The World's Healthiest Foods
Cantaloupe

It is no wonder that the cantaloupe with its refreshingly rich flavor and aroma and minimal number of calories is the most popular variety of melon in the United States. Although they have become increasingly available throughout the year, their season runs from June through August when they are at their best.

The cantaloupe derives its name from the ltalian papal village of Cantalup, where it was first cultivated around 1700 A.D. It belongs to the same family as the cucumber, squash, pumpkin and gourd, and like many of its relatives, grows on the ground on a trailing vine. Cantaloupe are also referred to as a netted melon because it has a ribless rind with a distinctive netted skin. Inside of the melon there is a hollow cavity that contains seeds encased in a web of netting.

 


Health Benefits

Cantaloupe Gets an A+

Our food ranking system qualified cantaloupe as an excellent source of vitamin A on account of its concentrated beta-carotene content. Once inside the body, beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A, so when you eat cantaloupe it's like getting both these beneficial nutrients at once. One cup of cantaloupe is just 56 calories, but provides 103.2% of the daily value for vitamin A. Both vitamin A and beta-carotene are important vision nutrients. In a study of over 50,000 women nurses aged 45 to 67, women who consumed the highest dietary amount of vitamin A had a 39% reduced risk of developing cataracts. In another study that looked at the incidence of cataract surgery and diet, researchers found that those people who ate diets that included cantaloupe had half the risk of cataract surgery, while those who ate the highest amounts of butter, salt and total fat had higher risks for cataract surgery. Beta-carotene has also been the subject of extensive research in relationship to cancer prevention and prevention of oxygen-based damage to cells.

Cantaloupe also emerged from our food ranking system as an excellent source of vitamin C. While beta-carotene and vitamin A are fat-soluble antioxidants, vitamin C functions as an antioxidant in the water-soluble areas of the body. So, between its beta-carotene and vitamin C content, cantaloupe has all areas covered against damage from oxygen free radicals. In addition to its antioxidant activity, vitamin C is critical for good immune function. Vitamin C stimulates white cells to fight infection, directly kills many bacteria and viruses, and regenerates Vitamin E after it has been inactivated by disarming free radicals. Owing to the multitude of vitamin C's health benefits, it is not surprising that research has shown that consumption of vegetables and fruits high in this nutrient is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer. One cup of cantaloupe contains 112.5% of the daily value for this well known antioxidant. In our food ranking system, cantaloupe also qualified as a very good source of potassium and a good source of vitamin B6, dietary fiber, folate, and niacin (vitamin B3). The combination of all these B complex vitamins along with the fiber found in cantaloupe make it an exceptionally good fruit for supporting energy production through good carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar stability. These B complex vitamins are required in our cells for processing carbohydrates (including sugars), and cantaloupe's fiber helps ensure cantaloupe's sugars are delivered into the bloodstream gradually, keeping blood sugar on an even keel.

Cantaloupe's Pro-vitamin A Provides Protection against Emphysema

If you or someone you love is a smoker, or if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as cantaloupe, part of your healthy way of eating may save your life, suggests research conducted at Kansas State University.

While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency.

Baybutt's earlier research had shown that rats fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. His latest animal studies indicate that not only does the benzo(a)pyrene in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, but that a diet rich in vitamin A can help counter this effect, thus greatly reducing emphysema.

In his initial research, Baybutt took just weaned male rats and divided them into two groups, one of which was exposed to cigarette smoke, and the other to air. In the rats exposed to cigarette smoke, levels of vitamin A dropped significantly in direct correlation with their development of emphysema. In the second study, both groups of rats were exposed to cigarette smoke, but one group was given a diet rich in vitamin A. Among those rats receiving the vitamin A-rich foods, emphysema was effectively reduced.

Baybutt believes vitamin A's protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. "There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. "Why? Probably because of their diet…The implications are that those who start smoking at an early age are more likely to become vitamin A deficient and develop complications associated with cancer and emphysema. And if they have a poor diet, forget it." If you or someone you love smokes, or if your work necessitates exposure to second hand smoke, protect yourself by making sure that at least one of the World's Healthiest Foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as cantaloupe, is a daily part of your healthy way of eating. (October, 21, 2004)

Protect Your Vision with Cantaloupe

Your mother may have told you carrots would keep your eyes bright as a child, but as an adult, it looks like fruit is even more important for keeping your sight. Data reported in a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Archives of Opthamology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.

In this study, which involved 77,562 women and 40,866 men, researchers evaluated the effect of study participants' consumption of fruits; vegetables; the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; and carotenoids on the development of early ARMD or neovascular ARM, a more severe form of the illness associated with vision loss. Food intake information was collected periodically for up to 18 years for women and 12 years for men.

While, surprisingly, intakes of vegetables, antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids were not strongly related to incidence of either form of ARM, fruit intake was definitely protective against the severe form of this vision-destroying disease.

Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but by simply slicing some cantaloupe over your morning cereal, topping off a cup of yogurt or green salad with a half cup of berries, and snacking on an apple, plum, nectarine or pear, you've reached this goal. In summer, what could be a more cooling or delicious lunch than half a cantaloupe filled with cottage cheese and topped with your favorite nuts and a sprig of mint? It's easy to see how fruit, especially cantaloupe, can become a regular part of your healthy way of eating.(June 30, 2004)

Description

The fruit that we call the cantaloupe is, in actuality, really a muskmelon. The true cantaloupe is a different species of melon that is mostly grown in France and rarely found in the United States. It derives its name from the Italian papal village of Cantalup where it was first cultivated around 1700 A.D. From hereon, we will still use the term "cantaloupe" when referring to the muskmelon.

The cantaloupe is a melon that belongs to the same family as the cucumber, squash, pumpkin and gourd, and like many of its relatives, it grows on the ground on a trailing vine. It is round or oval in shape and usually has a ribless rind. Having a distinctive netted skin, it is also referred to as netted melon. Many of the cantaloupes available today are hybrids of muskmelons, and true cantaloupes and have qualities that reflect both.

Cantaloupes range in color from orange-yellow to salmon and have a soft and juicy texture with a sweet, musky aroma that emanates through the melon when it is ripe. Cantaloupes feature a hollow cavity that contains their seeds encased in a web of netting.

The scientific name for cantaloupe is Cucumis melo.

History

The exact origin of melons is unclear, although they are thought to have originated in either India, Africa or ancient Persia and have been cultivated in these lands since ancient times. Historical texts from Greek and Roman times note that these ancient civilizations enjoyed cantaloupes. They were introduced to the United States during colonial times but were not grown commercially until the very late 19th century. Today, major growers of cantaloupe include the United States, Turkey, Iran and many Central American countries.

How to Select and Store

The key to purchasing a good quality melon is to find one that is ripe, which is sometimes a challenge because oftentimes they are picked while still unripe in order to ensure that they make it through the shipping process undamaged. There are many clues that you can look for to find a melon that is ripe. If you tap the melon with the palm of your hand and hear a hollow sound, the melon has passed the first test. Choose a melon that seems heavy for its size, and one that does not have bruises or overly soft spots. The rind, underneath the netting, should have turned to yellow or cream from the green undertones that the unripe fruit has. The “full slip,” the area where the stem was attached, should be smooth and slightly indented, free from remnants of the stem. The end opposite the full slip should be slightly soft, and you should be able to smell the fruit’s sweetness subtly shining through, although be careful since an overly strong odor may be an indication of an overripe, fermented fruit. Cantaloupe is so fragrant that you will be able to test for its aroma of ripeness even if you purchase already cut cantaloupe, packaged in a plastic container.

Leaving a firm cantaloupe at room temperature for several days will allow the texture of its flesh to become softer and juicier. Once the cantaloupe has reached its peak ripeness, place it in the refrigerator to store. Melon that has been cut should be stored in the refrigerator as well and should be wrapped so as to ensure that the ethylene gas that it emits does not affect the taste or texture of other fruits and vegetables.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Cantaloupe:

Since bacteria can grow on the surface of most melons, it is important to wash the outside of the cantaloupe before cutting into it. After washing, simply slice the melon into pieces of desired thickness and scoop out the seeds and netting.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Add some sparkling water to fresh squeezed cantaloupe juice for a delightfully refreshing drink in the warm months of the year.

In a blender or food processor, purée cantaloupe and peeled soft peaches to make delicious cold soup. Add lemon juice and honey to taste.

Top cantaloupe slices with yogurt, and chopped mint.

Slice melons in half horizontally, scoop out seeds and use each half as a basket in which to serve fruit salad.

Safety

Pesticide Residues

Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented. The liver’s ability to process other toxins, the cells’ ability to produce energy, and the nerves’ ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. Since cantaloupe is among the 20 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, individuals wanting to avoid these health risks may want to avoid consumption of cantaloupe unless grown organically,

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Cantaloupe
1.00 cup
56.00 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 67.52 mg 112.5 36.2 excellent
vitamin A 5158.40 IU 103.2 33.2 excellent
potassium 494.40 mg 14.1 4.5 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.18 mg 9.0 2.9 good
folate 27.20 mcg 6.8 2.2 good
dietary fiber 1.28 g 5.1 1.6 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.92 mg 4.6 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Ascherio A, Rimm EB, Hernan MA, et al. Intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber and risk of stroke among US men. Circulation. 1998 Sep 22;98(12):1198-204.
  • Baybutt RC, Hu L, Molteni A. Vitamin A deficiency injures lung and liver parenchyma and impairs function of rat type II pneumocytes. J Nutr. 2000 May;130(5):1159-65.
  • Cho E, Seddon JM, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Prospective study of intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and carotenoids and risk of age-related maculopathy. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 Jun;122(6):883-92.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Hankinson SE, Stampfer MJ, Seddon JM, et al. Nutrient intake and cataract extraction in women: a prospective study. BMJ 1992;305(6849):335-9.
  • Khaw KT, Bingham S, Welch A, et al. Relation between plasma ascorbic acid and mortality in men and women in EPIC-Norfolk prospective study: a prospective population study. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Lancet. 2001 Mar 3;357(9257):657-63.
  • Kurl S, Tuomainen TP, Laukkanen JA et al. Plasma vitamin C modifies the association between hypertension and risk of stroke. Stroke 2002 Jun;33(6):1568-73.
  • Li T, Molteni A, Latkovich P, Castellani W, Baybutt RC. Vitamin A depletion induced by cigarette smoke is associated with the development of emphysema in rats. J Nutr.<./i> 2003 Aug;133(8):2629-34.
  • Tavani A, Negri E, La Vecchia C. Food and nutrient intake and risk of cataract. Ann Epidemiol 1996 Jan;6(1):41-46.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-19 16:03:24
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation