THIS summer favorite may help discourage heart disease, research suggests

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watermelon-compound(NaturalHealth365)  With over 38 million Americans currently suffering from type 2 diabetes, experts report that this chronic health problem is verging on epidemic status.  The American Heart Association (AHA) has warned that diabetes is a “major risk factor” for heart disease, resulting in an increased risk of potentially life-threatening heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke.  (Since heart disease is now the number one cause of death for adults in the United States, this ominous connection should not be ignored).

While there is no one “magic bullet” against heart disease and diabetes, proper nutrition can play an important role in prevention and management.  And, research shows that compounds found in everyday foods – such as watermelon – can benefit us in unexpected ways.  In fact, a 2023 review published in Diabetes Research in Clinical Practice revealed the surprising ability of watermelon to support heart health.

Naturally, to avoid unwanted chemicals, we encourage you to buy organic watermelon.  So, with summer on the horizon, there isn’t a better time to explore the virtues of naturally sweet, delectable, juicy watermelon?

Could watermelon be the key to better heart health?

To evaluate the effects of watermelon, the researchers analyzed data from a series of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).  These rigorously conducted studies are considered the “gold standard” of medical research.

The authors reported that watermelon appeared to significantly decrease systolic blood pressure.  (The systolic reading, which is designated by the top number in a blood pressure reading, measures the force against arterial walls when the heart beats.)  Watermelon also helped to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol and improve insulin resistance, thereby potentially protecting against atherosclerosis, heart disease, and obesity.

Describing the findings as “promising,” the authors called for more research to further explore the benefits of eating watermelon.  Incidentally, the new review supported earlier research on the heart-healthy properties of watermelon.  A 2021 review published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports likewise credited watermelon with enhancing cardiovascular and metabolic health by reducing blood pressure and decreasing insulin resistance.

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Citrulline is watermelon’s “secret weapon” against heart disease

Watermelon’s most valuable contribution to heart health is likely its high content of the amino acid citrulline.  In fact, at 365 mg a cup, watermelon is the best source of citrulline on the planet.  Scientists have learned that citrulline is converted to arginine – vital for the synthesis of nitric oxide – in the body.  Nitric oxide relaxes and dilates blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure and promote healthy circulation – making it an all-around gift to heart health.  In addition, citrulline has antioxidant effects, allowing it to scavenge harmful free radicals that can cause oxidative damage to the heart.

While citrulline may be watermelon’s “superstar” antioxidant compound, it is not the only one.  Watermelon is also rich in lycopene, the plant pigment responsible for its brilliant pinkish-red color.  Lycopene is needed to form beta carotene, another antioxidant compound, which in turn is converted in the body to vitamin A – a fat-soluble nutrient needed for healthy immune function and maintenance of lungs, heart, and eyes.

Watermelon delivers micronutrients and hydration at a low caloric cost

A 100-gram serving of fresh raw watermelon (about two-thirds of a cup) contains a negligible 30 calories, mostly in the form of simple sugars such as fructose, glucose, and sucrose.  While watermelon doesn’t offer much in the way of protein, fat, or fiber, it does contribute a modest amount of immune system-boosting vitamin C, vital for the production of collagen needed to ensure healthy skin and arteries.

Like other fruits and vegetables, watermelon also contains the mineral potassium – which lowers blood pressure – and vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid.  Sometimes called the “beauty vitamin,” B5 is believed to promote healthy skin, hair, and nails.  Because this aptly-named melon is over 90 percent water, watermelon can help you stay hydrated on hot summer days.

Attention, exercise buffs: Watermelon is a superb post-workout recovery food

Eating watermelon may even help you take your workouts to the next level.  Many bodybuilders, athletes, and coaches believe that citrulline can promote athletic performance and decrease the exercise-induced muscle soreness that can result from rigorous workouts.  There is even some research supporting this belief.

A placebo-controlled study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that 500 ml of citrulline-rich watermelon juice helped to reduce post-workout muscle soreness in athletes 24 hours later.  The impressed researchers concluded that citrulline is an “excellent candidate to reduce muscle soreness.”  Incidentally, citrulline also appears to have a detoxifying effect, helping the body neutralize and flush out harmful compounds such as ammonia.  It’s safe to say that watermelon is one of the wisest choices you could make for an after-workout snack.

Because watermelon is high in fructose, it is considered a high-FODMAP food.  People who are sensitive to FODMAPs (a group of fermentable short-chain carbohydrates) may experience bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort.  If you have been diagnosed with IBS or IBD, watermelon may not be the best food for you.  Your holistic doctor or a health coach can advise you about including watermelon in your diet.

But, generally speaking, the value of this fruit seems clear.  Whether served up in a smoothie, mixed into a fruit salad, blended into a “mocktail” or enjoyed out of hand in an old-fashioned slice, watermelon is an ideal food for supporting the health of your heart.

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