How It Heals
No other fruit says summer quite like thirst-quenching watermelon. This member of the Cucurbitaceae family owes much of its health-giving powers, as well as its fetching blush, to an abundance of the phytochemical lycopene. "By helping counter oxidative stress, lycopene may play a role in taming certain cancers and maintaining healthy eyesight," says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, coauthor of The SuperFoods Rx Diet. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were half as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as women with low amounts. Watermelon is also rich in citrulline, "an amino acid used to make arginine, which relaxes blood vessels to help maintain a healthy heart," Bazilian adds. And those seeds we tend to discard? They're packed with magnesium, a mineral vital for nerve function, blood pressure regulation, immunity, and bone health.
Eat It Up
Sweet, juicy watermelon wedges are perfect fare for a picnic or beach day snack. Or lay 1/2-inch-thick watermelon slices on the grill and heat both sides. Bazilian recommends pouring puréed seedless watermelon into ice cube trays, freezing, and adding to your favorite beverage. Watermelon also livens up salsas, chutneys, compotes, vinaigrettes, and spinach or watercress salads. For backyard parties, a carved-out watermelon filled with seasonal fruits creates a colorful centerpiece. When pickled, the edible rind makes a tangy condiment. As for the seeds, try roasting them, then tossing into oatmeal, soups, or salads.
Look for organic watermelons at farmers' markets, where you're also likely to come across such varieties as the hybrid seedless mini.
Research suggests that keeping whole watermelons at room temperature can increase their lycopene levels by up to 40 percent. Once cut, watermelons should be refrigerated to help preserve freshness and flavor.