Slice Up A Watermelon

by Carol Milano

They're in season and ripe with nutrients

It may be 92 percent water, but a juicy watermelon delivers quite an array of health benefits. "People think watermelon is an empty source of calories, but it's chock full of nutrients, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals -- and has less than 100 calories in two cups," observes Barbara Levine, RD, Phd, director of the Nutrition Information Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. "It's a great source of fiber and potassium which can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure level." Potassium is needed for fluid balance, so watermelon is a tasty way to stay hydrated.

Because it has no saturated fat or cholesterol, watermelon is called a heart-healthy food by the American Heart Association. "Heart disease is on the rise, and watermelon is one of the richest sources of lycopene, now known to be protective for heart health," notes Dr. Levine. Lycopene is found in the red pigment of watermelon (and tomatoes). A two-cup serving contains over 18 mg of lycopene--more than four times the amount (4 mg) in a medium tomato. According to a University of Illinois study, women with the highest level of lycopene were five times less likely to develop cervical cancer.

Watermelon is also rich in vitamin C, important in the formation of collagen, "which helps anchor teeth into gums, strengthens bones and blood vessels, and supports tissue repair and wound healing," explains Dr. Levine. Vitamin C and vitamin A (also found in watermelon) are important for eye health, and can help prevent cataracts. Yellow watermelon, is an excellent source of lutein, which is important for preventing age-related macular degeneration.

"Some of the nutrients in watermelon have properties that may help prevent or treat such conditions as heart disease or certain cancers (particularly breast and skin cancer). Make watermelon a part of your medley of fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in these will help boost your immunity," she says. Like other fruits and vegetables teeming with vitamin C, watermelon may be able to bolster the body's free radical defense against early stage tumors. it's a low calorie food that can help keep both total fat and saturated fat to a minimum,
Dr. Levine adds.

It's not just a summer food -- in many parts of the country, watermelon is now available year-round. And almost every part of it is edible, including the seeds and most of the rind. "So revisit watermelon; have fun with it, use it in cooking, salads, and desserts," suggests Dr. Levine. "It's also wonderful with a seafood or chicken salad, or in kebabs."

Watermelon can form the basis of a cooling fruit salad, and is great for smoothies or slush. You can even barbecue it: Put thick slices on your grill for 10 to 20 seconds, turn once, and serve. The fruit also works well in salsa, margaritas, cookies, and glazes for meats. (More recipes can be found at

Watermelon also contains the important nutrient vitamin B6, which preliminary research suggests may help people cope with anxiety. Dr. Levine, who often eats two cups for breakfast, quips "Watermelon takes some stress out of my life because it make me happy"

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