Watermelon: It's not just for summer picnics any more.
University of Kentucky researchers have been studying the fruit's juice, and results show that it might be good for keeping your weight down and your heart strong.
Sibu Saha, lead investigator on UK's project, cautions that consumers should not storm grocery stores and start juicing watermelons but should continue to eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables.
UK's research showed that lab mice with diet-induced high cholesterol fed a beverage of watermelon juice versus those fed with water showed a decrease in fat mass, plaque formation and cholesterol level. They also had fewer atherosclerosic lesions — in which the artery wall thickens because of fatty materials such as cholesterol.
A 2010 study at Florida State University that showed watermelon-associated improvement in prehypertensive patients gave UK researchers some ideas for how such a melon study might be structured, Saha said. He got the idea to research watermelon while visiting Indiana and seeing an unharvested crop of watermelon, which remained in the field because the melons cost too much to gather and transport.
Someone then mentioned to him that the melons were good for lowering blood pressure.
Watermelon has been targeted for study because it is full of citrulline, an amino acid. Natural health sources on the Web have praised the green seedy melons for everything from "a natural Viagra" to a way to add lean muscle.
While the UK study results are encouraging, "I am a very old-fashioned researcher. I would not recommend anything on the basis of this study," Saha said.
"Watermelon is good ... and beneficial to health," Saha said. "But we're not at a point to say, 'If you have this disease, eat this.'"
UK will expand its research into the health benefits of melons, Saha said. Next up is likely "bitter melon," a fruit that grows in Asia, South America, East Africa and the Caribbean. It is used as food and medicine to treat diabetes, cancer, viral infections and immune disorders.