Watermelon screams summer, but many people worry the sugar in watermelon might negate its health benefits. As a dietitian, this concerns me since one of the healthy lifestyle changes most people could make is to eat more fruit! So just how healthy is watermelon? Here are six surprising benefits of watermelon, plus why you don’t have to worry about the sugar in watermelon.
Watermelon has no added sugar
Let’s clear this up right away! When tracking your sugar intake, you don’t need to be concerned about the small amount of natural sugar in watermelon (or other fruits). Watermelon has no added sugar. When you’re trying to stay within the healthy added sugar ranges, you need to monitor the type of sugar that manufacturers add to your food. Added sugars are found in more than 70% of packaged foods. Beyond that, keep an eye on the sugar that you may be adding to cereal, coffee, tea, and so on. However, the natural sugar in fruit is in a different category so you don’t need to worry about it. (If you’re worried about your added sugar intake, here’s the best way to detox from added sugar.)
Plus, the reality is that watermelon is lower in sugar than several other fruits. Again, you don’t need to be concerned about the sugar from fruit, but for comparison’s sake, watermelon contains about 10 grams of natural sugar per cup. A cup of blueberries has 15 grams of natural sugar. I bet this surprised you!
Watermelon might boost your mood
Thanks to its high water content, watermelon contributes to your hydration status, which can impact your mood. Research suggests that you may be more likely to experience headaches, fatigue, and anxiety when you aren’t sufficiently hydrated. Generally, insufficient fluid intake is linked to an overall increase in negative emotions. On the other hand, proper hydration can help keep you energized and focused, and it promotes better well-being. Watermelon is about 90% water, and each cup supplies about five ounces of H20.
On top of that, a growing body of research suggests that eating fruits and vegetables, including watermelon and others, can lead to positive well-being, with increases in mood states, like flourishing, optimism, creativity, curiosity, and improvements in life satisfaction. Studies suggest that people who eat fruits and veggies often have better mental health. A 2019 study among more than 45,000 people found that well-being fluctuates in relation to fruit and vegetable intake, so on the days you eat more, you may have more positive feelings compared to the days you eat less or skip these foods.
Watermelon might help you recover from a workout.
Since watermelon is mainly water, it contributes to replenishing the fluid that you lose through sweat when you exercise. Plus, watermelon, and particularly 100% watermelon juice, contains a compound called l-citrulline, which has been shown to reduce muscle soreness after exercising. So the next time you’re participating in a tough workout or exercising outdoors in the summer, have some watermelon with your post-workout snack or serve it at your kids’ sporting events.
Watermelon helps support healthy blood pressure levels
The l-citrulline in watermelon helps increase nitric oxide production, which relaxes the lining of your blood vessels. This helps them widen and promotes better blood flow, which is tied to better blood pressure levels.
Watermelon helps defend against wrinkles and skin aging
Among fresh foods, watermelon is one of the best sources of the antioxidant, lycopene. Antioxidants, like lycopene, counter the damaging effects of free radical compounds that can promote skin aging. When eaten daily, lycopene-rich foods may protect you from sun damage--a known skin-wrecker. Plus, watermelon is a good source of vitamin C, which is needed to to promote collagen production. Collagen is the support structure for your skin, and together with vitamin C, it helps keep you looking younger with firmer, less wrinkly skin. (Curious about collagen? Here’s my Q&A on the benefits of collagen.)
Watermelon is a healthy snack
Watermelon is naturally sweet, and when eaten instead of other sweets, such as cookies, it may help you feel full and reduce the desire to eat or overeat. Eating fruit compared to any processed, refined carbohydrate snack (including chips and other sweets) is a strategy that can promote satiety and help you maintain or lose weight. In the watermelon vs cookies study, participants were asked to eat either two cups of watermelon each day or the same amount of calories from cookies. This dietary intervention lasted four weeks and then the participants in each group completed the other diet, so everyone tried either the watermelon snack or the cookie snack for about a month. (Check out my recommendations for healthy travel snacks and healthy sweet snacks.)
When eating watermelon, people filled up better and lost weight. (Read more of my expert-backed weight loss tips.) They also had better blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and they improved their antioxidant status. On the other hand, after eating cookies, the same people had higher blood pressure levels and worse cholesterol levels. As far as healthy snacks go, watermelon certainly fits the bill!
The bottom line: About a quarter of Americans don’t eat any fruit, and a full 80% don’t meet the recommended targets. That means they’re missing out on the wonderful nutrients these foods provide, and therefore, they don’t get some of the amazing health benefits of watermelon and other fruits. Watermelon is a favorite fruit for many people, and there’s no reason to curtail your consumption for fear that it’s high in sugar. In fact, one of the healthy lifestyle changes you could make is to include watermelon and other fruits in your diet every day!
Here are some wonderful ways to enjoy watermelon:
In a watermelon coconut slushie by She Wears Many Hats
In a watermelon feta salad by California Walnuts
With some chili lime seasoning by the Kitchn
With seasonal tomatoes in a watermelon tomato salad by Sam Sifton of the New York Times
Dunked in a chocolate coating chocolate covered watermelon by Delish