Nothing quite conjures up a summer day than a juicy slice of watermelon. While it may be a classic fruit during warm weather, you can find watermelon year-round at your grocery store — and even bottled as watermelon juice. And that's a great thing because that dribble-down-your-chin goodness comes with some big health benefits.
Why Is Watermelon So Good For You?
Watermelon Is Low in Calories
Watermelon isn't calorie-dense yet is high in nutrients, deeming it a perfect snack or tasty addition to recipes.
- 46 calories
- 0.2 grams of fat
- 11.6 grams of carbs (including 0.6 grams of fiber and 9.5 grams of sugar)
- 1 gram of protein
- 1.5 milligrams of sodium
- 0 milligrams of cholesterol
One cup of watermelon also delivers:
- Vitamin A: 5 percent of your recommended daily value (DV)
- Vitamin C: 14 percent DV
- Potassium: 4 percent DV
- Magnesium: 4 percent DV
- Calcium: 1 percent DV
You might notice that watermelon is higher in sugar — but that sugar is naturally occurring. "As a dietitian, I encourage my clients to not fear the sugar in fruit," Mia Syn, RDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "While we should limit added sugar, [watermelon] is a natural source that also provides a slew of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants," she says.
Watermelon Is Packed With Antioxidants
It's all in the bold, red-pink hue: Watermelon is packed with plant chemicals like lycopene, vitamin C and beta-carotene, notes a March 2019 review in the International Journal of Food Properties. Each offers unique health properties, but overall, they act as potent antioxidants.
Dietary antioxidants help your body sop up damaging free radicals and counteract the inflammation that's at the root of chronic health concerns like heart disease and diabetes. In fact, watermelon is more antioxidant-rich than tomatoes, strawberries and guava, the March 2019 study found.
It Keeps You Hydrated
You're right to crave it on a hot day: "What I love about watermelon is that it is incredibly hydrating. It's made up of about 91 percent water," says Syn. And yes, that does count toward your water quota for the day. According to the Institute of Medicine, about 20 percent of your daily water intake can come from food.
Watermelon May Boost Exercise Performance
Just consider watermelon a natural sports drink. In addition to containing electrolytes potassium and magnesium, which are necessary for proper hydration and muscle function, watermelon also offers L-citrulline.
Consuming this amino acid regularly has been shown to increase the production of nitric oxide, which can boost blood flow and thus ferry more blood to muscles during endurance workouts, according to a January 2017 study in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. Before a long run, try snacking on watermelon chunks or sip on watermelon juice to hydrate pre-workout. (Note that watermelon does not contain a significant amount of sodium, which is typically present in sports drinks, so you'll have to get a hit sodium elsewhere.)
Watermelon Is Linked to Heart Health
The juicy fruit is also a heart-smart snack. In a September 2017 meta-analysis of 14 studies, lycopene intake was associated with a 17 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke, per research published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.
Another study backed up those findings. In a September 2017 meta-analysis of 28 studies, people who had the highest blood levels of lycopene were observed to have a 26 percent lower risk of stroke, 14 percent lower risk of heart disease, and, overall, a 37 percent lower risk of death from these diseases, per research in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
Lycopene is linked to preventing blood clots, making arteries more flexible so that blood can flow freely, and improving blood vessel function, among other heart-happy benefits, according to a May 2018 study in Frontiers in Pharmacology.
What's more, watermelon has been linked to lowering blood pressure thanks to the L-citrulline, the January 2017 study in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care found.
Watermelon Is Tied to a Lower Risk of Some Cancers
As an antioxidant, lycopene in watermelon may help your body fend off a variety of diseases. However, research shows it's particularly adept at guarding against one in particular: prostate cancer, which is the most common cancer in American men second to skin cancer, per the American Cancer Society.
In a meta-analysis of 42 studies, which included nearly 700,000 men, high dietary intake and blood levels of lycopene were associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer, per December 2017 research in Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases.
Recipes to Get More Watermelon in Your Diet
Watermelon is a more versatile food than you may think. "I recommend blending it into smoothies or homemade gazpacho, freezing wedges for a homemade popsicle, dusting slices with lime salt and chile or swapping it for tomato slices in a caprese," says Syn. If you're looking to get creative in the kitchen, try these four delicious recipes to get started:
- Watermelon Fruit Pizza: Watermelon slices stand in for the crust and are then topped with a generous dollop of vanilla yogurt and assorted berries for a refreshing dessert treat.
- Watermelon and Cucumber Salad With Feta and Mint: Mint and feta pair perfectly with watermelon, adding a depth of flavor to the fruit. This salad combines all three ingredients for a delicious side.
- Recovery Smoothie: Tired, achy muscles have met their match in this bright smoothie made by whirling watermelon, honey, mint and plain Greek yogurt together.
- Roasted Watermelon Pork Ribs: The natural sweetness of watermelon complements many proteins. In this case, pureed watermelon is reduced down into a thick sauce that's cooked with the ribs for finger-licking perfection.
Allergies, Interactions and Warnings
Good news: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not list watermelon as a potential food-drug interaction for common medications.
"Because fruits like watermelon are a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, it's recommended to all healthy individuals to consume," Syn says.
Alternatives to Watermelon
If you don't like watermelon, you might find that lycopene-rich tomatoes are similarly juicy and can easily substitute for watermelon in dishes like salads. But if it's a sweet fruit you're after, swap watermelon for any other type of melon, like cantaloupe or honeydew, or even strawberries and guava, which also contain heart-healthy lycopene.
And for the perfect sub, try papaya. (If you can't find it fresh, many grocers offer cubed papaya in the refrigerated section.) The sweetness of the fruit matches watermelon — and 2016 research in Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia shows that the tropical treat offers some lycopene, too.
- US Department of Agriculture: “Watermelon, Raw”
- Institute of Medicine: “Dietary Reference Intakes: Electrolytes and Water.”
- International Journal of Food Properties: “Watermelon as a potential fruit snack.”
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: “Influence of L:-citrulline And Watermelon Supplementation on Vascular Function and Exercise Performance”
- Molecular Nutrition & Food Research: “Lycopene and Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: a Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies”
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “Lycopene And Tomato and Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Epidemiological Evidence”
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: “Lycopene and Vascular Health”
- Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases. “Increased Dietary and Circulating Lycopene Are Associated With Reduced Prostate Cancer Risk: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
- US Food and Drug Administration: "Avoid Food-Drug Interactions"
- Agriculture and Agricultural Science Procedia: “Analyzing Lycopene Content in Fruits”
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Importance of Staying Hydrated"