Watermelons have reputed roots in Africa, with the first recorded harvest in Egypt somewhere around 5,000 years ago. From there, they were sprouted throughout Asia and Europe. Colonists brought seeds with them to the New World, where around four billion pounds of watermelons are now produced every year. It’s easily the best-loved fruit in America.
A member of the Cucurbitaceae family with – you guessed it – cucumber, as well as squash and pumpkin, watermelons can weigh anywhere from two to 70 pounds. They grow on long vines and rest on the ground while they mature. Often oblong and light green in color, they can also be round, spotted, or striped with white bands running from end to end.
To yield fruit, watermelons need to be pollinated by honeybees – even the sterile, seedless watermelon. The vines alone can grow six to eight feet in a month, producing the first watermelon within 60 days. Mature watermelons grown in warm, sunny climates are usually ready for harvest in about three months.
Rather than being genetically modified as some people fear, seedless watermelons are sterile hybrids created by crossing male pollen – containing 22 chromosomes per cell (making it a tetraploid plant) – with a female watermelon flower having 44 chromosomes per cell. When this seeded fruit matures, the small, white seeds contain 33 chromosomes (a triploid seed), rendering it sterile and incapable of producing seeds.
Watermelon stores very well at room temperature, but should be refrigerated after cutting. An amazing fact about watermelons is that its antioxidants, flavonoids, and lycopene content can remain for as long as seven days.
Health Benefits of Watermelon
Not surprisingly, watermelon contains a hefty amount of vitamin C – 21% of the daily recommended value – that helps your immune system produce antibodies to fight disease. There’s also a 17% daily value of vitamin A, boosting eye health and preventing such diseases as macular degeneration and cataracts. The vitamin B6 content helps form red blood cells and assures your nerves will function as they should. Your body uses vitamin B6 to help break down proteins, so the more protein is consumed, the more vitamin B6 is needed. Potassium, although a relatively small amount is in watermelon, helps balance fluids in your cells. (Low potassium levels sometimes cause muscle cramps.)
One of the natural chemicals in watermelons is citrulline, which converts in the kidneys to arginine, an amino acid that works hard for heart health and maintaining a good immune system. The more this conversion takes place, the less fat is apt to accumulate in the cells, helping to keep obesity and type 2 diabetes from becoming issues. Arginine also removes ammonia and other toxicities from your body.
The antioxidant lycopene is the star player in watermelon, a compound now known to pack even more of a punch than tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and guavas. While most of these fruits get their reddish color from anthocyanin flavonoids, it’s the lycopene content that does it for watermelon.
What does this do for the body? While nearly 92% of watermelon is water, the 8% left over is rich in this compound, protecting and nourishing the heart, prostate, and skin. Lycopene discourages inflammation and may also be important for maintaining strong healthy bones, not to mention its ability to neutralize harmful free radicals. Research indicates that lycopene has greater potency when ripe. In fact, while it’s still white inside, well before maturity, the vitamin and mineral content and just about every other nutritional benefit is close to zero.
Another anti-inflammatory phytonutrient in watermelon is cucurbitacin E, or tripterpenoid, which blocks the activity of pain-, fever- and inflammation-causing enzyme cyclooxygenase. Cucurbitacin E also neutralizes nitrogen-containing molecules in the body.
The nutrients are very similar throughout the entire watermelon and not concentrated in the darker red center as some people believe. In fact, the white rind, which isn’t normally eaten, has some of the highest nutrient concentrations.
However, consume watermelon in moderation because it contains fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.
Watermelon Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies Done on Watermelon
Scientists say watermelon has ingredients that deliver beneficial effects to the body’s blood vessels and may even increase libido. Phytonutrients with the ability to relax blood vessels (and maybe even prevent erectile dysfunction) include lycopene, betacarotene, and the more unfamiliar citrulline, which converts to arginine, an amino acid. When this compound is ingested, it dramatically strengthens the heart and circulation system. This may also serve in the treatment of angina, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular ailments.1
Four men and five postmenopausal women ages 51 to 57 – hypertensive but otherwise healthy – received therapeutic doses of watermelon in a test to determine its effectiveness against pre-hypertension. Scientists found improved arterial function and lowered aortic blood pressure in all nine participants, and reported that in addition to the vascular benefits, eating watermelon may even help reduce serum glucose levels and prevent prehypertension from progressing to full-blown hypertension, a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Because of the encouraging evidence generated by the study, continued research with a much larger group of participants was determined to be warranted.2
Watermelon Fun Facts
Of course, there’s a National Watermelon Promotion Board. It reports various interesting watermelon facts, such as the world’s heaviest watermelon, grown in Arkansas in 2005 and weighing in at 268 pounds.
A hint for growers: a pale or buttery yellow spot on the bottom of a watermelon indicates ripeness.
With its vines running first through Africa 3,000 years before the Common Era, watermelons were well-sprouted throughout Asia and Europe before being brought to the Americas with the colonists. This gigantic and lusciously sweet fruit is a member of the cucumber family, and requires honeybees for pollination.
Nutritionally, while vitamin A and C content is significant, it’s the lycopene that takes the prize for what it does for the body, which includes anti-inflammation bone health and an ability to neutralize harmful free radicals.
Another phytochemical is citrulline, which converts to arginine for heart and immune system health. Arginine can prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, and removes ammonia and other toxicities from the body.
Luckily, this is one fruit you’ll have no trouble getting anyone to try as it’s the hands-down favorite among kids and adults alike.
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