By Dr. Mercola
It's peak season for cantaloupes in the US. While you can find them in most grocery stores year-round, they're best in June, July, and August, so if you spot some at your local farmer's market, don't hesitate to pick up one or two. The video above shows Wayne Pickering discussing how to select the best cantaloupes.
Cantaloupes provide an excellent source of antioxidants, like vitamin C and vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). They also contain important nutrients like potassium, folate, copper, B vitamins, vitamin K, magnesium, and fiber.
If you eat the seeds (yes, they're edible), you'll also get beneficial plant-based omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. With relatively few calories (about 54 per cup) and low fructose (2.8 grams in one-eighth of a medium melon), this is one fruit you can feel good about eating.
4 Top Reasons to Eat Cantaloupe
1. Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Research has shown women who eat at least 12 ounces of fruit per day have a lower risk of metabolic syndrome.1 The study included five fruits, cantaloupe, apples, grapes, watermelon, and bananas.
The women who ate the higher amount of fruit also had lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a measure of inflammation. It's likely that cantaloupe and other fruits have anti-inflammatory properties that help lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.2
2. Great Source of Beta-Carotene
Orange fruits and vegetables are full of beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which prevents cell damage and premature aging. A beta-carotene-rich diet may protect against prostate cancer3 and is also associated with a lower risk of colon cancer.4
Cantaloupe may contain more than 3,000 micrograms of beta carotene (per 100 grams), which is about 30 times more than fresh oranges.5 Research also shows "the bioaccessibility/bioavailability of β-carotene [beta carotene] from orange-fleshed melons was comparable to that from carrot."6
3. Increase Your Intake of Polyphenols
Polyphenols are recognized for their disease prevention and anti-aging properties. While cantaloupes contain significantly lower polyphenol concentration than other fruits like strawberries and grapes,7 people tend to eat larger serving sizes of cantaloupe.
4. A Wonderful Synergy of Disease-Fighting Nutrients
One of the best parts about eating whole foods is that you get a wealth of beneficial nutrients in each bite. This is definitely the case with cantaloupe, which contains numerous health-supporting compounds. As explained by the World's Healthiest Foods:9
"Cantaloupe contains more beta-carotene than alpha-carotene. But because it contains both of these carotenoids, it also contains both of their derivatives, including lutein in the case of alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin in the case of beta-carotene.
These carotenoid phytonutrients are joined by the flavonoid luteolin, antioxidant organic acids including ferulic and caffeic acid, and anti-inflammatory cucurbitacins, including cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin E. The nutrient diversity of cantaloupe is perhaps its most overlooked health benefit!"
Furthermore, as written in the International Research Journal of Pharmacy:10
"Cucumis melo [musk melon, or cantaloupe] has been shown to possess useful medicinal properties such as analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, free radical scavenging, anti-platelet, anti-ulcer, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, hepato-protective, diuretic, anti-diabetic, anthelmintic and anti-fertility activity.
Thus, it is evident that Muskmelon fruit possess a wide range of useful medicinal properties…"
Your 'Cantaloupe' Is Probably a Muskmelon
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a cantaloupe and a muskmelon? If you live in the US, there is none. Most "cantaloupes" sold in the US are technically muskmelons, which have an orderly "netting" on the rind with only mild ribbing or none at all (ribbing refers to the lines that run from end-to-end on a melon, similar to the lines on a basketball).11
True cantaloupes not only lack an orderly netting but also have deep grooves, and are usually grown in the Mediterranean region. The word "cantaloupe" actually comes from "Cantaloupo," a town in Italy where cantaloupe seeds from Armenia were planted during the 1400-1500s.12
Despite the fact that your cantaloupe is probably a muskmelon, the terms are so pervasively switched in the US that it is perfectly acceptable to keep calling your muskmelon a cantaloupe – and the health benefits will remain, nonetheless.
Eat Melon, Including Cantaloupe, Alone…
Last year, I interviewed Dr. Wayne Pickering, a naturopathic physician, on the principles of food combining. Improper food combining is one of the primary factors that cause gas, flatulence, heartburn, and upset stomach. What's worse, poor digestion can also contribute to malnutrition, even if you think you're eating a decent diet.
You can learn the details in our interview, but one of the most basic rules to remember concerns melons, as follows: "Eat melon alone, or leave it alone, or your stomach will moan." In short, melon does not digest well with other foods and will frequently cause problems unless you eat it alone. You can find more of his work at his site www.DefeatingBadEating.com.
So feel free to enjoy cantaloupe, but this is best done on an empty stomach (and resist the urge to combine your cantaloupe with yogurt or prosciutto). Like most fruits, I recommend you consume cantaloupe in moderation due to its fructose content. Cantaloupe is a relatively low-fructose fruit (less than three grams in one-eighth of a melon), but your grams can quickly add up if you consume fructose from other sources as well. I recommend keeping your total fructose intake below 25 grams of fructose per day if you're in good health, and below 15 grams a day if you're overweight or have high blood pressure or diabetes).
How to Pick a Ripe Cantaloupe
There are several tricks you can use to pick a ripe, flavorful cantaloupe from a bunch:13
- It should feel heavy for its size
- It should make a dull, deep sound when tapped
- The stem end should give slightly when pressed with your thumb
- The blossom end (opposite the stem end) should have a pleasant aroma (but not overpowering, which is an indicator of over-ripeness)
Ripe cantaloupes should be stored in your refrigerator's crisper bin until you're ready to eat it. It will only stay fresh for three to four days once it's ripe. If your cantaloupe is not yet ripe, leave it out on your counter for a couple of days.
Cantaloupes and Listeria: What You Should Know About Food Safety
Whole cantaloupes were responsible for 147 illnesses, 33 deaths, and one miscarriage due to listeriosis in 2011. This was the largest listeriosis outbreak in US history. Cantaloupes have also been involved in salmonella outbreaks and have actually been responsible for at least 36 food-borne contaminant outbreaks since 1990.14 Part of what makes cantaloupes more prone to contamination is their rough outer skin, which can trap bacteria that can penetrate to its inner flesh. Bacteria can also continue to grow on cantaloupes after they're harvested (unlike on most other fruits and vegetables), and, because they sit right on the ground in the field, they may be especially prone to contaminants in irrigation water.
It may help to get cantaloupes from a small farmer as opposed to a mega-farm, and I also recommend purchasing organic cantaloupes, not only due to contamination concerns but also due to pesticides. Cantaloupes often are contaminated by five of the longest-lasting chemicals. Dieldrin, a very toxic and carcinogenic insecticide, may still get taken up through the cantaloupe's roots even though it was banned in 1974. It's also important to take some extra precautions when cutting your melon:
- Avoid cantaloupes that are bruised or damaged
- Refrigerate cut cantaloupe within two hours
- Wash your cantaloupe in water using a gentle scrub brush
- Cut off the stem end, which research suggests may be most prone to bacterial contamination15
- Wash all cutting boards, knives, and utensils thoroughly
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