Starting back in May around Memorial Day and running through until Labor Day in September, one of the most sold produce items is watermelon. Watermelon is a staple food at most backyard BBQs and summer parties. I can’t think of the 4th of July without thinking of watermelon. You can search for “Create Better Health Tooele County” on Facebook and YouTube for a demo on cutting a watermelon into easy slices in under a minute.
Watermelon is thought to be native to Africa, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. In the U.S. hundreds of varieties are grown, and can vary tremendously in size and shape, with flesh ranging in color from canary yellow to deep red. The entire fruit is edible: The seeds can be roasted and eaten as a snack, the rind can be pickled, the sweet flesh lends itself to sweet and savory preparations alike, though it’s also delicious on its own eaten out of hand.
Watermelon is the epitome of a sweet and refreshing low-calorie summer snack. It provides hydration and also essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Here are some possible health benefits and nutritional content of watermelon, some tips for serving it, and a simple recipe:
Antioxidants: These substances can help remove molecules known as free radicals, or reactive species, from the body. The body produces free radicals during natural processes, such as metabolism. They can also develop through smoking, air pollution, stress and other environmental pressures. If too many free radicals stay in the body, oxidative stress can occur. This can result in cell damage and may lead to a range of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. The body can remove some free radicals naturally, but dietary antioxidants support this process. Below are some of the ways antioxidants and other nutrients in watermelon may help protect a person’s health.
Blood pressure: In a 2012 study, researchers found that watermelon extract reduced blood pressure in and around the ankles of middle-aged people with obesity and early hypertension. The authors suggested that L-citrulline and L-arginine, two of the antioxidants in watermelon, may improve the function of the arteries.
Heart disease: Lycopene, another antioxidant in watermelon, may help protect against heart disease. A 2017 medical study suggested that it might do this by reducing inflammation linked with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.
Cancer: Free radicals can play a role in the development of some types of cancer. The oxidative stress they cause can result in DNA cell damage. Dietary antioxidants in watermelon, such as vitamin C, may help prevent cancer by combatting free radicals. Some studies have also linked lycopene intake with a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Digestion and regularity: Watermelon has high water content and also provides some fiber. These nutrients help promote a healthy gut by preventing constipation and promoting regularity of bowel movements.
Hydration: Watermelon is around 90% water and also provides electrolytes, such as potassium. This makes it a healthful choice of snack during the hot summer months. People can eat watermelon fresh, as juice, or frozen in slices for a tasty cold Popsicle-style snack. It can also satisfy a sweet tooth with its natural sugars.
Brain and nervous system: Choline is another antioxidant that occurs in watermelon. It contributes to muscle movement, learning and memory, maintaining the structure of cell membranes, the transmission of nerve impulses and early brain development. One theory suggests that choline may help slow the progression of dementia, but there is not enough evidence to confirm this.
Muscle soreness: Watermelon and watermelon juice may reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time following exercise in athletes. This is why watermelon is regularly served at marathons and ultra endurance sporting events.
Skin: Watermelon contains vitamin C, which the body needs to produce collagen. Collagen is essential for cell structure and immune function. Vitamin C also promotes wound healing. Studies suggest that vitamin C may help promote healthy skin, including reducing the risk of age-related damage.
A serving of watermelon (or most any fresh fruit) is one cup. One cup of watermelon contains 64 calories. Below is a recipe for a simple watermelon sorbet. Sorbet is typically fruit based, contains no dairy and is served very cold.
4 cups watermelon cubes (frozen)
1 cup cold coconut water
½ c sugar
1 Tbsp lime juice
Bring coconut water and sugar to a boil until sugar dissolves. Turn off heat. Add the lime juice and stir. Pour lime syrup into a freezer safe dish and place into the freezer until almost frozen. Place frozen watermelon and lime syrup into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Sarah Patino is the Certified Nutrition Educator for Food Sense at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2408 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.