Watermelon cools hot summer days

August 09, 2002|by LYNN F. LITTLE

While there is no such thing as the perfect fruit, a crisp, juicy slice of watermelon on a hot summer day comes close. Watermelon is an all-American favorite, ideal for both snacks and meals. And you can feel good about serving watermelon to your family. In addition to being a refreshing summer treat, watermelon is packed with nutrition.

Take a look at seven nutritional benefits watermelon has to offer.

  • Good source of vitamin A: Vitamin A has many roles in promoting overall health. It helps your eyes see normally in the dark, promotes the growth and health of cells, and protects against infection by helping to maintain healthy skin and tissues. It also is involved in hearing, taste, growth and normal development of fetuses. A two-cup serving of watermelon provides 20 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A.

  • Good source of vitamin C: Like vitamin A, vitamin C has many responsibilities in the body. Probably vitamin C's most well known role is as an antioxidant protecting body cells from damage by free radicals. Studies have shown that cell damage by free radicals may lead to chronic health problems, including cancer and heart disease.

    Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, appear to counteract the effects of free radicals. Vitamin C is also required for the production and maintenance of collagen, it boosts the body's ability to fight infection, and helps keep capillaries and gums healthy. A two-cup serving of watermelon supplies 30 milligrams of vitamin C.

  • Provides potassium: Although the scientific reasons are not fully understood, foods high in potassium may help protect against high blood pressure. Potassium also helps regulate fluids and mineral balance in and out of body cells, aids in muscle contraction, and helps transmit nerve impulses. Several fruits and vegetables are among the best sources of potassium, including watermelon, which has approximately 350 milligrams per two-cup serving.

  • Contains lycopene: Watermelon contains 15 to 20 milligrams of lycopene per two cup serving, an antioxidant that may help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Found only in select fruits and vegetables, lycopene, like vitamin C, neutralizes cell-damaging free radicals. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that men who consumed lycopene-rich diets of tomatoes and tomato products had a much lower risk of developing certain cancers, specifically prostate cancer.

  • Ninety-two percent water: Staying properly hydrated is extremely important, particularly during the hot days of summer. While plain water and other beverages provide a significant amount of most people's fluid requirements, solid food, especially fruits and vegetables, also provide a substantial amount. Watermelon is 92 percent water by weight, the highest percentage of any fruit.

  • Low in calories yet filling: A two-cup serving of watermelon has only 100 calories. However, as a result of its high water content, watermelon is quite filling.

  • Low in fat and cholesterol free: Among its other health benefits, watermelon is naturally low in fat and cholesterol free. Research suggests that diets moderate in fat and cholesterol promote health and may aid in the prevention of certain chronic diseases.

  • Just a reminder . . . Always wash the outside of a watermelon with tap water before you cut it open. This is important to prevent the spread of bacteria that might be on the outside surface to the interior of the melon.

    Some cool watermelon serving ideas:

    • Cubes of watermelon can be placed on wooden sticks and frozen for watermelon pops.

    • Seed watermelon chunks and mix with some lemonade in a blender for a refreshing drink.

    • Partially freeze slices of watermelon. Serve with a wedge of fresh lime.

    • Watermelon salsa is delicious served over grilled fish. Cut watermelon into small cubes, strain off the juice. Mix the cubes with equal parts chopped tomatoes and some chopped green onion and a chili pepper. Season with cumin and hot pepper sauce to taste.

    More watermelon tips and recipes can be found by visiting

    Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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