One of the most enjoyed fruits during the hot season is the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) which originated from Africa. A watermelon is about 95% water, and there are more than 200 to 300 varieties grown in the United States alone, only about 50 of those varieties are the more popular ones, and then only about half a dozen of those varieties make it into your supermarket. There is even a square shaped watermelon grown in Japan, so that it will fit into refrigerator shelves nicely and not take up too much space.
Watermelons do grow from a vine, but the melon is on top of the ground. Growing a watermelon can be very demanding. They require a lot of, sun light, space, water, and nutrients. It takes about 90 days for a full mature watermelon.
California’s peak season for watermelon is May – October, but in general you can buy watermelon almost throughout the year because your local supermarket can get them from their supplier.
Picking a watermelon may take some talent, skill, or just pure luck. However, generally you want a firm, smooth melon with a yellowish creamy-white underside where it touched ground. Ripe watermelons should have a healthy sheen and a melon smell or fragrance. One popular way of picking a watermelon is by knocking on the melon with your knuckles and listen for a dull, hollow sound. The unripe melons have a higher pitched sound.
We like watermelons for the cool sweet refreshing taste, but should we worry about calories? Does it have too much sugar? Will it cause excess weight gain? Let’s take a look at the nutrition information.
- 1 cup of diced watermelon:
- 50 calories
- 12% of B1 and B6
- 1 gram protein
- 11 mg calcium
- 170 mg potassium
- 12.5 mg Vit. C
- 875 IU (International Units) Vit. A
- 6900 mcg (micrograms) lycopene
Even though the watermelon is about 95% water, it still packs in some great nutrition benefits. As far as calories, this fruit is reasonable at 50 calories per cup (cubed watermelon). Because the watermelon is mostly water it will help to keep your body hydrated during the heated season, and most of that water will be put out of your body through sweat or urination.
The top two benefits of eating a watermelon are the values of Vitamin A and Lycopene. These are both in the category of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals (highly reactive and unstable molecules). Vitamin A aids in the building and strengthening of bones, soft tissue, skin, and mucous membranes. Lycopene is in the subcategory of Vitamin A, and has been shown in recent studies that it may have potential health benefits to reduce the risk of cancer. The third benefit of the watermelon is the potassium. Potassium helps trigger your heart’s squeeze of blood through your body. It can also help with reducing the amount of muscle cramps.
People with diabetes may be concerned with the sugar content of the watermelon, however remember to monitor the glycemic index of foods. Glycemic index refers to how fast a specific carbohydrate (bread, rice, potato, fruits, etc…) food raises the blood sugar within a given time. The glycemic index of a food can also be affected by what food you are eating with the primary item. For example, if you are eating a hamburger and then a slice of watermelon, that will change the time it takes to affect of the rise in sugar level. You may want to work with a dietitian to learn more about combining and preparing foods to achieve the lowest glycemic index levels in your diet plan.
The glycemic index of a watermelon is 6, which is pretty low compared to the chart below. Most nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes have a low glycemic index
Here is a chart of the levels of the glycemic index:
- Low (good) glycemic index levels: 55 or less
- Medium glycemic index levels: 56–69
- High (bad) glycemic index levels: 70 or higher
While the glycemic index in watermelon may be low, keep in mind that too much of one food is never a good thing, if you were to eat half or a whole watermelon, it will cause your blood sugar to rise significantly. So just remember moderation of any food is the key to good health. Enjoy picking out and eating your watermelon while we are still in summer!!!
Recipe By: Everyday Cooking with Dean Ornish, page 131
Serving Size: 4
4 cups seeded and peeled watermelon — 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup diced red onion
4 tablespoons rice vinegar — (not seasonal)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Serve immediately.
You can make several different permutations of this perky salad by substituting honeydew or cantaloupes for the watermelon; tarragon or basil for the mint; or raspberry vinegar for the rice vinegar. You could also mix two or three types of melon for a more colorful dish.