Watermelon, botanically known as Citrullus lanatus is native to the Kalahari desert of Africa, but it is also cultivated in other tropical regions of the world including Asia. The fruit is a rich source of β-carotene, B vitamins, minerals including, potassium and magnesium, and antioxidants, particularly ascorbic acid, citruline and lycopene. The lycopene in watermelon is what gives the fruit its characteristic red colour, and is the antioxidant that makes watermelon an underestimated superfood.
Tomatoes were thought to be the best source of lycopene, but new evidence suggest that watermelons contain up to 40% higher levels of the antioxidant. Interestingly, the lycopene in watermelon is readily available to be absorbed by the body once eaten, but the lycopene in tomatoes is only readily available from cooked or heat-treated tomatoes.
The cells within each organ in the body produce a lot of free radicals while carrying out their normal functions. However, excessive production of these free radicals can deteriorate the body’s immune system that can lead to various longterm illnesses. The lycopene contained within watermelons can potentially prevent a wide variety of these conditions.
- Hypercholesterolaemia/Cardiovascular disease: Lycopene can reduce the formation of cholesterol, and increase the removal of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol from the body. It can reduce the formation of fat compounds that increase the risk of developing hypercholeserolaemia. It also increases the amounts of beneficial antioxidants like glutathione, which help to scavenge (mop up) free radicals that react with fat to promote cholesterol build-up. Eating high amounts of lycopene-containing foods such as watermelon can reduce the risk of heart attacks, stroke and atherosclerosis .
- Osteoporosis: Lycopene acts as an antioxidant to reduce bone breakdown in postmenopausal women, and may therefore be beneficial in reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
- Cancer: Lycopene blocks various stages of breast and endometrial cancer development, such preventing mutation in genes and preventing the spread of existing cancer cells into neighbouring tissues or organs. It can also activate other antioxidants that prevent cancers from forming (Butt et al. 2013).
- Diabetes: The high content of vitamin A, B6, C, magnesium and potassium help to reduce the risk of metabolic disorders. Lycopene has the potential to regulate glucose levels, by decreasing body glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity to prevent the onset of type II diabetes.
- Eye disease: Lycopene can reduce the risk of developing eye diseases such macular degeneration. Individuals with low lycopene levels are at an increased risk of developing eye diseases.
Watermelon provides only 30 kcal per 100g, and it is completely cholesterol-free. With such amazing benefits, watermelons should be a regular component of your diet.