Have You Added Watermelon to Your Summer Health Plan Yet?

Are you celebrating the 4th of July today? Then consider including watermelon in your festivities. Watermelon is a nutritious fruit that is friendly to both calories and carb counters!

When I work as a diabetes educator, I occasionally hear from patients that watermelon makes their blood glucose values go sky high. The first thing I think to myself is that their portions are just too large. And sure enough, when I ask these folks how much watermelon they eat, they generally do not know - they are eating large wedges or "personal size" melons.

Calories & Carbs

Most fruits contain about 60 calories and 15 grams of total carbs per 1/2 cup serving (or whole fruit the size of a tennis ball). For those of you who count carb servings, that is only one carb choice. For berries and melon, the serving size is double that - 1 cup for about the same amount of calories and carbs. If you compare melon to other fruits by weight (especially tropical fruits or bananas), melons are far lower in both carbs and calories. For example, 1 cup of watermelon balls weighs 154 grams and provides only 46 calories and 12 grams of total carbs. The same weight of banana provides nearly triple the calories (137 calories) and just over double the total carbs (35 grams). Wow!

Water

Watermelon is incredibly refreshing - likely due to its high water content. By weight, watermelon is 92% water; apple with skin is 85% water, whereas banana is only 75% water.

Other Nutrients

Watermelon is surprisingly high in Vitamin C (21%DV) and Vitamin A (18%DV). It is also a good source of lycopene, the antioxidant with reputed cancer and heart health benefits. Although the best source of lycopene is cooked tomato products, other pink and red fruits and veggies also contain a fair amount of lycopene, including watermelon, apricots, guava, papaya, and pink grapefruit.

What about the Glycemic Index?

The Glycemic Index (GI) for watermelon is high (72-80), as estimated by the University of Sydney. However, its Glycemic Load (GL) is quite low - only 4-5. GL accounts for both the GI and the quantity of carbs (via portion size) consumed. See the University of Sydney's website for more information about GI and GL. If you have diabetes, in addition to counting total carbs, you can consider GL values of foods to further help you control the rise of blood glucose after meals or snacks.

Watermelon Recipes

Consuming fresh watermelon in portion-controlled servings is the easiest way to minimize calories and carbs while still getting a refreshing, seasonal treat. Consider cutting the watermelon into pieces or balls and either serve yourself using a measuring cup or weigh your portions (without the rind). If you want to dress it up, consider adding fresh berries and mint leaves.

If you are going to have a sweetened mixed drink for the holiday, then at least consider using fresh whipped watermelon pulp as your fruit base - you'll limit calories and carbs while still getting a lot of flavor. Just remember that alcohol is very high in calories - one shot (1.5 fl oz) of 80 proof distilled spirits contains the equivalent of 14 grams of pure alcohol. Since alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, alcoholic drink calories start at 98 calories per shot and go up with other drink components

If you are looking for creative yet healthful ways to serve and use watermelon in both savory and sweet recipes, then check out Cooking Light and Eating Well.

Enjoy your holiday!

Updated: June 18, 2019

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Foods & Recipes/Fruit & Vegetables Holidays / Parties/July 4th / Independence Day

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