10 ways to put watermelon to use this summer
The perfect sunshine fruit with 101 uses and potent health benefits
After a trip to the Watermelon Museum and a watermelon festival in Daxing, China, I decided the watermelon deserves some column space.
Growing up in South Africa, icy cold watermelon wedges were a big part of my childhood summers - straight from the fridge and perfectly portable so you could still run around and play while munching. The adult version of this is to inject a watermelon with vodka or your favourite tipple and freeze it before serving. Personally, I love watermelon chunks in savoury salads and the blitzed fruit makes a great base for refreshing drinks. Here are 10 good reasons to load up on this super versatile and extremely healthy juicy fruit.
1 Helps protect your skin from sun damage
Watermelon is really rich in antioxidant lycopene. A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology suggests lycopene acts like a sunscreen from within. Women who consumed at least 16 milligrams of lycopene a day for 12 weeks showed a reduction in the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays, including sunburn and cellular damage. This is the equivalent of about two cups of diced watermelon. You could easily have this as a snack or part of a savoury salad. Eating lycopene-rich foods doesn't mean you can skip the sunscreen or bake yourself like a Christmas turkey in the midday sun, but it does boost your protection!
2 Watermelon has more lycopene than raw tomatoes
We have just extolled the virtues of lycopene as a skin protector, but this potent antioxidant does so much more. Lycopene is a super antioxidant that protects all your cells from free radical damage and protects your immune system. It is well documented as a tool to fight heart disease and certain types of cancers, especially prostate cancer.
Red fruit and vegetables are particularly rich in lycopene, the most famous being the tomato. Just one cup of watermelon has 50pc more lycopene than a large fresh tomato. Cooking tomatoes, especially with olive oil, makes the lycopene more available to the body and easy to absorb. Compared with raw fruit and vegetables - as in summer salads - the watermelon comes out tops. In Chinese cuisine, watermelon and tomatoes are often served together, so you get a double whammy of antioxidants.
3 Super Duper Hydrator
Our bodies are made up of 60pc water so it plays a critical role in all our cellular functions. Water is not such an exciting health topic, so we need reminding to top up. Watermelon is, well, full of water.
I'm stating the obvious here, but watermelon is 91pc water so it's a perfect source of hydration, especially during the summer months. We have long been told to drink eight glasses of water a day, and I can certainly feel the difference if I am dehydrated. The side effects of dehydration are actually pretty serious and really bad for your health. According to The Journal of Nutrition, even mild dehydration can cause headaches, poor concentration, fatigue and mood swings.
4 The perfect pre-workout snack
A Spanish study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that athletes who drank 400ml of watermelon juice an hour before working out had better muscle recovery, less soreness and a lower heart rate.
This is due to an amino acid called L-citrulline that the body converts to L-arginine and it is particularly concentrated in watermelon.
L-citrulline has the amazing ability to relax the blood vessels and improve circulation. The study found that the intestinal cells could absorb the amino acid better from the fresh, unpasteurised watermelon juice than from watermelon supplements.
5 Natural Viagra
A study conducted by Texas A&M College looked at the benefits of watermelon in treating and preventing heart disease and heart disease-related problems, such as male erectile dysfunction. The amino acid L-citrulline in watermelons is converted into L-arginine which boosts nitric oxide.
This relaxes the blood vessels - which is the basic effect that Viagra has - to treat and possibly prevent male erectile dysfunction. Extra nitric acid increases blood flow but isn't organ-specific, so don't worry about any awkward moment s if you eat watermelon! You would have to consume a vast amount of watermelon on a regular basis to see obvious effects. And as watermelon is mostly water, you'll be running to the loo non stop, which is sure to kill the mood.
6 Good for Heart Health
Watermelon really gets top marks as a heart-healthy food. The helps to lower high blood pressure, improve circulation and ease angina. It is also full of potassium, which helps to lower high blood pressure, and rich in antioxidant vitamin C, which protects and repairs vein, artery and heart tissue. Watermelons are also high in fibre which helps remove dietary cholesterol. A study by the Florida State University found watermelon to be particularly beneficial for post-menopausal women with high blood pressure.
7 Super Nutritious and low in Calories
As watermelon is mostly water, you wouldn't think it contained much in the way of nutrients. But besides being packed with super antioxidant lycopene and heart-healthy L-citrulline, watermelon is really nutritious. Just one small wedge of watermelon gives you a third of your daily recommended dose of vitamin C and vitamin A. Both have really important antioxidants to fight cancer, boost our immune systems and protect our cells. One cup contains only 46 calories, so you can munch away on this figure-friendly fruit.
8 You can use the whole fruit
Watermelon is actually a distant relative of the squash, pumpkin and cucumber family and the whole fruit is edible, including the rind. In fact, the amino acid L-citrulline is far more concentrated in the rind than the pink flesh. The best way to enjoy the rind is by pickling it or preserving it. In South Africa, sweet watermelon preserve is a real favourite and I encourage you to try it. Sweet and sour pickled watermelon rinds are a real treat that you'll find in Russian cuisine.
9 Very Versatile
Regular readers of my column will know that I can't stand food waste, especially big bowls of fruit that are bought with the best of intentions but never used. The good news is that watermelon, especially unpeeled and whole, has a good shelf life. Only chop up what you need and cover the rest in clingfilm and store in the fridge. It is a really versatile fruit, so even if you don't eat it as a fruit snack, you can add it to salads, make refreshing juices and even cocktails.
10 Eco-Friendly Bio Fuel
This is totally random, but I just had to include it. According to a US government study, watermelon juice could be a promising new source for bio fuel. Up to 20pc of watermelons are rejected by supermarkets each year as they are odd shapes or have scars on their rinds. These perfectly good watermelons are then left to rot. So the Agricultural Research service is investigating mobile units travelling to watermelon farms to make alcohol that can be turned into bio fuel. There is the potential to produce enough to cover most of the fuel needs of each farm. The alcohol tastes awful apparently, so it won't be the next craft beer sensation.
I like to think of the watermelon as the pumpkin of summer, so have fun with kids carving funny faces or simply tucking into a big, juicy wedge of watermelon.
All recipes taken from Delish and Relish cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. For her cookbooks and healthy cookery courses, log onto www.rozannestevens.com
Health & Living