Enjoy Watermelon for Vascular Health

May 10, 2011

Watermelons can do more that just quench your thirst, find out what you need to know here

Elevated blood pressure (or hypertension) is unfortunately common for many Americans, affecting approximately one in three adults according to the CDC. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease; and in 2010 cost the US approximately 76 billion dollars in health care services, medications, and missed days of work. Fortunately most cases of hypertension are preventable through nutrition or other lifestyle factors; the major risk factors include: obesity, increased sodium intake, diabetes, smoking and stress. Most with high blood pressure take statins and other medications to control their levels and the CDC reports that the control rate was a mere 46.6 percent among all hypertensive patients. Could there be something in the supermarket that can aid those with their cardiovascular system in mind?

A small study recently published in the American Journal of Hypertension, studied the effects of L-citrulline extracted from watermelon on blood pressure, and found that just six weeks of consumption normalized blood pressure in adults who previously had elevated blood pressure. The study was conducted by food scientists at Florida State University, who comment that “the findings suggest that this ‘functional food’ has a vasodilatory effect, and one that may prevent pre-hypertension from progressing to full blown hypertension, a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.” Watermelon is the richest known edible source of the amino acid L-citrulline, which has been found to regulate healthy blood pressure.

Helping regulate blood pressure is just one of the many benefits of this juicy favorite. Watermelons are nearly 92 percent water and are excellent sources of several vitamins including, vitamin A, an antioxidant which helps prevent macular degeneration and thus maintain eye health; vitamin C, which strengthens the immune system; and vitamin B6, which helps brain function and helps convert protein to energy. And we can’t forget potassium and magnesium which help muscle and nerve function and help maintain the body's proper electrolyte balance.

Watermelon also has the highest concentration of lycopene of any fresh fruit or vegetable (think orange and red produce), a powerful antioxidant that improves cardiovascular function and is said to prevent several types of cancer. According to a recent USDA study, the quantity of carotenoids from watermelon, particularly lycopene and beta-carotene, increases if stored at room temperature.

How to shop for watermelon? Look for melons that have a smooth skin, and are heavy for their size. Another quick tip is to look for an area on the rind that is yellowish or different from the rest. This dull spot is the place that was resting on the ground during ripening, and can indicate a good ripe fruit.

Watermelon is extremely versatile and can be used in fruit salads, beverages, savory salads and even cold soups.

For more on high blood pressure visit the CDC