Watermelon: delicious and nutritious summer icon

Juicy and sweet, watermelon is one of summer’s treats. Less known though, is the fact that it also offers a range of important nutrients, among them vitamins C, A, several amino acids, beta carotene, potassium, and particularly high levels of the antioxidant lycopene (higher than found in tomatoes!). Consuming watermelon helps boost anti-inflammatory activity, lower blood pressure and more. The fruit is fairly high in sugar, so avoid consuming Texas-size portions.

There are many different kinds of watermelon: Flesh colors include orange, red, yellow and pink. The red variety is the most nutritious. Some varieties are globe-shaped, others are oval or oblong. The mature fruits come in 5-150 pounds depending on the cultivar, (something to consider before your 4th of July celebrations).

Seeded and seedless watermelons are widely available. However, what is called a “seedless watermelon” is actually inaccurate. Through hybridization, this type of watermelon has partly developed small white and soft seeds that cannot mature. The black crunchy seeds in the classic seeded watermelon are highly nutritious and used (often roasted), in many countries as a snack.

Watermelons originated in Africa and over time spread to all parts of the world. More than 100 million tons per year are produced worldwide, China being, by far, the largest producer. Watermelon is the official state vegetable of Oklahoma, in spite of disagreement about whether it is a fruit or vegetable. Let’s, for a moment, clarify fruit versus vegetable: Botanically, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure in flowering plants formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruit is the means by which the plant disseminates seeds, so obviously, watermelon is a fruit and friends, so are cucumber, tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, etc. Chefs and gardeners distinguish fruit and veggies according their flavor or growing methods, hence the reason for the confusion.

There are many wonderful ways to enjoy watermelon: In the summer, more than in any other time of the year, it is important to sufficiently hydrate your body. Water, preferably filtered, should be your prime source, but eating water-rich vegetables and fruits also helps fulfill part of this requirement; therefore consuming a slice of watermelon is a great way to help keep your body hydrated. (Watermelon is 91% water). You can blend its juice with other juices or have you ever tried watermelon wine? Puree watermelon together with, cantaloupe, nectarine, and a pinch of cinnamon and mix with a small amount plain yogurt. Make a watermelon sorbet. In some Asian cultures the rind is marinated or pickled with spices and the flesh is used in stir-fries. In Southern Russia the rind is fermented together with sauerkraut. The following are some easy and delicious recipes for you to try — happy summer.

Judy E. Buss is a syndicated food/health columnist, blogger for the American Holistic Health Association, nutritional cooking instructor and speaker.^p

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