Watermelon 101

Watermelon is one of America's all-time favorite foods. You can find it at almost every summer picnic or outdoor party and in the produce section of most food markets. The average American eats about 15 pounds of watermelon a year.

Although many people think of watermelon as a fruit, it is also considered a vegetable by some.

With a name like watermelon, it's no wonder the melon is 92 percent water. So in addition to providing a sweet treat, watermelon can be a source of fluids for young athletes before, during and after sporting events. This doesn't mean you should substitute it for water and sports drinks on the playing field. You still need to have those drinks nearby.

Nutritional value

Watermelon has zero saturated fat, is low in sodium and cholesterol free. Because of its high water content, watermelon is also low in calories. A good food for dieters!

It is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 and C as well as potassium. Two cups of diced watermelon provides 20 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A and 25 percent for vitamin C. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends we include two cups of fruit per day in our daily diet.

Lycopene, a potential antioxidant found in watermelon, may have disease-fighting benefits. Researchers believe lycopene might have a role in the prevention of some diseases, such as forms of cancer and heart disease. There are about 15 to 20 milligrams (mg) of lycopene in a two-cup serving of watermelon, compared to 4 to 5 mg found in one tomato.

Experts are studying whether the temperature of the watermelon when eaten -- cold or chilled vs. room temperature -- affects the nutritional value. Some studies have shown that cold melon may have fewer vitamins, but more research is needed.

Fans of the controversial glycemic index might know that watermelon has a high ("bad") GI rating. However, its glycemic load, which may be a more useful measure because it accounts for the carb content in a serving and the effect on blood sugar, is much lower.

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