A Refreshing Summer Treat

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by Kay Morton

While there is no such thing as the perfect fruit, a crisp, juicy slice of watermelon on a hot summer day comes pretty close. Watermelon, an all-American favorite, is ideal for both snacks and meals. 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 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:  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. 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: Potassium may help protect against high blood pressure, 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:  A two-cup serving of watermelon contains 15 – 20 milligrams of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases. Lycopene neutralizes cell-damaging free radicals. Research has found that men who consumed lycopene-rich diets of have 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. 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 which may aid in the prevention of certain chronic diseases.

When choosing a watermelon, the “thump” test really doesn’t tell you about a watermelon’s ripeness. You should look for a smooth surface with the ends of the melon filled out and rounded. The watermelon should be heavy for it’s size and the rind should have a slight dullness. The underside or “belly” of the melon should have a creamy color from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun

If you’re buying a cut watermelon, you have the advantage of seeing first-hand that the flesh is fresh and juicy. It should be free from white streaks caused by immaturity — but not watery and stringy due to aging. Seeds should be dark brown or black.

Uncut melons keep from one to three weeks. Once cut, your watermelon has a short shelf life. For peak freshness and nutritional value, plan to eat it within two or three days. You can store watermelon in a cool shady place if you don’t have room in your refrigerator. But once you’ve refrigerated the melon, you should continue to do so.

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. During these hot summer days, treat your family to a cooling, low calorie dessert – watermelon.

July is traditionally National Watermelon Month and for the fifth year the National Watermelon Promotion Board is celebrating with a Watermelon Carving Contest. Over $2,000 worth of prizes are being offered for this year’s carving contest. Competition areas include most elegant, best fruit basket, best animal and best Star-Spangled carving. More information and entry guidelines are available at www.whataboutwatermelon.com. Entries are due by August 4.

Susan C. Condlin, is the County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.