And you thought watermelon was just sugar water!

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, September 8, 2016

Today, I’d like to share information on my favorite fruit, watermelon. Watermelon is thought to have originated in Southern Africa. It was later grown in Egypt, China, and Europe and later introduced to native Americans in the 16th century.

Watermelon is cultivated in Russia, and commercially grown in Turkey, China, Iran, and 44 of our United States. In Japan, farmers actually found a way to grow square watermelon, by placing young watermelons in square glass boxes and letting the fruit assume the box’s shape.

Watermelon is both a fruit and a vegetable. It’s a vegetable because it’s related to cucumbers pumpkin and squash. It’s a fruit because it is sweet and seed producing.

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Did you know you can eat both the watermelon rind and seeds? Most people throw away the rind, but try placing the rind in a blender with some lime for a refreshing treat.

A friend once asked me, “Isn’t watermelon just sugar water?”Actually, not at all. Watermelon rind contains more of the amino acid Citrulline than the watermelon flesh. Citrulline is converted to the amino acid arginine in the kidneys, and not only is this amino acid important for heart health and maintaining the immune system, it has been researched to have therapeutic value in over 100 health conditions.

Remember in an earlier column we learned tomatoes contain the powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant, lycopene, and that processed tomato products like tomato juice and sauces contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes? Guess what? Watermelon has even more lycopene than either. That’s right, watermelon has more lycopene than even tomatoes.

You see, lycopene is what gives watermelon its red color, just like the tomato. In addition to fighting cancers, lycopene shows promise in fighting risk for cardiovascular disease. In fact, this fruit has earned the American Heart Association’s “heart check” seal of approval.

Watermelon is rich in vitamins A and C, which are also antioxidants that help keep arteries strong, and help reduce inflammation in arthritis and asthma. Watermelon contains potassium, a mineral important for proper function of all cells in our bodies. B vitamins in watermelon help provide energy.

Watermelon is great for those trying to shed a few pounds, because it’s virtually calorie free and fat free. One cup has only 46 calories. It also has a 92 percent water content. It’s been proven that foods with high water content help reduce fat levels. Watermelon also contains calcium, iron, and fiber.

When storing watermelon, don’t use the refrigerator. The fruit will contain more lycopene if you store it at room temperature for a few days.

Well, we’ve learned lots about the watermelon. One more thing…it tastes great! Mark Twain had the right idea when he penned: “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.”

Diet or exercise question? Email me at David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC Upstate baseball team, the S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse College equestrian team. He served as a water safety instructor to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught for four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.