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If you could pop in a time machine, transport yourself back several millennia, and tumble out into Africa’s Kalahari desert, this is the tableau you might find spread out before you: a line of sun-baked, weary nomads trudging along with huge watermelons strapped to their backs. Yes indeed, watermelons. Without the 92 percent water content of this delightfully juicy relative of the pumpkin, survival in the relentless desert would have been iffy at best.
Ever since, the watermelon has charmed its way through the centuries and numerous cultures. Ancient Egyptian kings required its inclusion in their funerary stash—watermelon seeds were found even in the tomb of that superstar of pharaohs, King Tutankhamen. Mexican art created for the holiday Día de los Muertos has for centuries depicted the dead as savoring watermelon. Russia boasts a popular wine made from the sweet red flesh; and summer fairs and carnivals across the United States even feature watermelon-seed-spitting contests, proving that you really can use every bit of this versatile fruit.
But there is radical nutritional substance beneath the historical flash, with an amazing ratio of health benefits to calories consumed. The water-packed flesh and edible rind are chock-full of numerous antioxidants, resulting in massive benefits throughout the body.
Bursting with Antioxidants
Vitamin C and carotenes from watermelon travel through the body, neutralizing free radicals, improving heart health, fighting cancer, and reducing arthritis inflammation. Watermelon has B vitamins, which stimulate energy production, and the amino acid citrulline, which helps protect against erectile dysfunction. And the combination of all of the above has been shown to protect against age-related macular degeneration—forget the carrots, eat watermelon!
Top billing, though, goes to lycopene. The much-studied carotenoid claims amazing contributions to cardiovascular health and to the prevention of prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal cancers. It has even been shown to protect DNA in white blood cells. And watermelon is behind only guavas and tomatoes as a rich source of lycopene.
A study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition uncovered an interesting synergy. Research found that consuming a lycopene-rich food, such as watermelon, along with green tea greatly enhanced the protective effects of
both, and may greatly reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. (So we’ve got a recipe below with a combo of the two.)
Choosing the Best
Whatever the weight of your watermelon, it should feel heavy for its size. The skin should be smooth and free of defects, and there should be a creamy yellow spot underneath from where it sat on the ground while ripening in the sun; without that, the fruit could have been harvested before it was ripe, and be sorely lacking in nutrients—not to mention flavor.
Whole melons should always be stored at room temperature, as studies have shown that lycopene content actually increases as the melon sits out. Once cut, it should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six days with little loss of nutrients.
Did you know?
An average watermelon weighs about 6 lb. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the heaviest watermelon ever grown was 262 lb.