Watermelons range in size and can be as small as a few pounds up to about ninety pounds! They belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin, and other foods grown on a vine on the ground. While there are different varieties of watermelon, the one most common in the United States is the round, dark green rind with white stripes and a bright red center spotted with black seeds. The meat may also be pink, orange, yellow, or white and the seeds can be brown, white, green, or yellow. There are, however, a few watermelon varieties that are seedless.
This fruit is native to the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. The first known watermelon crop was in Egypt and can be seen in hieroglyphics on tomb walls that date as far back as 3000 B.C. Watermelons were held in high regard by the Egyptian people and were therefore left as food to nourish the dead in the next life. From Egypt, watermelons began to spread throughout the Asian continent, including to China where they became quite popular. Eventually, watermelons reached America through African slaves. It wasn't until about 1615 that the name "watermelon" was coined and added to the English dictionary. Today, Russia is where most of the commercial watermelon crop is grown. Other leading producers of watermelons include China, Turkey, Iran, and the United States.
The water content in watermelons is very high; in fact, they are about 92 percent water. This causes watermelon to be a low calorie food, with one cup of watermelon having less than fifty calories. It is also a great hydrating food. Preventing dehydration is becoming increasingly and surprisingly difficult today because many people not only do not get enough water during the day, they also drink soda pop, usually in place of water, and soda itself is dehydrating. Eating foods that are high in water can help prevent dehydration for many people.
Additionally, because watermelon has so much water and has less calorie content than many other fruits, it supplies more nutrients per calorie, which is a great benefit to health. Watermelon is a good source of vitamins B1, B6, and C, pantothenic acid, biotin, magnesium, potassium, beta carotene, lycopene, and fiber.
This is especially beneficial for many Americans today who are overweight or obese and who need to take in more nutrition and fewer calories. Because watermelon is so sweet and is so low in calories, it makes it a great snack or dessert alternative for those looking to improve their health and nutrition or to lose weight. The high water and fiber content helps you feel full while also giving the feeling of having consumed something sweet and satisfying, ultimately meaning fewer calories will be consumed and therefore resulting in weight loss. When there is a high water content in a food, it also slows down the absorption and stays longer in the stomach. This makes one feel full for a longer period of time and helps to reduce cravings.
Some of the most healthful compounds our bodies need are contained in high amounts in watermelon. These include the antioxidants lycopene and beta carotene which are also responsible for watermelon's bright red color. Lycopene is a carotenoid associated with lower rates of prostate cancer. Many studies have demonstrated that people with high lycopene intakes have a significantly lower risk of getting prostate cancer, and those with prostate cancer see a big benefit from getting lycopene. Lycopene is not only associated with prostate cancer, though to date this association is the strongest, but also has been shown to help protect against lung, stomach, pancreas, oral, colon, rectum, esophagus, breast, and cervix cancers. It should be noted however that lycopene supplements have not shown quite the same benefit. This is because in high lycopene-containing whole foods, such as watermelon, the lycopene is coupled with many other natural plant compounds that work together synergistically. For example, lycopene works well with beta carotene and other natural carotenoids, all of which have great anti-cancer capabilities, and when they work together a greater effect is seen.
Because watermelon is high in water and low in calories and has some great antioxidants and nutrients, watermelon is thought to be a great food for cleansing and detoxifying the body. Furthermore, watermelon is a great natural laxative, helping to relieve constipation and other such digestive problems. This laxative effect is mainly due to the very high water content and high fiber content. This gives bulk to the stools and lubricates the intestines, helping to soften and push stool along and out of the body.
When buying watermelon, many think that tapping on the watermelon and seeing if it sounds hollow is a good way to determine if the watermelon is ripe, but this method does not often work. A better method is to look for watermelons that have a dull, uniform surface and a cream or yellow colored portion. Even with careful inspection however, watermelon quality can be hard to determine without cutting it open. Once the watermelon is cut open, a good watermelon will be firm and have juicy red meat and dark brown to black seeds. If there are white streaks in the meat or white seeds then this usually is a sign that the watermelon is immature and not fully ripe. Watermelons should be kept refrigerated in order to keep them fresh, crisp, and juicy. Keep cut watermelon covered to keep them fresh; melons left uncovered will not remain juicy and crisp and will absorb the odors from other foods.
Vegetarian Watermelon Gazpacho
- approx 3 cups of watermelon, chopped
- 1 cucumber, diced
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
Get the whole recipe on vegetarian.about.com
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