The sweetest deal at the barbecue isn't the peach pie or the double-chocolate brownies. It's the watermelon. With just 46 calories per cup, this cool, crunchy treat keeps you hydrated and healthy without padding your hips. Sliced, chunked, or scooped into elegant balls, a cupful of the juicy red melon contains nearly 5 ounces of water and respectable amounts of vitamins A, B6, C, and thiamin, as well as potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
That's not all: Watermelon's star health attraction is lycopene, a red pigment with antioxidant powers. In fact, a robust red melon delivers 40% more lycopene than that other rich-red fruit at the party: raw tomatoes. Thanks to lycopene, watermelon's health and beauty talents include:
- Keeping skin smooth. Lycopene-rich foods boost protection from sunburn damage in skin by 33% -- probably because its natural antioxidant defenses guard your skin cells from Old Sol's ultraviolet rays, say British researchers. (Scientists are looking into whether it can protect against skin cancer, too.) Lycopene munchers also have higher levels of procollagen, a compound that builds the connective tissue that keeps your skin firmer, more elastic, and younger looking.
- Guarding your bones. Wondering whether to have some watermelon or a Popsicle? Ask your bones -- they'll vote for the fruit! Canadian researchers report that women whose diets are richest in lycopene have the fewest compounds that warn of bones breaking down, suggesting that this phytochemical helps women's bones stay strong.
- Shielding you from some cancers. Lycopene also shields your DNA from nicks, scratches, and dings that can turn into cancer, say European cancer experts. Feed some watermelon to your favorite guy, too. There's tantalizing evidence that lycopene discourages prostate cancer.
- Lowering your blood pressure. If it's on the high side, put watermelon on your shopping list. A watermelon extract helped people slice nine points off their blood pressure in a Florida State University study. That's a big drop -- enough to keep you from progressing to full-blown hypertension if you're in the prehypertensive range. Folks in the study got the equivalent of seven glasses of watermelon juice a day, but other research suggests that far less helps relax arteries. The secret ingredient? Citrulline, a compound your body needs to produce artery-relaxing nitric oxide.
One last juicy tip: Store whole, unsliced watermelon on the kitchen counter, not in the fridge, to get maximum amounts of cell-protecting antioxidants. These beneficial compounds keep on building in the melon after it's picked, but cooling slows down this process. For a hot-weather treat, chill just before serving.
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