But while you’re munching on your favorite melon this summer—whether that’s poolside, at a barbecue or as a post-workout snack—you’ll be glad to know that melons offer much more than just hydration. The commonly consumed melons in the U.S., namely watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew, are also packed with essential nutrients like antioxidants. “While most [melons] have similar nutrition compositions such as protein and calories, they vary in vitamins and minerals,” says Bridgette de Juan, a registered dietician at Orlando Health.
With melons coming into season, here’s a look at what each type brings to the table—and why you should ultimately be eating all three on repeat this summer.
2 major benefits of melons that make them a summer fruit MVP
1. They possess powerful antioxidant properties
You might have heard a nutritionist or registered dietician use the phrase “eat the rainbow,” which is simply a catchy way of saying that you should regularly consume fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors. That’s because those colors come from different pigments, each of which has its own slate of health benefits.
The signature colors of watermelons and cantaloupe come from pigments known as carotenoids that have powerful antioxidant properties. Watermelon’s rich red color comes from lycopene, a carotenoid that is also found in other red produce, like tomatoes and guavas. “Lycopene is known to act as a powerful antioxidant by removing waste and relieving damage from cells,” says de Juan, adding that research shows that lycopene can help reduce the risk of chronic disease, neurodegenerative conditions, and certain cancers. (Studies also suggest that lycopene may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.)
Cantaloupe melons, on the other hand, get their reddish-orange hue from beta carotene, a carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A by the body. In fact, according to de Juan, cantaloupes are the richest sources of vitamin A (good for your eyes) of the three common types of melons. And, among the three, they also offer the most vitamin C (known to boost the immune system.)
Cantaloupe melons also have the most fiber and are rich in potassium, a necessary mineral that de Juan notes “can help to support a healthy blood pressure.”
2. Eating melons can help you stay hydrated
So, about that hydration factor. Melons are known to be hydrating across the board, but it may surprise you to learn that despite having the word “water” in its name, watermelon is actually considered the least hydrating of the three. The title of “most hydrating” actually goes to honeydew. (Which you can use to whip up a less acidic version of lemon water.)
“According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, honeydew comes in number one as the highest in free water, cantaloupe number two, and watermelon in third place,” says de Juan, adding, “it may feel like watermelon has the most water because of its lower fiber contents which is why it feels so tender and juicy when we take a bite.”
Like the other melons, honeydew also contains a good amount of vitamin C and potassium—another good reason to add this sweet, green-fleshed melon to the menu.
Delicious ways to add melons to a summer diet
Melons, of course, are perfectly delicious when eaten fresh as a snack, whether sliced or cut into cubes. However, you don’t have to confine them to the fruit platter; they can also be incorporated into both sweet and savory dishes. “Nothing says summer like a cool watermelon, mint , and feta cheese salad,” says de Juan. (Duchess Kate Middleton would agree.)
And adults and little ones alike can appreciate melon “fries,” like in this fun recipe from Abbey Sharp, RD. Of course, if you want to slay dessert, you can try whipping up a watermelon pizza.
De Juan also suggests wrapping cantaloupe slices in prosciutto for an Italian-style appetizer. “There is alway something for everyone,” she says.