Like other melons, cantaloupes have a high water content that can help fend off dehydration, but being packed with H2O doesn't mean that they're short on other nutritional benefits.
"This melon is a great choice when it comes to nutrients per calorie," said Heather Mangieri, a Pittsburgh-based registered dietitian and nutritionist, author and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "One cup of cantaloupe contains only about 55 calories (due to its high water content) but offers over 100 percent of your daily needs for vitamin A, over 50 percent of the daily needs for vitamin C, 1.5 grams of fiber and is a good source of potassium."
Here are the nutrition facts for cantaloupes, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:
*Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
|Amt per Serving||%DV*||Amt per Serving||%DV*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%||Total Carbohydrate 14g||5%|
|Cholesterol 0mg||0%||Dietary Fiber 1g||6%|
|Sodium 26mg||1%||Sugars 13g|
A 2006 French study in the Journal of Nutrition found that cantaloupe ranked lowest of fruits in terms of polyphenol content. Polyphenols are a type of powerful phytonutrient with antioxidant capabilities. However, cantaloupe contributed significantly to the total amount of polyphenols consumed in participants' daily diets. This was due to the relatively large average serving sizes of cantaloupes; because of the water content you can eat a lot of it, consume relatively few calories and end up getting more nutrients than from a smaller serving of a more nutritionally-dense fruit, like kiwis.
Cantaloupes are in the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family, which includes watermelon, honeydew and casaba melons, as well as pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. According to the University of Illinois Extension, the cantaloupe is a variety of muskmelon. North American cantaloupes (Cucumis melo reticulatus) are known for their uniform "netting" over the rind; European cantaloupes (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) have greener skin, little netting, deep grooves and would surprise most Americans by being called cantaloupes.
There are many different types of muskmelons with a variety of shapes, sizes, color and flavor. Muskmelons are so named for the rich fragrance of ripe fruit. "Musk" comes from a Persian word for "perfume." Cantaloupes and other muskmelons originated in Persia. The word "cantaloupe" derives from Cantalupo, an Italian town near Vatican City, where seeds brought from Armenia were planted in the papal gardens during the Renaissance.
Picking a ripe one
Picking a fresh cantaloupe can be tricky because you can't see the inside of the fruit, but according to Mangieri, freshness is critical for a sweet flavor. Pick up a cantaloupe and if it feels heavier than you expected, it's likely ripe. Just because it's sweeter doesn't mean it's less healthy. "While a cantaloupe will become softer and juicer with time, the sugar content will not significantly increase following its harvest," Mangieri said.
"Vitamins A and C are both antioxidants that work to keep your body healthy," said Mangieri. Antioxidants are molecules that safely interact with free radicals to stop the condition of oxidative stress, according to an article in Pharmacognosy Review.
Free radicals cause cell damage and disruption that can contribute to diseases. "[Antioxidants such as vitamins A and C] may help prevent conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis," added Mangieri.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intakes and the instances of metabolic syndrome in hundreds of Iranian women. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions (high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, high cholesterol or triglyceride levels and high blood pressure) that occur at the same time. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. The study found that women who ate the highest concentrations of cantaloupe, apples, grapes, watermelon and bananas had the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome.
"Vitamin A is key for good vision," said Mangieri. Through a complicated process in the eye, vitamin A (also called retinol) triggers an electrical signal in the optic nerve, causing the perception of colors and vision in dim light, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Vitamin A (acquired through phytonutrient beta-carotene) is associated with a reduced risk of macular degeneration.
A 2004 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that people with asthma who consumed more beta-carotene, which is found in cantaloupes, had a better quality of life in terms of managing their symptoms and breathing easily.
Wound healing, skin and hair health
"Vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing," said Mangieri. According to a study published in the British Journal of Community Nursing, it is essential throughout the wound healing process, largely because it contributes toward collagen synthesis and development.
Collagen is also essential for healthy skin and hair. Furthermore, vitamin A is known to promote healthy tissue growth, including in skin, and the high water content in cantaloupes helps keep skin moisturized and supple.
Mangieri noted that the vitamin C in cantaloupes is also necessary for proper iron absorption. It helps overcome the effects of phytonutrients that inhibit iron absorption and helps release iron from non-heme sources, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, which is less easily absorbed than iron from heme sources, such as meats.
Cantaloupe is about 90 percent water, and also contains electrolytes from sugars, which can make it an ideal snack on a hot day. Electrolytes are vital to preventing heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
The fiber and water in cantaloupe can aid digestion and help relieve or prevent constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
With 14 percent of your daily potassium needs per serving, cantaloupe can help keep your heart beating healthily. Potassium is a mineral electrolyte that keeps electricity flowing throughout your body, which is required for proper heart function. Potassium may also help protect your cardiovascular system against high blood pressure, according to the FDA.
Risks of eating cantaloupe
Cantaloupe poses no risks for most people, but high-potassium foods should be moderated for people taking ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers. These medicines, which are typically prescribed to treat conditions like high blood pressure, migraines and kidney problems, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood and possibly get too high, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
There are several hybrids of cantaloupe, according to the World's Healthiest Foods website: Jenny Linds have green flesh; Athena and Ambrosia hybrids have salmon-colored flesh; Gurney's hybrids typically have a rich orange color.
Cantaloupe seeds can be dried and eaten as a snack.
California is the largest cantaloupe-producing state. Over half of all U.S. cantaloupes are grown there. The next six states are Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana and Texas.
Even so, the United States imports tons of cantaloupes each year: over 425 million pounds from Guatemala, 300 million pounds from Honduras, 150 million from Costa Rica and 60 million from Mexico.