycopene, cis-isomeric, which is more readily available for your body to absorb and which may help fight metabolic syndromes like oxidative stress, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
New preliminary research from Oklahoma State University and the University of Colorado even suggests the juicy fruit may help shift the gut microbiome of both type 1 and type 2 diabetic mice. (Related: Papaya Recipes That Taste Like You're On a Tropical Vacation)
What's more, watermelon also contains the amino acid citrulline, which potentially increases nitric oxide levels, which in turn dilates your blood vessels. The result: lower blood pressure.
It's super hydrating.
OK so you've probably heard this one before, but it's true. Made up of over 90 percent water, watermelon is one of the most hydrating foods available, says Young. Unfortunately, you can't trade your eight glasses of H2O for all watermelon juice—you still need the pure stuff. But considering the fruit is most often in hand on hot summer days, it will help to keep you hydrated.
In huge doses, it could help you be a faster athlete.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports that L-citrulline supplements can help improve your oxygen uptake and your HIIT performance. The research used tablets, but watermelon is the most abundant dietary form of the amino acid. And the theoretical science holds up: The amino acid may help increase nitric oxide levels, delivering more blood and oxygen to your system, explains Young.
However, this study looked at just 10 athletes, and the findings haven't been replicated (though they were supported by a 2017 study review). And the reality is that you'd have to drink 2.5 liters of watermelon juice a day to get as much citrulline as athletes in the study drank. But it's an interesting avenue for the growing evidence of the health benefits of watermelon.
It could actually help you recover from a workout quicker.
A super small study out of Spain in 2013 found when athletes drank 500 mL of natural watermelon juice and then went all out on an exercise bike, they saw a lower recovery heart rate and less muscle soreness 24 hours later. This is probably thanks to that super bioavailable citrulline again, but this study is interesting because the athletes drank just two cups of the fruit juice. (Related: 10 Whole Foods That Are Better for Workout Recovery Than Supplements)
It's incredibly diverse.
The best attribute for an uber-healthy food is it being uber-diverse in the kitchen. When it comes to watermelon, blend it into soup, add it to a fruity pizza, or frost it and make a healthy cake perfect for a cookout. Young loves it most tossed in a salad with a little feta. Though we love a good watermelon cocktail, Young advises eating it mostly so your portions don't spike off the charts, and sticking to around one to two cups of the fruit (that's one generous smile).