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Kimball: 7 reasons to eat more watermelon

There’s a reason why summer is the season for watermelon. Not only does this favorite fruit reach its peak flavors during the warmer months, watermelon is also even more nutrient-rich this time of year. From being a great source of raw lycopene to its hydrating nature, here are seven reasons to eat more watermelon. Lycopene is the pigment that gives red and pink fruits, such as tomatoes, watermelons and pink grapefruit, their characteristic color. Lycopene has been linked to health benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburns and certain types of cancers.

  1. Watermelon is a top source of lycopene. Tomatoes get the glory when it comes to lycopene, but watermelon actually has more – about 40 percent more, on average. Our bodies also absorb lycopene from watermelon more easily. Unlike tomatoes, which need to be cooked in order to maximize lycopene absorption, we can effectively absorb and reap the benefits of lycopene from raw watermelon.
  2. It’s hydrating.No surprise here. (It is called watermelon, after all!) But you may find it interesting that watermelon is 92 percent water, so by enjoying it, you really are eating your way toward better hydration.
  3. It may improve blood pressure; is a top source of citrulline, which can help to improve blood flow and blood pressure
  4. Because it’s so sweet, watermelon has a reputation for being high in sugar, but most fruits arenaturally high in sugar, but they’re also rich in nutrients. However, compared to sweet potatoes, watermelon has only one-fourth of the carbs and only half the sugar.
  5. All of the goodness of watermelon (lycopene, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber and overall antioxidants) gets better with age. The redder the fruit’s flesh, the higher the nutrient concentration.
  6. Most of us eat the red flesh and leave the rinds, but the rinds are entirely edible (just remove the outer peel), and are as nutritious as the flesh itself. The rinds can be sliced and added to your favorite stir-fry recipe, juiced or pureed for chilled soups.
  7. It can be prepared in countless creative ways.Simply slice it and eat it plain, or with a sprinkle of salt. Or go with the classic pairing of watermelon: fresh mint and feta (or goat cheese, for a lower-sodium option). Make watermelon salsa, using watermelon in place of some (or all) of the tomatoes in your favorite salsa recipe. Grill it. Juice it. Puree it, rind and all, for soups and mocktails. The options are endless!

Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, registered dietitian with Ochsner Health System, manages the nutrition department of Ochsner Fitness Center and is founder of the Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative.