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Nature’s basket > Wonder Melon
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Yummy pink watermelons are a deliciously soothing way to face the summer heat. Once, watermelons were seasonal, but we can now enjoy fresh, ripe watermelons not just in summer, but at most times of the year. Heavenly in slushes, milk shakes and fruit salads, watermelons are just as fun to eat in big chunks cut straight out of the fruit. The divine taste of Watermelons is simply half the story. Luscious, thirst quenching watermelons also pack a punch in health benefits. Watermelon is high in the richness of nutrients, and lower in calories than most other fruits. A dieter’s delight, a full cup of watermelon has only 48 calories while delivering more nutrients per calorie than many other fruits and vegetables.

Originally found in Africa, watermelons were first cultivated in Egypt. References to watermelons are recorded in ancient hieroglyphics. Watermelons were valued highly enough to be placed in the tombs of some Egyptian kings. Watermelon was given importance in Egypt, and later in countries in the Mediterranean region, since water was often scarce in these areas. People could depend upon watermelon to quench their thirst. Not surprising, considering that watermelons consist of nearly 90% water.

Watermelons were brought to China around the 10th century. They reached the Americas with the European colonists. A popular wine is made from watermelons in Russia, which is a major grower of the fruit. Other leading commercial growers of watermelon include China, Turkey, Iran and the United States.

A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the watermelon is a cousin of the musk melon, squash and pumpkin, and other plants that also grow on vines on the ground. Watermelons can be round or oblong in shape. They have thick green rinds that are often spotted or striped. Hybrid varieties, popularly called ‘disco’ watermelons in our bazaars, are smaller and have thinner rinds.

Watermelons are not just tasty; they are extremely healthy as well. They are rich with potassium, a nutrient that is known to help control blood pressure, regulate heart beat, and possibly even prevent strokes. Potassium may also reduce the occurrence of kidney stones and age related bone loss.

Watermelons are a treasure trove of the most vital antioxidants found in nature. The disease fighting anti-oxidants, Vitamin C and beta-carotene, are found in abundance in watermelons. Researchers believe that antioxidants such as Vitamin C and beta carotene can help prevent heart disease, cancers and other chronic ailments. Pink watermelon is also rich in lycopene, the potent carotenoid antioxidant. These powerful antioxidants neutralize free radicals in the body, which can cause great damage.

Free radicals can oxidize cholesterol, making it stick to the walls of our blood vessels and creating conditions leading to heart attacks or strokes. Free radicals can also enhance the severity of asthma attacks by constricting the airways in the lungs. They can also damage the lining of the colon, creating pre cancerous conditions. The vitamin C and beta carotene in watermelon can neutralize the bad effects of free radicals and help prevent damage to our health.

Recent research indicates that lycopene, one of the carotenoids abundant in watermelon, can help reduce the risk of cancers of the prostate, breast, endometrial tissues, as well as lung and colon cancers.

Antioxidants are also believed to ease the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Antioxidants also help preserve the health of your eyes. Data reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of loss of vision in older people. Eating a slice of watermelon a day can certainly help you reach this nutritional goal in a delicious way.

Watermelon is a rich source of citrulline, which can trigger production of a compound that helps relax the blood vessels. Our bodies use the amino acid citrulline, to make another amino acid, arginine. Arginine is used in the urea cycle to remove ammonia from the body, and by the cells lining our blood vessels to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels, and helps in lowering high blood pressure. It is the compound whose production is enhanced by Viagra to prevent erectile dysfunction. Arginine has been shown in research studies to improve insulin sensitivity in obese type 2 diabetic patients with insulin resistance.

Watermelon is a rich source of the B group vitamins which keep up our energy levels while keeping the calories down.

Tips for selection and storing;

The best and tastiest watermelons have deep reddish pink pulp. It is, of course not hygienic to buy cut fruit from the bazaars. So when we buy the whole, uncut watermelon, we should select one which is heavy for its size. The rind should be relatively smooth, and neither too shiny nor dull. One side of the watermelon should have a patch distinctly paler from the rest of the rind, which is yellow or cream coloured. This is the spot that rests on the ground while the melon is ripening on the vine. If the fruit does not have this mark, it may have been harvested prematurely, and artificially ripened, and therefore insipid in taste and lower in nutrients.

Fully ripened watermelons have the maximum concentration of antioxidants. Research undertaken at the University of Innsbruck in Austria indicates that antioxidant levels increase in fruits as they ripen. Thus, overripe fruits would have a higher concentration of antioxidants. The process is similar in the case of fruits and leaves. As they mature, they change colour from green to yellow to brown. This change is caused by the breaking down of chlorophyll, which gives unripe fruits and leaves their green colour. Researchers have discovered that as the chlorophyll in ripening leaves and fruit breaks down, it produces potent antioxidants.

You can maximize the beta carotene and lycopene in watermelon by storing the fruit at room temperature. However, once the fruit is cut, it is best to store it in the refrigerator. The watermelon should be cut into as large pieces as possible, and then wrapped in cling film or stored in airtight containers to preserve the juicy freshness. Cut them, slice them, add them is fruit salads and sorbet or enjoy watermelon slices just as they are. Watermelons are a juicy way to pamper your taste buds and add zing to your life.


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