Crisp yet juicy, watermelon can be a refreshing bite on a hot day. Watermelon is also a common craving during pregnancy, but just how safe is it?
Watermelon is at a center of many pregnancy myths. Watermelon seeds, juice, and flesh can all be safe ways to enjoy watermelon while pregnant, despite the old adage that swallowing the seeds grows a watermelon in your belly!
Like with all fresh fruits and veggies, there are some considerations to keep safe during pregnancy.
I dug up all of the science behind the safest ways to enjoy sliced watermelon, its seeds and juice, and even concerns for mothers with diabetes.
Is It Safe to Eat Watermelon During Pregnancy?
When it comes to eating watermelon, whether in slices, chunks, or even just scooped out of the rind, safety is a concern for many parents.
Safety concerns for watermelon may stem in part from numerous melon recalls, though many of these recalls have affected other melon varieties, such as honeydew and cantaloupe.
Melons are most commonly recalled due to bacterial contamination, specifically Salmonella, and primarily affect pre-cut melon or fruit trays.
Pre-cut fruit, including watermelon, has a much greater chance of being contaminated. When fruit isn’t washed prior to being cut, the bacteria normally found on the outside rind or peel can hitch a ride on the knife, spreading the contamination to the cut slices of fruit.
While many restaurants and establishments do practice proper hygiene and sanitation, if you’re not seeing the fruit washed and cut right in front of you then you’re relying on the cleanliness of the person preparing it.
Because pre-cut fruit has a much greater chance of bacterial contamination, pregnant women should avoid pre-cut watermelon including fruit trays, mixed fresh fruit bowls, and packaged pre-cut watermelon.
No doubt you’re wondering: what about watermelon cut up at home- is that safe?
Buying whole melon and cutting it at home is a smart way to still be able to enjoy watermelon safely during pregnancy (source: FDA).
Be sure to thoroughly wash your knife, the outside of the melon, and your food prep surface (countertop or cutting board) in order to ensure the watermelon flush remains free from bacteria.
For the best methods to safely wash whole fruits check out our guide to prepping fruit safely during pregnancy.
Once you’ve cut your melon, proper storage and refrigeration are important to prevent foodborne illness.
Fresh cut watermelon should be covered and stored in the refrigerator at 41°F (5c) or lower in order to prevent bacteria from growing. Watermelon that has been sitting out at room temperature for greater than 2 hours should be tossed away (source: USDA).
American readers may remember the recent melon recall affecting Meijer grocery stores (source: FDA). In this recent recall, the contaminated produce included not only pre-cut melon but whole cantaloupes as well.
While the whole melons I referenced above were recalled, the outer rind was still the source of contamination. Thorough washing of the whole watermelon is sufficient to prevent foodborne illness.
What Does it Mean if I’m Craving Watermelon When Pregnant?
Another safety concern when it comes to watermelon is cravings.
When cravings strike, that one food might be the only thing that sounds appetizing. Cravings like these, including the craving for watermelon, are totally normal. Fruit is even one of the most common pregnancy cravings! (source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
While there’s no scientific evidence that cravings for particular foods give us any clues about the baby’s gender, the cravings are also harmless.
Tip: If you’re craving sweet and salty, watermelon sprinkled with a bit of the chili-lime seasoning, Tajín, might just hit the spot!
Is Watermelon Bad for Pregnant Women? Myths Explained
If you’ve ever read any articles or blogs online about Ayurvedic or Chinese medicine and watermelon during pregnancy, you’ll see a litany of anecdotal and folk tales suggesting that women avoid watermelon during pregnancy.
Both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine list watermelon, along with many other fruits, as “cold producing” foods, saying that eating an excess of these foods slows digestion and leads to cold or flu illnesses (source: The Ayurvedic Institute).
While these traditional medicine practices claim watermelon is “cold producing” and thus beneficial to avoid during pregnancy, there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims.
Eating a large amount of watermelon may give some folks digestive distress (more on that below) but a reasonable serving of the fruit isn’t likely to cause any serious issues.
Another reason that watermelon is often touted as being bad during pregnancy is due to its high glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of how much a particular food makes blood sugar rise, but this doesn’t tell the full story.
While watermelon has a high glycemic index, its actual effect on blood sugar, known as the glycemic load, is much lower.
This difference is because the serving size for watermelon contains little carbohydrate – the nutrient that contributes to blood sugar – compared to the weight of the fruit (source: Harvard Health). All that water in watermelon is heavy!
One drawback to watermelon for some women is that it may cause diarrhea and/or gas. Watermelon is high in the natural sugar, fructose. Fructose can be hard for some people’s digestive tracts to break down, leading to gas and bloating.
Watermelon is also one of the few fruits that contains mannitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol (source: International Journal of Food Properties). The amount of alcohol is so small, there’s no reason to avoid watermelon because of alcohol content.
However, sugar alcohols like mannitol may also be responsible for gastrointestinal distress, most commonly causing gas and diarrhea (source: Yale New Haven Health).
While the sugars in watermelon can cause some people tummy troubles, it’s not a guarantee. Everyone’s digestive systems break foods down a little bit differently, but if you’ve been struggling with gas or diarrhea after enjoying watermelon, the summertime staple might be the cause.
Is Watermelon Safe In Every Trimester?
Many women wonder whether watermelon is safe during both the first and third trimesters of their pregnancy, as these trimesters are particularly sensitive times for the baby’s development.
Fortunately for watermelon lovers, watermelon is safe during all trimesters of pregnancy. Special caution should be taken, however, to avoid foodborne illness during early pregnancy.
Pre-cut watermelon is best avoided during all three pregnancy trimesters. This is especially important during the first trimester, when the baby is developing at a rapid rate.
A complete list of foods to avoid during early pregnancy can be found here.
The Benefits of Watermelon in Pregnancy: Is It Good for You?
Pregnant or not, watermelon is a fruit packed with nutritious benefits. Below are just some of the benefits you can expect from watermelon, while you’re expecting:
- Hydration- During pregnancy fluid needs are increased to help support baby’s blood circulation (source: Journal of Perinatal Education). As the name implies, watermelon is 92% water making the fruit a delicious way to stay hydrated (source: Live Science).
- Citrulline – Aching lower back? Watermelon juice may help! Watermelon is a good source of citrulline, an amino acid that can help reduce muscle soreness (source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry).
- Lycopene- Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in watermelon’s red pigmentation, has been shown to be protective against intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and leading to better post-birth outcomes in mothers (source: Turkish-German Gynecological Association).
- Vitamins C and A-
- Both vitamins A and C are important for immune function, which is weakened during pregnancy.
- Vitamin C is also necessary for healthy joints and skin, as it helps to make collagen.
- Electrolytes- If you’re having frequent bouts of morning sickness, replacing electrolytes is essential. In addition to antioxidants and water, a serving of watermelon boasts around 7% of the daily value for potassium (source: Women’s Running, USDA).
Can Pregnant Women Eat Watermelon Seeds? Are They Safe?
Despite the joke that eating watermelon seeds leads to a watermelon (or even a baby!) growing in your stomach, watermelon seeds are actually quite nutritious.
Roasted watermelon seeds are a traditional snack in Arab and Asian regions. The roasted seeds are a hearty snack, with 8 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat, as well as essential minerals like zinc (source: Berkeley Wellness).
Like with many seeds, the fat in watermelon seeds is mainly the beneficial unsaturated, essential fatty acids (source: International Journal of Food Properties).
Because of the high fat content, watermelon seed oil is also used as a cooking oil in West Africa and the Middle East, where it is known best for giving dishes a rich, nutty flavor (source: International Journal of Food Properties).
One more way to enjoy watermelon seeds is eating them raw and sprouted, but this is not advisable during pregnancy.
Sprouted seeds, like alfalfa or watermelon seeds, grow best under the same conditions as harmful bacteria and can easily cause foodborne illness (source: NHS).
To be safe, stick to eating only non-sprouted watermelon seeds.
Whether eaten roasted, straight out of the watermelon flesh, or as an oil, watermelon seeds are just another delicious way to enjoy (more) of the watermelon.
Is Watermelon Juice Safe During Pregnancy?
Watermelon juice has been gaining popularity recently, and is now even sold fresh-squeezed in grocery stores! While a glass of watermelon juice is no doubt refreshing, there are a few safety considerations.
Like with all unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices, unpasteurized watermelon juice is a risk for foodborne illness.
If you plan on drinking watermelon juice be sure to purchase only pasteurized versions, and if you order watermelon juice at a restaurant ask your server to verify that the juice is pasteurized.
Cold-pressed juices are a common brunch drink. While the process of cold-pressing does preserve the fruit’s nutrients, these juices are not pasteurized, making them unsafe for women in any trimester of pregnancy (source: Food Insight).
Should you get a craving for watermelon juice, Simply Watermelon is arguably the most popular and widespread brand offering pasteurized watermelon juice to keep both you and baby safe.
Should I Eat Watermelon if I have Diabetes or Gestational Diabetes?
As I mentioned earlier, the glycemic index for watermelon is misleading and can lead many women with diabetes to avoid the fruit.
A typical serving of watermelon, around 1 cup or 1 small wedge-shaped slice, provides just under 12 grams of carbohydrate (source: USDA).
For reference, a standard carbohydrate serving in the United States is 15 grams of carbohydrate.
Whether you have Type 1, Type 2, or Gestational Diabetes, watermelon can still fit in your carbohydrate allowance.
If counting carbohydrates is part of your diabetes management, consider 1 ¼ cups watermelon to be a single carbohydrate serving, as 1 cup is just under 12 grams of carbohydrate.
To further decrease the impact watermelon has on your blood sugar, try eating the melon as part of a full meal.
Protein, fats, and fiber, all slow digestion and therefore slow the release of sugar into your blood. Slower release of sugar = less rollercoaster effect on your blood glucose levels.
Is Watermelon Good for Pregnancy Nausea or Morning Sickness?
Eating watermelon is a common pregnancy “hack” for beating morning sickness, but does it actually work?
While eating too much watermelon can cause an upset stomach and gas for some, there are a few reasons why eating a few bites of watermelon can also calm your stomach.
Watermelon is relatively bland and is also mostly simple carbohydrate, which is easier for the body to digest than more fibrous fruits and veggies (source: Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology).
For mothers-to-be struggling with heartburn-related nausea, watermelon isn’t hot, spicy, or highly acidic, making it a perfect fruit choice (source: Minnesota WIC).
The water and potassium will also aid in rehydration after a bout of vomiting, helping you bounce back from morning sickness.
There’s also a separate article on nausea-fighting foods for pregnancy, which you might like to read if you’re suffering frequently.
Overall, watermelon is bound up in many pregnancy myths, but fear not, the fruit can be a perfectly safe addition to any pregnancy diet.
Full of antioxidants, water, and potassium, watermelon can relieve muscle soreness, aid in rehydration after morning sickness, and may help calm stomachs.
Even watermelon seeds pack a nutritious punch of protein and essential fats. In order to keep you and baby safe, avoid pre-cut watermelon, wash whole watermelon thoroughly before eating, and follow safe storage guidelines.