Summer’s favorite fruit packs a punch

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Certified Health Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.

By Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach

As the days get longer and the sun grows warmer, we cannot help but anticipate the arrival of summer.  Spring is a tease, often presenting farmers with just enough optimal growing days to enable grocers to begin putting new choices of produce on their shelves. I can even report a watermelon sighting or two.

While juicy slices of watermelon seem to define summer backyard gatherings (along with the requisite seed-spitting contests, of course!), the exquisite laboratory of our human body is conjuring up something quite different. It has recently come to light that watermelon juice is more than just what dribbles down our chins when we take a bite of fruit. Indeed, this pink sweetness is loaded with electrolytes and amino acids. Since these are two critical components that need to be replaced upon heavy exertion and profuse sweating, watermelon juice can be a perfect post-workout recovery drink when mixed with whey protein powder. In addition, the juice of our favorite summer fruit is loaded with anti-inflammatories and antioxidants.

One such antioxidant, lycopene, is the element responsible for the beautiful color of watermelon pulp. This substance has been shown to protect the cardiovascular system from potentially damaging effects of free radicals. Some studies have demonstrated that individuals who consume greater amounts of foods rich in lycopene tend to present with a lower incidence of heart disease.

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The good news doesn’t stop there. With summer comes the goal of a deep rich tan; lycopene may also offer some protection to our skin. A refreshing serving or two of watermelon juice enjoyed at the beach might just stave off some of the UV damage that can lead to premature aging, wrinkles and skin cancer.  

The amino acid citrulline is likewise found in particularly high amounts in watermelon juice. The human body easily converts citrulline into another important amino acid known as arginine. This substance is vital for improving blood flow and relaxing the blood vessels. Research published in the August 2013 issue of Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicated that watermelon juice possesses the potential to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and aid in heart rate recovery in athletes. 

Scientists also looked at the protective properties of watermelon juice on other vital organs, such as the liver. Results published in the September 2011 issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology demonstrated that the consumption of watermelon juice diminished the liver damage often resulting from exposure to carbon tetrachloride, a highly toxic chemical found in many industrial products. This ubiquitous compound is known to damage the kidneys, liver and brain. The study concluded there is adequate solid evidence to endorse the ingestion of watermelon juice as a delicious means of helping to combat liver damage from carbon tetrachloride. 

If you notice yourself making more frequent trips to the bathroom while sipping your pink protective beverage, be reassured that this is a good thing!  Watermelon juice has a highly cleansing effect on the kidneys by helping to flush out ammonia and uric acid. Uric acid is very often the culprit in the development of kidney stones. Interestingly enough, watermelon seeds can enhance this effect on the kidneys, so be sure to bypass the GMO seedless varieties at the grocery and purchase a good old -fashioned watermelon with the seeds.  Remember, you’ll need them for the distance-spitting contests.

It can be fun to take out the blender and experiment with different ways of enjoying healthy watermelon juice in smoothies. For the little ones, who love an icy popsicle on a hot day, prepare your own by pouring watermelon juice in popsicle molds and freezing for a few hours. You might even save some money when the jingle of the ice cream truck is heard in the neighborhood!