The Health Benefits of Watermelon That Will Make You Want a Slice

These watermelon nutrition facts make it clear why this fruit is a summertime staple.

Woman Eating a Slice of Watermelon
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Known for its bright red color and crunchy texture, watermelon is the ultimate summer fruit. But beyond its role as a warm-weather staple, watermelon happens to be a highly nutritious food. Ahead, learn all the need-to-know health benefits of watermelon, plus how to enjoy it at home.

What Is Watermelon?

Believe it or not, the watermelon is technically a berry. In botany, a berry is a fleshy fruit that doesn't have a stone or pit (like, say, mango or apricot), according to Colorado State University. Specifically, the watermelon is a pepo, a type of berry that has a fleshy interior and thick leathery rind.

Botanical details aside, the watermelon is a fruit that grows on a vine that originated in ancient Egypt, but now grows in warm regions around the world, according to Colorado State University. The juicy fruit is also part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes other melons (think: cantaloupes), cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash, according to the university. Most varieties have red flesh and thick striped or marbled green rind, which is probably what comes to mind when you think of watermelon. However, some varieties have a green, orange, or white flesh, as noted by Pennsylvania State University. (

Watermelon Nutrition Facts

The benefits of eating watermelon stem from the fruit's variety of nutrients. Watermelon offers vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and calcium, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The summer fruit is also the highest lycopene content of any food, according to an article in the International Journal of Food Properties (IJFP). Lycopene falls under the category of carotenoids, which are red/orange/yellow plant pigments with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to Oregon State University. Specifically, lycopene is a red plant pigment, and it's responsible for the iconic hue of watermelon flesh.

Check out the watermelon nutrition facts for 1 cup diced raw watermelon (~152 grams), according to data from the USDA:

  • 46 calories
  • < 1 gram protein
  • < 1 gram fat
  • 12 grams carbohydrate
  • < 1 gram fiber
  • 9 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Watermelon

The nutritional content of watermelon is impressive, and it translates to possible health perks. Here are the most exciting watermelon benefits, according to dietitians and research.

Contributes to Lower Risk of Chronic Disease

"Watermelon is rich in antioxidants, including vitamins C and lycopene," shares registered dietitian Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. This is noteworthy because antioxidants help combat free radicals, aka molecules that cause oxidative stress, which can contribute to chronic disease (think: diabetes or cancer). Here's the lowdown: Your body generates free radicals as a byproduct of factor such as mental stress or exposure to environmental pollutants, according to an article in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Typically, your body can control these free radicals using its own antioxidant defenses, but when present in excess, the free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage and result in disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But by eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods such as watermelon, you can help combat free radicals and protect your body, says Ehsani.

Promotes Heart Health

If you're still not sold on the benefits from watermelon consumption, consider this: In addition to its status as the top source of lycopene, watermelon is the highest source of the amino acid citrulline. (ICYDK, amino acids are the building blocks of protein.) This is great news for your heart, as both nutrients are key for cardiovascular health. For starters, lycopene may help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol, according to Paula Doebrich, M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Happea Nutrition. This is noteworthy since high LDL and low HDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As for citrulline? The amino acid is required to make a molecule called nitric oxide, according to an article in IJFP. This molecule is a vasodilator, meaning it helps relax blood vessels, ensuring oxygen-rich blood can reach your heart, according to Doebrich. In fact, regularly eating watermelon can support cardiovascular health, partly due to its citrulline content, according to a review article in Current Atherosclerosis Reports.

Supports Healthy Eyes

To protect your peepers, nosh on some watermelon. The fruit's abundance of lycopene can support eye health, according to Ehsani. Basically, consuming lycopene "may prevent or delay the formation of cataracts and reduce the risk of [age-related] macular degeneration," she says. (ICYDK, a cataract is a cloudy covering over the eye, while age-related macular degeneration is a disease that causes loss of your central vision.) These effects are due to the antioxidant abilities of lycopene (and carotenoids in general), which protect the eye from oxidative stress, according to a 2019 research article.

May Improve Post-Exercise Muscle Soreness

The advantages of watermelon may even affect your workout recovery. The fruit's citrulline may prevent muscle soreness after exercise, helping you return to training sooner rather than later. Citrulline may ease muscle soreness in two ways, according to Doebrich. First, remember how citrulline helps produce nitric oxide? The molecule is in charge of regulating healthy blood flow, muscle contractions, and muscle repair, "all [of which] could contribute to reduced soreness," says Doebrich.

Secondly, citrulline is needed to efficiently remove ammonia (a normal waste product of protein digestion) from the body. Efficient removal of ammonia reduces the buildup of lactate, a substance that temporarily increases during exercise. This is key because lactate can contribute to muscle soreness when it's present in excess, says Doebrich. However, citrulline can trigger the chemical reactions needed to help clear lactate from the body, thereby easing soreness. Needless to say, a homemade watermelon cooler might be just what you need after your next workout sesh.

Contributes to Hydration

One of the more well-know benefits of watermelon relates to its impressive water content. "Watermelon contains 92 percent water, [making it] one of the most hydrating foods you can bite into," says Ehsani. In other words, watermelon can absolutely contribute to your overall daily hydration intake. And staying hydrated is essential for basic biological processes including regulating body temp and lubricating joints, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, "you lose water everyday through sweating, urinating, bowel movements, and even through breathing," explains Ehsani. So, in addition to drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day, adding watermelon to your plate can further keep you hydrated. (

Supports Healthy Digestion

"With less than half a gram of fiber per 100 grams [about 2/3 cup], watermelon is not a fiber powerhouse," says Doebrich. But that doesn't mean the summer fruit can't support healthy digestion. The water content of watermelon will help aid digestion, as hydration is vital for optimal digestive function, notes Doebrich. Otherwise, if you're dehydrated, "the body will pull any available fluids to help move food through the system," explains Doebrich. This can lead to slow-moving stool (i.e. constipation), but staying hydrated can help prevent that. And get this: "Watermelon seeds are rich in fiber, so you may want to skip the seedless variety next time you pick up watermelon," should you want to reap the digestive benefits of watermelon, according to Doebrich. (While black watermelon seeds are difficult to chew, they're completely edible and taste delicious when roasted, according to Allrecipes.)

Potential Risks of Watermelon

For most people, watermelon is safe to consume, says Ehsani. Translation: The refreshing fruit isn't usually associated with adverse side effects unless you have a watermelon allergy. Watch out for common food allergy symptoms such as stomach cramps, hives, coughing, and dizziness, as listed by the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. If you do experience any of these symptoms after eating the melon, consider visiting an allergist.

If you're prone to migraines, you might want to skip watermelon. The summer fruit may trigger headaches in people with migraines, according to a study in Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders. This may be due to watermelon's high level of tyramine, an amino acid that may act on certain nerve cells, according to a 2021 article. If you're new to watermelon and have a history of migraines, check with your doc before eating the melon.

How to Buy and Eat Watermelon

At the grocery store, "you can typically find fresh seedless watermelon, seeded watermelon, and mini watermelon," explains Ehsani. "You may even find different colored [varieties], like orange or yellow watermelon." You can score watermelon benefits from all of the options, but the orange and yellow types lack the red plant pigment lycopene, says Ehsani. Thus, if you're after the heart and eye health benefits of watermelon, go for the red variety. Similarly, watermelon seeds do contain some fiber, as mentioned above — so be sure to pick up the seeded kind if you're after the health benefits of watermelon seeds.

Fresh watermelon is usually available whole or pre-cut in chunks. When buying whole, uncut watermelon, look for one that's firm and heavy, according to the University of Arkansas. It should be free of dents, bruises, or other discolored areas, aka signs of potential spoilage. The underside should also have a creamy yellow color, which indicates the watermelon was harvested at the right time. At home, store whole watermelon at room temperature for 10 days or in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, advises the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. When you're ready to dig in, be sure to wash the watermelon before cutting it; the outer rind of whole watermelon might have potentially disease-causing bacteria. If you don't wash the rind before cutting, the microbes might transfer to the flesh when you cut into the melon, according to Colorado State University. As for cut watermelon, you can store it in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to five days, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Depending on your supermarket, you might also find dried watermelon, notes Ehsani. This version won't have the same hydrating effect as fresh watermelon, as the water is removed during the drying process. However, it's a great for taking on-the-go, as you don't need to worry about it going bad like the fresh stuff, explains Ehsani. Finally, watermelon is also found in packaged products, such as bottled juices or ice pops. These items might contain added sugar or salt, so be sure to check the label if you want or need to avoid either ingredient.

Watermelon Recipe Ideas

Watermelon boasts a sweet, fresh flavor with cucumber notes. Thus, the fruit works well in a variety of dishes, from cool beverages to delicious entrees. Here are a few tasty ways to enjoy the health benefits of watermelon:

In a salad. For a refreshing summer salad, take a tip from Doebrich and toss cubed watermelon with chopped tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and red onion. Add kalamata olives and feta cheese, then sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

In smoothies. Like all fruits, watermelon works beautifully in homemade smoothies. Try mixing in other summer eats — e.g. mangos, strawberries, and fellow melons such as cantaloupe — for an irresistible seasonal drink.

Grilled. If you're new to grilled watermelon, you're in for a real treat. Cooking watermelon on the grill gives the fruit a delightful sweet and smoky flavor, making it perfect for dishes such as grilled watermelon salad or watermelon-feta skewers.

In gazpacho. When it's too hot to cook, whip up a fresh batch of watermelon gazpacho, or cold soup. It's a mouthwatering to stay hydrated while enjoying the best flavors of summer.

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