The watermelon is an iconic symbol announcing the arrival of high summer, ripening in France between June and September. A delicate fruit that arrived in Europe from Africa, it is easy to grow and weighs between 2 kg and 4 kg. Containing up to 97% water it is easy to see where its name came from! For the same reason, its thirst-quenching virtues have long made it a much-appreciated fruit in all those countries where drinking water is rare and growing watermelons is often a way to create reliable sources of water for times of drought. But the humble watermelon, symbol of sharing and hospitality, offers far more than this and is rich in health-giving properties.
Like tomatoes and grapefruit, the watermelon is rich in lycopene (1), a carotenoid molecule that gives it its attractive pink colour. This powerful antioxidant not only protects against free radicals (2) at the origin of certain cancers, such as cancer of the prostate (2) or the colon (3); but also against chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases related to ageing (4). Lycopene, together with the beta-carotene and vitamin C provided by watermelon (5) (16% of the recommended daily intake per serving for only 46 kcal), also favours the elimination of "bad" cholesterol in the blood thus reducing the risk cardiovascular diseases (6), in addition to being an excellent anti-inflammatory. The high level of citrulline in watermelon flesh enhances its beneficial effect on cardiovascular health, maintaining the proper functioning of blood vessels (7) and limiting high blood pressure (8).
How to choose and store watermelons ?
A thoroughly ripe watermelon will be heavier than one less ripe. Depending on the variety, it will be more or less seed-laden. The seeds also being edible and rich in iron, zinc and protein, why not try toasting them in the oven to nibble as an appetizer? Once cut, watermelon can be stored in up to 4 days (9), before losing some of its nutritional qualities. Whenever possible try to choose a fruit grown organically to avoid the sometimes harmful effects of pesticides.
How to taste watermelons ?
Slices of watermelon are the perfect easy snack at any time of the day, especially when it's hot. To enjoy without moderation! Recent studies have shown that flavonoid acids are better absorbed by the body when served accompanied by a product containing fat (10): think watermelon/feta skewers - awesome! You can also extract the juice from your watermelon and add a few mint leaves to make a deliciously refreshing smoothie. The delicate flavour of watermelon is perfect to add a special touch to any light summer salad. It goes wonderfully well with melon, kiwi, mango, strawberry and all the summer fruits, for a great cocktail ultra-rich in vitamins. And if you prefer a more original touch, try your watermelon lightly grilled in the oven or on the barbecue, served with a yoghurt and lemon sauce.
References : (1) Edwards AJ, Vinyard BT, Wiley ER et al. Consumption of watermelon juice increases plasma concentrations of lycopene and beta-carotene in humans. J Nutr 2003 Apr;133(4):1043-50. 2003. (2) Jian L, Du CJ, et al. Do dietary lycopene and other carotenoids protect against prostate cancer?Int J Cancer 2005 March 1;113(6):1010-4. (3) Van Breemen RB, Pajkovic N. Multitargeted therapy of cancer by lycopene Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):339-51. (4) Poduri A, Rateri DL, Saha SK et al. Citrullus lanatus 'sentinel' (watermelon) extract reduces atherosclerosis in LDL receptor-deficient mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Aug 16. [Epub ahead of print]. (5) Abdelwahab SI, Hassan LEA, Sirat HM et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of cucurbitacin E isolated from Citrullus lanatus var. citroides: Role of reactive nitrogen species and cyclooxygenase enzyme inhibition. Fitoterapia, Volume 82, Issue 8, December 2011, Pages 1190-1197. (6) Voutilainen S, Nurmi T, et al. Carotenoids and cardiovascular health. Am J Clin Nutr 2006 June;83(6):1265-71. (7) Collins JK, Wu G, Perkins-Veazie P et al. Watermelon consumption increases plasma arginine concentrations in adults. Nutrition, Volume 23, Issue 3, March 2007, Pages 261-266. (8) Figueroa A, Sanchez-Gonzalez MA, et al. Effects of Watermelon Supplementation on Aortic Blood Pressure and Wave Reflection in Individuals With Prehypertension: A Pilot Study. Am J Hypertens. 2011 Jan;24(1):40-4. (9) Perkins-Veazie P and Collins JK. Flesh quality and lycopene stability of fresh-cut watermelon. Postharvest Biology and Technology, Volume 31, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 159-166. (10) Porrini M, Riso P. What are typical lycopene intakes?J Nutr 2005 August;135(8):2042S-5S.