The story: I see many, many, many fitness ‘enthusiasts’ who advise against eating foods like watermelon because, as they understand it, watermelon is merely “empty calories.”
The truth: I don’t even understand what the hell this is supposed to mean. I know there are some popular diet programs that refer to certain foods as “empty calories,” but I have yet to see a credible definition of the term that includes an explanation for why a food like watermelon would earn the title.
The general understanding of “empty calories” is an edible item that contains calories—carbs or sugar, basically—but nothing else. And, even from the perspective of sports nutrition, that’s not particularly accurate, either, because sugar has nutritional value. We might not like it, but we actually do need sugar—just not in the quantities we’re currently getting. The majority of the things you consume ultimately wind up converting to sugar during the digestive/fat storage processes that take place in your body; sugar is so important that, without it in any convertible form, your brain doesn’t even function the same. Things start to change for the worse.
Suppose, though, that I decided to accept this as the definition of “empty calories” that these people were working with. “Empty calories” is just something that’s basically sugar and water, no other nutrition. Okay. Except, that doesn’t describe watermelon in the slightest.
I think what’s happening is that people are deriding watermelon because, on top of being virtually all-carbs, it’s also super-sweet—two things that most fitness ‘enthusiasts’ discourage.
Nutrition is more than protein, fat, and carbs. Nutrition includes your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, gut flora, electrolytes, and even more components that nutrition science hasn’t even considered yet. And guess what? All of these things are overflowing in watermelon.
Watermelon is an invaluable source of vitamins A, B1, B6, and C. Watermelon is a natural source of potassium—an invaluable electrolyte and a supportive nutrient for helping lower blood pressure—and, contains both biotin (the hair, skin, and nails vitamin) and magnesium, key for supporting blood pressure regulation and bone health. What’s more, watermelon is a great source of lycopene, second only to tomatoes and maybe red bell peppers, an invaluable source for heart health, as well as fighting both cancer and inflammation.
It is important to understand the importance of food beyond “protein, carbs, fat”—something most ‘enthusiasts’ don’t do because it’d require them to eat more than spinach and chicken breasts with brown rice every day—because there is more to food than what it can do for your weight and body fat percentage. The food you eat is the keeper of your health, your strength, your mind. The food you eat is about so much more than pounds on the scale—it helps you fight bone diseases, can help you take up arms against cancer, and promotes longevity.
Make no mistake about it, the most nutritious thing you could possibly eat is leafy greens… specifically collard greens. There is nothing more nutritious than your Meemaw’s collard greens. Nothing. But does that mean you should only eat collards because they’re the absolute opposite of “empty calories?” Of course not—a part of ensuring our commitment to healthy eating is permanent, we have to diversify our diets. Fresh fruits like watermelon and other produce stamped with the “empty calories” label might not be as nutritious as collards, but they still provide value worth enjoying and putting to use.
Ultimately, you have to make the choice for what fits best in your eating lifestyle. Whether you decide to stop eating fruit or only eat dark-n-leafies for the rest of your life is totally up to you, but above all, make sure that your reasoning is sound. Calling something fresh like watermelon (or bananas, for that matter) “empty calories” only highlights an embarrassing lack of understanding of nutrition in the person saying it, and I know you know better than that, right?