Cantaloupe is a tasty summer melon that’s full of healthy nutrients our body needs. Like other melons, cantaloupe has a high water content (about 90%), but that certainly doesn’t equate to a low nutritional value.
Cantaloupes are loaded with vitamin A (opens in new tab) (in the form of beta-carotene) as well as vitamin C (opens in new tab), and are a good source of the mineral potassium. It's also low in calories but chock full of flavor
"This melon is a great choice when it comes to nutrients per calorie," said Heather Mangieri, a Pittsburgh-based registered dietitian and nutritionist and author.
"One cup of cantaloupe contains only about 55 calories (due to its high water content) but offers over 100% of your daily needs for vitamin A, over 50% of the daily needs for vitamin C, 1.5 grams of fiber and is a good source of potassium," Mangieri said.
Related: Which fruits are low in sugar? (opens in new tab)
Here are the nutrition facts for 100 grams of cantaloupe (about one medium sized wedge) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's FoodData Central (opens in new tab).
|Nutrition facts||Amount per serving|
|Total fat||0.18 g|
|Total dietary fiber||0.8 g|
|Total sugar||7.88 g|
|Vitamin A||0.232 mg|
What are the benefits of eating cantaloupe?
“Vitamins A and C are both antioxidants that work to keep your body healthy," Mangieri said. Antioxidants (opens in new tab) prevent and slow cell and tissue damage by attacking free radicals (opens in new tab), which are molecules that have an unpaired electron. Too many free radicals in the body causes oxidative stress which leads to problems, but antioxidants work to maintain a health balance of free radicals and help prevent oxidative stress.
Related: Vitamin A: Sources, benefits & deficiency (opens in new tab)
Related: Vitamin C: Sources & benefits (opens in new tab)
The vitamin A found in cantaloupe is also a key nutrient for healthy vision, Mangieri said, particularly for being able to see in dim light. Studies have found (opens in new tab) that prolonged and severe deficiency of vitamin A can cause total, irreversible blindness.
Including more fruits and vegetables in your diet overall can keep your eyes healthy and may help fend off cataracts (opens in new tab) and macular degeneration (opens in new tab), two common age-related eye problems, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (opens in new tab).
There is strong evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, including cantaloupe, is linked with a reduced risk of heart disease (opens in new tab) and stroke (opens in new tab), and can also lower blood pressure, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The fiber (opens in new tab) and water in cantaloupe can aid digestion and help prevent constipation, when included as part of a high-fiber diet, such as a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, according to the Mayo Clinic (opens in new tab).
What’s the difference between cantaloupe and other melons?
Cantaloupe (Cucumis melo) belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes cucumbers, gourds, melons, pumpkins (opens in new tab) and squashes. In North America, cantaloupe and its close relatives are also sometimes called muskmelons. Cantaloupe, honeydew, European cantaloupe, casaba melon, and several more are all varieties of Cucumis melo are all considered muskmelons.
Cantaloupe can be identified by its light green skin covered with a beige net-like texture. European cantaloupe similarly has a net-like pattern across its skin but it’s ribbed, and generally lighter in color than a cantaloupe. Both melons have salmon-colored flesh inside and a central seed pocket. Cantaloupe tastes slightly sweet and can smell a bit “musky.”
Although they share a few similarities, muskmelons and watermelons are not the same species. There are more than 1,000 different types of watermelon (opens in new tab) (Citrullus lanatus).
Tips for picking a ripe cantaloupe
Selecting a fresh cantaloupe can be tricky because you can't see the inside of the melon. But according to Mangieri, freshness is critical to the fruit's sweet flavor. Pick up a cantaloupe and if it feels heavier than you expected, it's likely ripe. A ripe melon should smell sweet when you place your nose next to the fruit, and you should be able to push in the skin a little bit with your thumb.
If the melon is not quite ripe when you buy it, you can set it on a kitchen counter for a few days. But don't wash the fruit at this point — wait until you're ready to cut the melon to wash its outer surface to reduce the chance for bacterial growth.
"While a cantaloupe will become softer and juicer with time, the fruit's sugar content [and sweetness] will not significantly increase after it is harvested," Mangieri told Live Science.(opens in new tab)
Risks of eating cantaloupe
In general, enjoying cantaloupe poses little risk for most people. However, cantaloupes have been linked to four food borne illness outbreaks since 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (opens in new tab). The majority of these incidents were bacterial infections caused by Salmonella (opens in new tab), but people have also been sickened by Listeria (opens in new tab).
Cantaloupe may be vulnerable to outbreaks of food borne illness because the fruit is grown in close contact with the ground, where it may become contaminated with bacteria (opens in new tab) from the soil, water or animals before it is harvested, according to Colorado State University (opens in new tab). In addition, the melons have a rough and textured outer surface that can trap bacteria. Bacteria can also be transmitted during the processing of pre-cut melon, from a knife cutting through contaminated rinds. If the same contaminated knife continues to be used, it can transfer bacteria to the flesh inside.
To keep yourself from potential food borne illness, wash the outside of the melon with a brush under water (no soap) before cutting it open. Use clean hands and a clean knife and cutting board, first cut off the stem end (where the fruit was attached to the vine) and throw it out. Studies have found that this area is most likely to have bacterial contamination. Next slice the melon in half and scoop out the seeds and strings, then use a melon baller or knife to cut the melon flesh into bite sized pieces. After cutting, wash hands and any utensils used in warm, soapy water.
Bacterial contamination is not the only possible risk from eating cantaloupe. Some people with allergies to ragweed pollen may also develop symptoms of oral allergy syndrome (opens in new tab) immediately after eating melons, such as cantaloupe or honeydew, and even watermelons.
This reaction occurs because the body's immune system (opens in new tab) recognizes a similarity between the allergy-causing proteins in ragweed pollen and the proteins in the food. (Besides melons, ragweed sufferers may also be sensitive to kiwi, banana, cucumber and zucchini.)
- Read about cantaloupe production in the United States from the PennState Extension (opens in new tab).
- Learn about the many different cultivars of cantaloupe (muskmelons) from Oregon State University (opens in new tab).
- Learn how to grow your own cantaloupe from seed with these tips from Utah State University (opens in new tab).