Chunks of watermelon squares arranged in a checkerboard pattern

Some love plump peaches. Others wait all year for cherry season. And you can’t deny the appeal of fresh berries. But for many people, watermelon is the fruit that epitomizes summer. It’s a staple at picnics and backyard barbecues, and Americans eat almost 16 pounds of it per person per year. The fact that it’s sweet, refreshing, and inexpensive compared with other summer fruits is probably what makes it popular. But watermelon is good for you, perhaps more than you realize.

Watermelon Nutrition

“As with all fruits and vegetables, watermelon is very nutritious, and it’s quite delicious,” says Lisa Sasson, MS, RD, clinical professor of nutrition at New York University. “As its name implies, it’s mostly water [92 percent] and is a great way to hydrate yourself in the warmer weather.” You can even use it as a post-workout snack to replenish fluids lost during exercise, she says.

Watermelon supplies a number of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, all for just 46 calories per cup.

More On Healthy Eating

However, the nutrient watermelon is most known for isn’t a vitamin or a mineral, Sasson says, but a phytonutrient called lycopene—a powerful antioxidant that gives the fruit’s flesh its characteristic pink hue. “Like all phytonutrients, lycopene appears to protect against some cancers, such as prostate cancer and breast cancer,” Sasson says. “It may also help protect against heart disease.”

In fact, watermelon is unique in that it’s one of the few foods that are packed with this pigment. Tomatoes, pink and red grapefruit, and guava are among the other lycopene-rich foods. According to the Department of Agriculture, watermelon has an average of about 40 percent more lycopene than raw tomatoes (although cooked tomato products are the best source). The redder and sweeter the flesh, the more nutritious the melon, according to the Department of Agriculture.  

Beyond lycopene, USDA researchers recently reported identifying 1,500 phytonutrients in watermelon. It is also uniquely rich in a compound called L-citrulline, which can help relax blood vessels, thereby improving blood flow. 

How to Pick and Prep a Watermelon

When shopping for whole melons, the USDA recommends keeping your eye out for a one that has a smooth surface, a slightly dull rind, and filled in and rounded ends, with a cream-colored underside.

And as with all produce, be careful to wash your watermelon before slicing into it, because the outside can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, Sasson says. If bacteria is present, the knife can carry it from the rind to the flesh as you slice. Always be sure to use a clean knife so that you don’t inadvertently transfer bacteria from other foods to the melon.

From a food safety perspective, buying a whole melon is better than buying a container of precut watermelon. It may be a time saver, but precut melon (not just watermelon but other melons as well) have been linked to several foodborne illness outbreaks. In commercial facilities, many fruits and vegetables are processed in one place, creating opportunities for cross-contamination.

Healthy Ways to Eat Watermelon

Eat watermelon fresh off the rind, mix it into a cold tomato-watermelon gazpacho, or crush it into juice. You can also spice it up with salt, pepper, lime, or chili as a snack or to add to a salad. Try combining it with peaches, mint, a little feta cheese, and farro for a summery whole-grain dish.

Watermelon seeds and rind are typically discarded, but they're edible, and finding ways to use them cuts down on food waste and is good for the environment. Like other seeds, watermelon seeds are rich in healthy fats and protein, plus they’re a decent source of iron, magnesium, and zinc. Toast them and add to salads or in place of pumpkin or sunflower seeds in recipes. Watermelon rind can be used in a variety of ways. Recipes from the Watermelon Board suggest grating it and using it in place of cabbage in a coleslaw, roasting it and topping with Parmesan, or slicing and including it in a stir-fry to add some crunch. 

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