One of those childhood myths adults spread for no apparent reason is that if you eat a watermelon pip it will grow into a watermelon inside you. Well, last night I ate the watermelon pips and I’m fine.
Here is last night’s dinner. I’m not generally one for fad diets, and in fact the idea of a diet is probably a bit flawed. That said, I am currently on what I might describe as a watermelon fast, and this is for dietary reasons. It turns out there is such a thing as a watermelon diet but I had no idea until two days ago when I Googled it. This is an original idea of mine which, like many things such as the filament bulb and the novel ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’, ended up corresponding to other ideas which were floating about in the akashic record or something and got captured by those butterfly nets we call our brains.
Here’s another picture of a watermelon:
There’s something about botanical illustration which is really appealing, and photography is no substitute because it doesn’t represent an ideal version of the plant in question. For instance, a photograph usually wouldn’t include buds, flowers and fruits on the same plant and therefore it’s an art in itself which can’t easily be replaced by photos, something which also applies, for example, to ornithology, where eggs, chicks and summer and winter plumage can all be included in one image. Yesterday I talked about my biological misadventures at Pegwell Bay and my focus on theory rather than getting my sweatshirt covered in stinky mud, and as you may have noticed I find “natural history” -type illustrations have an appeal all of their own beyond the nitty-gritty and messiness of the actual world with fish, beetles and moss in it. I find this rather unfortunate in myself, but maybe you too can see the appeal.
Returning to watermelon pips, yes, you should eat them. Like many other edible seeds they’re high in vitamins and minerals. Even better, if you actually pick them out and allow them to sprout, they become even more nutritious. The mineral content will always be the same, of course, because as far as I know living things can’t transmute elements although some alternative botanists have made that claim and Asimov’s <<Pate de Foie Gras>> depicts a goose who excreted gold transmuted due to having a radioactive liver in its eggs. Nonetheless, one of the things plants are really good at compared to animals is making their own food, and given the availability of ingredients, this means that like sourdough bread, sprouted pulses can be much more nutritious than their undeveloped analogues because they’ve had a chance to synthesise micronutrients.
I used to know a lot of fruitarians, whose diet used to bother me because so far as I could tell no fruit is more than 2% protein by mass and certain B vitamins seemed to be entirely absent from them. However, I used to reassure myself that these people would be okay because they ate the pips. It then turned out they spat them out, which has always struck me as perverse. Why would one eschew such a great source of minerals and other nutrients and just eat the flesh? Which reminds me actually – I now have abandoned watermelon rinds which are also edible, and that’s wasteful. Just for the record then, watermelon pips contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and copper, and also mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins. And that’s just the pips.
Most of a watermelon is of course the flesh. I once heard it claimed that watermelon flesh wasn’t red until it was exposed to the atmosphere, but I can’t work out if this is a philosophical or botanical point. Clearly there is a sense in which (red) watermelon flesh isn’t red if it’s inside the watermelon, since it isn’t reflecting red light and it’s also the proverbial tree falling in a forest up to the point where it’s exposed, but for all I know, if you were to core a watermelon with a glass tube, maybe it wouldn’t look red at all. However, as I said yesterday, I am not a practical person and I’ve never done anything like this. Incidentally, not all watermelons are red anyway.
The reason they are red is that, like tomatoes, they are high in lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid, one of the bright red, orange and yellow pigments which the body can easily convert to vitamin A. As with many other vitamins, this indicates that the idea that a vitamin is a single, fixed compound is flawed. As a vegan all my vitamin A is in the form of carotenoids rather than retinol itself, as found for instance in liver to a sometimes toxic degree. The most efficient carotenoid for such conversion is the beta carotene found in orange carrots, and I presume this is my main source of “vitamin A”. Like vitamins C and E (and vitamin E is probably not a real vitamin either but that’s another story), vitamin A is antioxidant as well as performing other functions such as helping ward off measles and enabling the rod cells of the retina to work, and it does a load of other stuff such as prevent excessive keratin formation in wound healing. Watermelon flesh also contains vitamins B6 and C, and again I would question the idea that vitamin C is ascorbic acid, because it can’t be absorbed without flavonoids, but that’s another story. The flesh is almost completely free of fat, which is a problem for acquiring fatty acids, and also has very little protein, but only being on it for a couple of days shouldn’t do any harm unless someone has a protein-losing condition of some kind.
But the main reason I’m eating watermelon and nothing else right now is that it’s bulky. The pulp is 92% water, and as such is very filling at first without also providing much energy, which in my case will get stored away in adipose tissue a lot. My plan is to pursue the following dietary regimen for a few weeks. On Sundays and Wednesdays I shall prepare my usual pasta salad as illustrated on YouTube, although without the mozzarella since I’ve returned to a plant-based diet since I made that video. This salad, which I make in large quantities, usually lasts me two days each time I make it. My main concern about it is that the glycaemic index of the pasta is rather high, although I’ve recently switched over to wholemeal pasta which will help a bit. Then, on Tuesdays and Fridays I plan to eat just one large watermelon per day. I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to keep this up.
Unfortunately, the fact that I’m now a live-in carer has led to me becoming a bit sedentary. I’ve started to address that with Yoga and have also done a bit of dancing to help exercise. As a young adult, I weighed 61kg for many years. After the children came along, I found my weight crept up, partly for the positive reason that I was hefting them around a lot, pushing pushchairs and so on, but later on for the negative reason that toddlers walk incredibly slowly and require a great deal of patience, so that was a lot of aerobic activity out of the window. Later still, I engaged in a fair degree of comfort eating until some time in 2013 I realised I’d reached 85kg and really should address it. This I did by taking a few simple steps which I’d recommend to others. I mean, they worked for me but that doesn’t mean they are supposed to be a good or practical plan for anyone else. I returned to veganism, gave up frying food, reduced the size of my dinner from four spoonfuls to three, gave up sugar in coffee, cut down my meals to two a day and took up walking to see patients in their homes rather than having them come to see me, which incidentally works really well because you get a better idea of their lifestyle. I also drank carbonated mineral water a lot. I found that in a few months I got down to 69 kg. My lowest weight of all was 67kg, which I achieved in the police cells that December after being arrested in a case of mistaken identity due to not being fed for twenty hours or so.
Unsurprisingly, my weight proceeded to yo-yo back up again later on, largely due to the fact that I am now caring for my father and am therefore stuck in the house a lot not being very physically active. However, I have now come to address that, and in dietary terms that’s going to involve eating a lot of watermelon for a bit. It’s an experiment, but I currently have high hopes for it. I shall also commit myself to dancing more, and of course to Yoga.
Watermelons are members of the Cucurbitaceae, also including cucumbers, courgettes (zucchini), marrows, pumpkins, gourds, squashes, melons, chayote, karela and some odder species such as the squirting cucumber and the British native white bryony. They tend to be easily recognisable because of their large succulent fruits, and they’re often creeping vines. White bryony is quite invasive because of this, and is also poisonous. Being poisonous, it unsurprisingly does have a medicinal use but I’ve never used it personally. It’s a schedule three herb. Karela is also somewhat poisonous but is a useful bitter. At this point though I should remind myself that this is not homeedandherbs even though this post would kind of be at home over there. The cucurbitaceae are also apt for spoonerism: squtternut bosh and kerala come to mind. They also have separate male and female flowers, but on the same plant.
What I’m doing with the watermelon is similar to what I did with the fizzy water: occupying my stomach with volume which is low in energy. An advantage of the fizzy water was that it was cold, meaning that I had to expend calories heating it up to body temperature. The same applies to the watermelon provided it stays in the fridge, but it does contain sugar, though in itself that’s not a bad thing. The main problem with subsisting solely on watermelons would be that in the long term it would lead to kwashiorkor, which is what happens when you get enough calories but not enough protein. This leads to fluid retention because the concentration of protein in the blood vessels falls, and since antibodies are made of protein it also involves depressed specific immune response. Therefore it’s not a good idea to eat watermelons alone if you can avoid it, although apparently there are people who do for subsistence reasons. Kwashiorkor is the classic starving child image with the bloated belly and stick limbs seen in charity appeals. I’m not going to post a picture here because I feel I would fail to respect the people involved.
The idea of a pip germinating and becoming a watermelon inside someone is flawed for all sorts of reasons. One is obviously stomach acid. Most seeds would not survive being dunked in concentrated hydrochloric acid for five hours, which is what happens when you swallow one. Another issue is that a germinating watermelon seed would become a vine before it began to fruit. The inside of the body is also very dark. On the plus side, it’s also a tropical environment which is suitable for watermelon cultivation, which brings up the ethical and environmental issue of eating exotic produce from distant countries, and whereas I have chosen to do this for a bit, I have decided to compromise for now on this. Getting back to the germination issue, it does occasionally happen that seeds grow into plants inside people, one example being a tomato plant growing from a pip in someone’s dentures. I’m not sure why people tell children not to eat watermelon seeds. I can only think it’s to do with fear of intestinal obstruction.
In Victoria Wood’s ‘Mens Sana In Thingummy Doo-Dah’, there’s a character who says she eats raw eggs to help her lose weight, her idea being that the egg eats the food for her. This is the kind of half-remembered nutritional advice which is in a way quite similar to not eating the watermelon pips, and does have some basis in fact. Raw egg does in fact prevent biotin absorption. Biotin is a B vitamin which used to be called Vitamin H, and I find myself quite sad that it’s not still called that because the idea of vitamins corresponding to every letter of the alphabet is quite appealing. I don’t know if people still eat raw eggs as part of a dietary program or not, but one thing they definitely do do is swallow tapeworm eggs, which really do eat your food for you. One possible advantage of doing that would be that it’s likely to give your immune system something to attack, thereby reducing your risk of auto-immune and allergic conditions. Nonetheless most people prefer the idea of closer relatives living inside them than flatworms.
Watermelons are said to take about eighty days to grow from seed to fruit. The largest watermelon I’ve ever actually bought had a diameter of sixty centimetres, and was almost immediately dropped and fell to bits on the pavement due to our daughter and a friend carrying it between them and slipping. It occurs to me that the obstacles to growing a watermelon inside someone’s digestive system would be considerable, particularly one of that size, but I also wonder whether there is any prospect of genetically modifying a flowering plant so that its seeds grow directly into fruit rather than a plant in a hospitable environment. A perfectly spherical watermelon would have a mass of over a hundred kilos, and such watermelons do exist, but they’re generally prolate spheroids – rugby ball shaped. If watermelons could be induced to grow inside people, which is a remarkably far-fetched idea, they could have the advantage of working like tapeworms and absorbing some of the calories and nutrients the host would otherwise be consuming themselves. There would, however, still be a problem with photosynthesis and a suitable site for implantation, and the watermelon would grow around three times as fast as a pregnancy. Nonetheless the “yuck” factor of hosting a fruit is considerably lower than that of hosting an animal parasite. I’m not sure why this is.
Finally, the exhortation “Don’t tell me you know what this is like unless you’ve passed a watermelon”, as uttered by I think Rachel Greene in ‘Friends’ would finally have a comeback, although I suspect most such watermelons would end up being delivered by C section.