Monday, September 27, 2010

Veggie of the Week: Watermelon (yes, its not really a fruit!!)

People can't seem to get enough of the sweet treat, and nutritionists have long appreciated the health benefits watermelon provides. Recently research has shed new light on its potential health benefits. Watermelon contains high concentrations of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help reduce the risks of cancer and other diseases.

Watermelon, the fruit that is really a Vegetable. Watermelon can be traced back to Africa and is part of the cucumber and squash family. It is perhaps the most refreshing, thirst quenching fruit of all. Watermelon consists of 92% water and 8% sugar, so it is aptly named. There are more than 50 varieties of watermelon. Most have red flesh, but there are orange and yellow-fleshed varieties.

Watermelons are available all year. The natural sweetness of watermelon makes it a favorite anytime of the year.

Selecting
Choose firm, symmetrical, fruit free of cracks, bruises, soft spots or mold. Ripe watermelon will have a healthy sheen, a dull rind, dried stem, and a buttery yellow underside where it touched the ground. There should be a melon like smell or fragrance. Thump if you must, sound should be dull and hollow. Lift them, weight should be heavy for size. Avoid watermelons that are very hard, white or very pale green in color on the underside, indicating immaturity. An immature watermelon will be slightly acidic.

Storing
Once picked, watermelon will not ripen easily. If unripe, try putting the whole melon in paper bag un-refrigerated. This sometimes works to ripen them. Watermelons can be kept for short periods of time, up to 2 weeks, uncut at room temperature. Wash watermelon with soap and water before cutting. Once cut, package what is not eaten in closed plastic containers or bags and put back in the refrigerator.

Health benefits of watermelon:
- Prostate cancer: Watermelons contain lycopene, the pigment that gives them their red color on the inside. Some studies have suggested consuming plenty of lycopene actually can lower the chances of a person contracting prostate cancer.
- Immune system: Watermelon also contains an amino acid known as citrulline, which the body can metabolize into an amino acid called arginine. Arginine helps to build up nitric oxide in the body. And nitric oxide helps to boost the body’s immune system. Watermelon also has it’s fair share of Vitamin C, which also works to boost the immune system.
- Impotence: Arginine is also good for relaxing blood flow. Studies have shown that arginine can actually help to improve upon impotence in men.
- Sight: Vitamin A is good for healthy eyesight and improving eyesight. An watermelon contains lots of Vitamin A.
- Heart disease: Those amino acids in watermelon not only relax the blood flowing through the veins, but they also help to maintain the strength of the arteries. That lycopene mentioned above also works as an anti-oxidant in the bloodstream, working to defeat damaging cells.
- Blood pressure: Potassium is important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure, in part because the potassium combats sodium in the body. Sodium tends to hold fluid in the body, which is not a good thing for those with high blood pressure and possibly heart disease. Watermelon has plenty of potassium, thus making it a great natural food for cleaning sodium out of the body and helping with blood pressure.
- Losing weight: Watermelons contain no fat and are low in calories. That, combined with all the vitamins in watermelon, make this fruit an excellent choice in the battle of the bulge.
- Teeth and gums: The Vitamin C in watermelon helps to strengthen and actually clean to a small extent your teeth and gums.
- Energy: Feeling a little tired? If so, skip the caffeinated drinks. Watermelon is what you want. Watermelon has loads of B Vitamins, and B Vitamins work to boost the body’s energy levels.
- Kidney stones: Potassium was mentioned above for helping blood pressure. But potassium is also good at helping the body to prevent kidney stones from occurring.

Sources: www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov, http://healthmad.com

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