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Watermelon: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts

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  1. The Good Doctor

    The Good Doctor Golden Member

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    Watermelon is a refreshing fruit full of healthy vitamins.

    Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a deliciously healthy fruit, soaked with nutrients, low in calories and is free of fat. When eaten in reasonable amounts watermelon is good for you and provides many health benefits. You can eat all parts of the watermelon including the rind and seeds, according to health website Healthline.

    A watermelon is approximately 92% water according to Healthline. Each juicy bite has significant levels of vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin C, lots of lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids. Watermelon even contains a modest amount of potassium.

    "Foods that are high in antioxidants and amino acids allow your body to function optimally," said Angela Lemond, a Texas-based registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Amino acids are the basic building block for protein, and protein is used in virtually every vital function in the body."

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    Watermelon health benefits

    Watermelon contains some of the highest lycopene levels of any type of fresh fruit. Lycopene is a phytonutrient, which is a naturally occurring compound in fruits and vegetables that works with the human body to trigger healthy reactions. It is also the red pigment that gives watermelons, tomatoes, red grapefruits and guavas their color. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a cup and a half of watermelon contains about 9 to 13 milligrams of lycopene — 40% more lycopene than raw tomatoes.

    Lycopene has been linked with heart health, bone health and prostate cancer prevention. It's also a powerful antioxidant thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, according to Victoria Jarzabkowski, a nutritionist with the Fitness Institute of Texas at The University of Texas at Austin.

    To really maximize your lycopene intake, you need to let your watermelon fully ripen. The redder your watermelon gets, the higher the concentration of lycopene becomes. Beta-carotene and phenolic antioxidant content also increase as the watermelon ripens. "Beta carotene is an antioxidant found in red-orange fruits and vegetables. It helps with immunity, skin, eye and the prevention of cancer," said Lemond.

    A 2011 study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, which investigated five types of watermelon at four stages of ripening, found that unripe watermelon with primarily white flesh has nearly zero beta-carotene present. By the time it is fully red, the fruit is an excellent source of the phytonutrient.

    However, that doesn't mean the red parts are the only good ones. "All parts of the watermelon are good. There are a lot of nutrients throughout," said Jarzabkowski. This includes the white flesh nearest the rind, which contains more of the amino acid citrulline than the flesh, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Chromatography.

    Citrulline is a valuable amino acid that converts to the amino acid arginine. These amino acids promote blood flow, which leads to cardiovascular health, improved circulation, and even treatment for erectile dysfunction, according to research at Texas A&M University.

    Recent studies have also found that watermelon seeds are also wonderfully nutritious, especially if they are sprouted and shelled. They are high in protein, magnesium, vitamin B and good fats, according to an analysis by the International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences.

    Heart health and anti-inflammatory benefits
    The high levels of lycopene in watermelon are very effective at protecting cells from damage and may help lower the risk of heart disease, according to a study at Purdue University. A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that watermelon extracts helped reduce hypertension and lowered blood pressure in obese adults.

    Watermelon may also be especially important for older women. A study published in Menopause found that postmenopausal women, a group known to have increased aortic stiffness, who took watermelon extract for six weeks saw decreased blood pressure and arterial stiffness compared to those who did not take watermelon extract. The authors of the study attributed the benefits to citrulline and arginine.

    Arginine can help improve blood flow and may help reduce the accumulation of excess fat.

    "The lycopene in watermelon makes it an anti-inflammatory fruit," Jarzabkowski said. Lycopene is an inhibitor for various inflammatory processes and also works as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals. Additionally, the watermelon contains choline, which helps keep chronic inflammation down, according to a 2006 article published in Shock medical journal.

    Reducing inflammation isn't just good for people suffering from arthritis. "When you're sick, you have cellular damage, which can be caused by a variety of factors including stress, smoking, pollution, disease, and your body becomes inflamed," Jarzabkowski said. "It's called 'systemic inflammation.'" In this way, anti-inflammatory foods can help with overall immunity and general health.

    Other benefits and cancer prevention

    "Watermelons help with overall hydration, and that is a great thing," said Lemond. "They say we can get 20-30 percent of our fluid needs through our diet alone, and foods like these certainly help." Additionally, their juice is full of good electrolytes. This can even help prevent heat stroke.

    The watermelon also contains fiber, which encourages a healthy digestive tract and helps keep you regular.

    Vitamin A is also great for your skin, and just a cup of watermelon contains nearly one-quarter of your recommended daily intake. Vitamin A helps keep skin and hair moisturized, and it also encourages healthy growth of new collagen and elastin cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Vitamin C is also beneficial in this regard, as it promotes healthy collagen growth.

    Like other fruits and vegetables, watermelons may be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer through their antioxidant properties. Lycopene in particular has been linked to reducing prostate cancer cell proliferation, according to the National Cancer Institute.

    Watermelon-loving athletes are in luck: drinking watermelon juice before an intense workout helps reduce next-day muscle soreness and heart rate, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. This can be attributed to watermelon's amino acids citrulline and arginine, which help improve circulation.

    A 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that watermelon's citrulline may also help improve athletic performance. Study participants who took citrulline supplements saw a boosted performance with more power production in high-intensity exercise like cycling and sprinting.

    What happens if you eat too much watermelon?

    If eaten in reasonable amounts, watermelons should produce no serious side effects. If you eat an abundance of the fruit daily, however, you may experience problems from having too much lycopene or potassium.

    The consumption of more than 30 mg of lycopene daily could potentially cause nausea, diarrhea, indigestion and bloating, according to the American Cancer Society.

    People with serious hyperkalemia, or too much potassium in their blood, should probably not consume more than about one cup of watermelon a day, which has less than 140 mg of potassium. According to the National Institutes of Health, hyperkalemia can result in irregular heartbeats and other cardiovascular problems, as well as reduced muscle control.

    Loading up on water-dense foods like watermelon can be tempting for those looking to lose weight because they help you feel full, but Lemond cautions against going to extremes. "Eating more fruits and vegetables of any kind naturally helps decrease overall calories (energy) of the diet," she said. "We know that people that eat higher quantities of fruits and vegetables typically have healthier body weights. However, I do not recommend eating only watermelon … You will lose weight, but that weight will be mostly muscle."

    Jarzabkowski also warns watermelon lovers to be mindful of their sugar intake. "Though watermelon's sugar is naturally occurring, [watermelon] is still relatively high in sugar."

    "My recommendation is always to vary your selections," said Lemond. "Watermelon is a great hydrating food, so keep it in along with other plant foods that offer other benefits. Variety is always key."

    Seedless watermelon

    Seedless watermelons are triploid which means they have three sets of chromosomes. This odd number of chromosomes makes them sterile and unable to produce seeds. The sterile hybrid is created by crossing male pollen for a watermelon, containing 22 chromosomes per cell, with a female watermelon flower with 44 chromosomes per cell. When this seeded fruit matures, the small, white seed coats inside contain 33 chromosomes.
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