Watermelon is 92 percent water, which makes it light in calories and a good tool for proper hydration, according to Food and Health Communications.
A two-cup serving of watermelon contains only 80 calories and counts for two servings of fruit. It is a good source of vitamins A and C. A 2-cup serving provides 25 percent of your needed daily Vitamin C and 30 percent of the needed Vitamin A. It also provides vitamin B6 and potassium.
Pink watermelon contains the potent carotenoid antioxidant, lycopene, and has higher concentrations of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable, including tomatoes. There may be up to 20 mg of lycopene in a two-cup serving of watermelon. Studies have shown that people with diets high in lycopene have a reduced risk of prostate, breast and oral cancer. The redder the melon is, the more lycopene it contains.
• Picking a watermelon: Unless you are a very experienced watermelon picker, it is difficult to tell if a watermelon is ripe solely by evaluating the sound you make when thumping on it. A good watermelon should be symmetrical, heavy for its size, and firm. It should have no cuts, dents or bruises. Also, look for a pale or buttery yellow "belly" and a dry stem end near the base of the fruit. The "belly" spot should not be white or green — if it is, then it means that the watermelon is underripe.
When selecting a cut watermelon, the more red flesh and less white rind you see, the riper the melon is. White seeds usually indicate that the melon was picked too early. Although so-called "seedless" watermelons have far fewer seeds than the seeded varieties, they generally contain at least a few soft and pale seeds.
• Storage: Uncut melons can be stored for up to two weeks at room temperature depending on ripeness. Once cut, store all melon in a tightly closed container — its aroma easily mingles with other foods. Cut slices or chunks of melon should never be left out or held at room temperature for an extended period of time. Use cut melon within three to four days. If selecting a cut melon, be sure that it has been refrigerated during display.
• Safety: Bacteria can adhere to the surface of a melon and be passed to the flesh when the fruit is cut or handled. Before slicing up your watermelon, be sure to wash your hands and wash and scrub the melon under cold running water. You may need to use a clean brush to help scrub off excess dirt.
Watermelon rind is edible and can even be delicious. There are a variety of recipes available for items made with watermelon rind. Try using it in everything from slaw to chutney to pickles.
The "broken heart," "hollow heart" or cracked center that is sometimes found inside a watermelon is caused by weather conditions during the growing season. This flesh is still good and safe to eat.
Check the National Watermelon Promotion Board web site at www.watermelon.org for recipes using watermelon.
Linda Robbins, CDN, is assistant director and nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County.