Watermelons are Rich in Antioxidants
Watermelons are extremely low in calories, containing more than 90% water, but their vitamin and antioxidant content is nothing short of amazing!
They are an excellent source of vitamin C and A, especially because of its high levels of beta-carotene. Red watermelons are also a very important source of lycopene (the same antioxidant found in tomatoes).
Antioxidants have oxygen-quenching properties that protect our cells' DNA from damage and harmful mutations: in fact, our body produces several billion free radicals per minute, as a result of our normal biological pathways of energy production. These free radicals tend to oxidize DNA and cause mutations, that accumulating in time cause both premature aging and several diseases such as atherosclerosis (when they oxidize LDL) and cancer.
Several studies have been carried out on the effects of high levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene, and all of them agree that high nutritional intake of these nutrients reduces the risk of heart disease, the symptoms of asthma and risks of developing several cancers, such as colon cancer. Even inflammation-related diseases such as ostearthritis and rheumatoid arthritis benefit from antioxidants!
Talking of quantities, a cup of watermelon provides 24.3% of the daily recommended value for vitamin C, and 11.1% of the DV for vitamin A equivalants (in beta-carotene).
Lycopene in Watermelons
Lycopene is a powerful carotenoid antioxidant, known for being abundant in red and orange fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes and mangoes. Several studies have shown it to have greater bioavailability when eaten from cooked tomato sauces (even higher than raw tomatoes), and especially when mixed with vegetable fats such as olive oil, which may account in part for the success of the mediterranean diet.
Lycopene, which is also abundant in watermelons, has been studied in several trials on humans (this is a peculiarity, since nutrients are generally studied on animals), so we have ample evidence of its health benefits, in particular its protective effect against a growing list of cancers, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung carcinoma and colorectal carcinoma.
A very interesting study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition involved several patients with colorectal adenomas, a benign tumor that is often a precursor of colorectal cancer.
In these patients, blood levels of lycopene were 35% lower compared to subjects with no adenomas (beta-carotene also was be 25.5% lower, but according to researchers this difference was not significant). In their final (multiple logistic regression) analysis, only low levels of plasma lycopene (lower than 70 microgram per liter) and smoking significantly increased the likelihood of colorectal adenomas by, respectively, 230% and 302%.
Lycopene and Green Tea
A case-control study, published by the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 130 prostate cancer patients and 274 hospital controls.
Subjects were given different quantities of green tea and lycopene-rich foods, such as watermelons and tomatoes.
The study concluded that men drinking the most green tea had an 86% reduction in the risk of prostate cancer, compared to those drinking the least.
Similarly, men who ate the most lycopene-rich foods had an 82% reduction in the relative risk of developing prostate cancer.
B Vitamins in Watermelons
Another important benefit of eating watermelons is their high content in vitamins of the B family, which are necessary for efficient energy production. Watermelons are a particularly good source of vitamin B1, B6 and several trace minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
Protection from Macular Degeneration
The Archives of Ophtalmology have published a study involving 110,000 subjects of both sexes and evaluated the effects of consuming fruits, vegetables, antioxidant vitamins such as A,C and E and carotenoids on the risk of developing Age-Related Macular Degeneration.
Macular Degeneration is the primary cause of sight loss in adults, and the study found that by eating at least 1.5 servings of fruits daily, one can reduce the risk of developing the disease by 36%.
Risk reduction was not directly linked to consumption of vegetables, antioxidants and vitamins, but to the consumption of whole fruits: the optimal level, according to the study, is three servings a day, which can be easily reached by eating papaya cubes with your morning cereal or dressing up salads with other fruits.