Saturday, June 15, 2024

You may want to eat more cantaloupe this summer. Here’s why.

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Cantaloupe is the hydrating, versatile healthy fruit that’s synonymous with summer. As you cut into a cantaloupe’s understated exterior, a vibrantly colored, orange center appears. From vitamin A to vitamin C, cantaloupe packs a punch with essential nutrients that can help support your immune and digestive systems, studies have shown. 

With cantaloupe season soon to be descending upon us, USA TODAY spoke with two registered dietitians to pull back the curtain on the fruit’s many health benefits. Read on to learn how incorporating cantaloupe into your day-to-day can help you achieve a well-rounded, balanced diet.

Is cantaloupe good for you?

Cantaloupe is an excellent addition to your diet if you’re “looking to eat more hydrating foods, eat more anti-inflammatory foods, [and] eat foods that are nutrient dense, says Hope Brandt, a registered dietitian

Cantaloupe is a part of the melon family, and it’s closely related to honeydew and watermelon. In the context of a balanced diet, the fruit becomes a good source of antioxidants, potassium and fiber — nutrients that boost immunity, aid the digestion process, and offer protection from chronic diseases, according to a 2023 study. 

“The most prevalent benefits that we see is from that beautiful orange color, which is caused by beta-carotene,” says Monica D’Agostino, a registered dietitian. When beta-carotene enters the body, it converts into vitamin A, which is essential for “promoting eye health, assisting the body in blood cell production and immune response, [and] acting as an antioxidant to help fight free radicals,” she explains.

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Free radicals wreak havoc on the body by damaging healthy cells, D’Agostino says. Beta-carotene acts as a neutralizer of free radicals, which can help to prevent the progression of diseases, including heart disease and cancer, she adds.

“Eating a diet that is high in antioxidants is something that can help reduce chronic inflammation in our bodies over time,” Brandt says. Cantaloupe’s high vitamin C content is also particularly helpful with iron absorption, Brandt adds. 

How much cantaloupe should you eat?

One cup of freshly cubed cantaloupe contains 53 calories, which is equivalent to one serving. A serving alone surpasses your daily dose of vitamin A, contains 6% of your daily need of fiber, and is nearly enough to meet your daily recommended need of vitamin C, per WebMD. 

According to the World Health Organization, every day you should aim to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, totaling around 80 grams per portion. If you enjoy cantaloupe, and want to add it to your regular rotation of fruits, D’Agostino says the fruit can be a great option to fill one to two of the WHO’s recommended servings. 

What foods does cantaloupe pair well with?

Cantaloupe is a refreshing addition to summer salads and snack plates, and pairing it alongside foods rich in antioxidants, fiber and hydration can help you attain nutrient diversity. 

When consumed alongside other high-fiber fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, cantaloupe can “be incorporated as a way to increase that overall fiber and water in the body, which will assist [with] potential digestive issues,” D’Agostino says. Eating cantaloupe alongside foods such as berries, nuts, greek yogurt and cottage cheese, are among a few examples, she says. 

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Ultimately, variety is key, and to achieve a well-balanced diet, it’s important to eat a range of nutrient-dense fruits, D’Agostino emphasizes. Beyond cantaloupe, there’s a number of fruits that tout similar health benefits — grapefruit, pomegranate and papaya are also considered to be high-potassium, high-fiber, and antioxidant-rich foods, according to studies.

In a salad mixed with leafy greens, cantaloupe offers a surprising benefit, Brandt adds. Leafy greens are packed with non-heme iron, which is the iron found in plant-based foods, according to Harvard Health. The body often needs a little extra help when absorbing non-heme iron, and the vitamin C found in cantaloupe can guide this process along more efficiently, Brandt explains.

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