You love watermelon, especially as a refreshing treat to beat the summer heat, but is it any good for you? After all, watermelon’s little more than water and sugar, right?
That’s what most people believe, but in recent years, researchers have discovered the surprising health benefits of watermelon. Turns out, sweet, juicy watermelon is actually packed with phytochemicals and nutrients your body needs for healthy development. Watermelon has more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable, even tomatoes — 20 mg. per 2-cup serving. Lycopene is an important plant compound that destroys harmful compounds (free radicals) which can damage cells.
Watermelon is also an ideal food if you want to lose a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight. Watermelon has only 40 calories per cup and 0 grams of fat. Since it is 92 percent water and contains 0.6 grams of fiber, one cup of watermelon will fill you up and reduce cravings for something sweet.
Watermelon contains the amino acid, citrulline, which has been shown to increase blood flow and cardiovascular function. Lycopene also appears to play a role in heart health. If you have high blood pressure or have a family history of high blood pressure, you may want to increase your intake of watermelon. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer,” because it has no symptoms, yet is a major cause of strokes.
Nutritionists have found that altering diet can significantly lower blood pressure and keep it at a healthy level. Diets low in red meat, sugar and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds seem to support healthy blood pressure. Watermelon fits perfectly into this healthy, whole-foods diet. Because watermelon increases circulation, it is also recommended for anyone suffering tingling or numbness in association with diabetes or high blood pressure.
What if you could reduce your risk of cancer by 20 percent or more? One report, Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective reviewed over 4,500 research studies and came to one significant conclusion: people who eat 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily have a 20 percent (or more) reduction in their risk of cancer.
Watermelon, in particular, is a good bet for reducing your risk of cancer. Free radicals are linked to the development of certain cancers and we know that the phytchemicals in watermelon scavenge and destroy those free radicals.
Watermelon is also rich in vitamin C with 12.5 mg per 1 cup serving. Vitamin C promotes wound healing and boosts the immune system. It also helps the body use iron to build red blood cells.
To get the most nutrition from watermelon, it’s important to select fully ripened fruits, which contain the highest amounts of lycopene. Forget thumping watermelon to determine ripeness. Instead, look at the watermelon. The rind should be dark green and dull, rather than shiny. Turn the watermelon over. The “ground” spot, or place where the watermelon rested on the soil, should be yellowish. A white spot indicates that the watermelon is not ripe.
Pick the watermelon up. It should feel heavy for its size. In fact, one way to pick a good watermelon is by picking up several of similar size and choosing the heaviest one.
Lycopene content remains fairly stable in watermelon, even after it’s cut. In fact, nutrient quality remains high even after 7 days of cutting and storing in the refrigerator. However, quality and taste diminish so it’s best to eat watermelon within 2 to 3 days of cutting it.
Store uncut watermelon in a cool, dry place, such as a basement. Once you cut a watermelon, store it in a covered container in the refrigerator.
The most popular way to eat watermelon is simply to munch on a freshly cut slice, with the juice dripping down your chin. But watermelon has many more uses. Throw it in a smoothie for a refreshing, juicy taste or puree it with yogurt and freeze it as fruit pops. Make watermelon into sorbet or add it to green salads. Watermelon even pairs well with grilled dishes, such as grilled shrimp or chicken. However you slice it, watermelon is a sure bet for cool, refreshing nutrition.
To learn more about calories, nutrition information and the health benefits of watermelon, visit the following sites:
By Julie Christensen
When she’s not writing about gardening, food and canning, Julie Christensen enjoys spending time in her gardens, which includes perennials, vegetables and fruit trees. She’s written hundreds of gardening articles for the Gardening Channel, Garden Guides and San Francisco Gate, as well as several e-books.