We seldom think about fruits as providing a broad spectrum of nutrients. In addition, when this food group gets placed in the nutritional spotlight, it’s usually berries that get first mention among the nutritional standouts. Yet judging from its nutrient profile, cantaloupe is a fruit that should get us thinking differently about fruit and nourishment. This member of the melon family receives 10 rankings in our food rating system—the same number as raspberries, 1 more than strawberries, and 6 more than blueberries. Cantaloupe scores an “excellent” for both vitamin C and vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). It scores “very good” for potassium, and “good” for a host of B vitamins (B1, B3, B6, and folate) as well as vitamin K, magnesium, and fiber. When the edible seeds of the cantaloupe are eaten, this melon also provides a measurable about of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid.
Cantaloupe contains more beta-carotene than alpha-carotene. But because it contains both of these carotenoids, it also contains both of their derivatives, including lutein in the case of alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin in the case of beta-carotene. These carotenoid phytonutrients are joined by the flavonoid luteolin, antioxidant organic acids including ferulic and caffeic acid, and anti-inflammatory cucurbitacins, including cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin E. The nutrient diversity of cantaloupe is perhaps its most overlooked health benefit!
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Support
As evidenced by the preceding list of phytonutrients, cantaloupe’s nutritional strong suit involves its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Even while it is relatively low in concentration of certain nutrients (like total polyphenols) in comparison to other fruits, cantaloupe still provides us with important amounts because we tend to eat it in larger serving sizes than other fruits.
Many researchers understand metabolic syndrome—a group of health problems that includes high blood fats, high blood sugars, high blood pressure, and too much body fat—to be caused by problems in lifestyle that result in chronic underlying levels of unwanted inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body. In this context, it’s not surprising to see decreased risk of metabolic syndrome in individuals with especially high intake of cantaloupe (along with other fruits), since cantaloupe provides a wide range of antioxidants that help prevent oxidative stress and a wide range of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help prevent excessive inflammation. It’s also not surprising to see lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the bloodstream of persons who have particularly high intake of cantaloupe, since CRP is a marker widely used to assess levels of inflammation in the body. One final important note: in the study that documented these benefits of cantaloupe for prevention of metabolic syndrome, “high” intake meant at least 12 ounces of total fruit per day. Since cantaloupe was one of five fruits making a special contribution to these 12 ounces, we assume that few of the study participants would go one whole week without consuming cantaloupe. That approach might help all of us increase our protection from unwanted inflammation and oxidative stress.
Other Health Benefits
Unfortunately, most of the other studies that we have seen on the health benefits of cantaloupe are studies conducted on animals rather than humans. This aspect of the research limits our certainty about the health benefits for humans. However, especially promising in the animal research has been studies related to diabetes. Researchers have shown that intake of cantaloupe phytonutrients can improve insulin and blood sugar metabolism. In addition, intake of cantaloupe extracts has been show to reduce oxidative stress in the kidneys of animals with diabetes, and to improve insulin resistance in diabetic animals.
Given the benefits of cantaloupe for prevention of metabolic syndrome, we would expect to see future studies showing clear health benefits for this melon in the area of heart disease, including atherosclerosis. Many heart-related problems start out with chronic unwanted inflammation and chronic oxidative stress. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we have large-scale human studies documenting benefits in this important area.
The fruit widely known as “cantaloupe” throughout the U.S. is actually muskmelon. When we purchase “cantaloupe” in a U.S. grocery store, what we’re used to seeing is an outer surface that consists of “netting”—an orderly mosaic pattern – that sits atop and covers the outermost skin (rind). We may or may not also see “ribbing” on the cantaloupe (“ribbing” in the sense of lines running from one end of the cantaloupe to the other, like the seams on a basketball). But if we do see ribbing, it is not usually very heavy or very deep., Melons with a very developed and orderly netting and only mild-to-moderate ribbing are not true cantaloupes but rather muskmelons (Cucumis melo var reticulatus).
Cantaloupes (Cucumis melo var cantalupensis) typically lack an extensive, orderly netting and they have ribs (also called “sutures”) that are much heavier and more deeply grooved. In addition, true cantaloupes are grown almost exclusively in other parts of the world (and especially in the Mediterranean region). In fact, the name “cantaloupe” actually comes from the name of a town in Italy near Rome called Cantaloupo in Sabina, where seeds were brought from Armenia and planted in the Papal gardens during the 1400-1500’s.) Despite this misnaming of “cantaloupes” in the U.S. marketplace however, from hereon we’re going to stick with this common U.S. practice and refer to muskmelons as cantaloupes.
Cantaloupes are members of the cucurbit family of plants (Cucurbitaceae) that also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes, gourds, and a long list of melons. Melons in this same plant family with cantaloupe include Watermelon and honeydew melon, along with crenshaw, casaba, Persian, and canary melon. Because many members of the cucurbit plant family can easily cross-pollinate, there are also many different hybrid melons in the marketplace that combine features of true cantaloupe with features of these other melons.
The ripe flesh of a cantaloupe can vary in color depending on the hybrid. “Jenny Linds” are one example of a green-fleshed hybrid; “Athena” and “Ambrosia” hybrids have salmon-colored flesh; and the flesh of the Gurney’s (TM) hybrids typically has a rich orange color. Cantaloupes have a hollow cavity in their center that is filled with edible seeds. In some parts of the world, cantaloupes are known as “rockmelons.”
If you read about cantaloupe across the Internet, you may find a good bit of inconsistency involving the language used to describe the parts of this fruit. Some websites use the words “top” and “bottom” when describing cantaloupes. Other websites use “stem end” and “blossom end.” Still others use “vine end” and “end opposite the vine end.” As such, we wanted to clarify this topic.
When a plant flowers, no fruit forms until pollination (either self pollination or preferably cross pollination). Once pollination has occurred, fruit can begin to form. As the fruit forms, the flower will fall away. The spot where the flower was will become one end of the fruit, and it is called the blossom end. The stem end, of course, will be the end where the fruit remains connected to the plant. If the fruit is an apple, its weight and relationship to the tree branch will typically cause it to hang down from the branch, creating two ends that are truly “top” and “bottom.”
But with a fruit like a cantaloupe which sits on the ground, the vine will typically lie alongside of the fruit in such a way that the ends would be more logically described as being on the sides of the cantaloupe, rather on its top and its bottom. Still, the word “top” is sometimes used to refer to the stem end of a cantaloupe, and the word “bottom” is sometimes used to refer to the blossom end.