For my first recipes, I decided to start off with one of my favorite foods: watermelon. Right now, it is way more than food of the week for me—more like food of the summer! When I’m home, my two sisters and I usually finish a watermelon a day (sometimes it takes two). It’s the quintessential summertime barbeque item, and especially now that the 4th of July is coming up, I thought it would be a great food to begin things with.
Upon reading the most recent issue of EatingWell, I was overjoyed to discover that not only is watermelon delicious, but it also has some extra health benefits that I was unaware of. It is 92% water (I guess it was properly named), but it also contains some other nutrients that you might not expect. Watermelon actually contains twice as much lycopene as a tomato, which is normally named the lycopene champ (remember reading that all over the ketchup bottle?). Lycopene is a carotenoid, which is an anti-inflammatory compound and antioxidant and has been linked to reduce risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is what gives watermelon its reddish color, so the riper the watermelon is, the higher the lycopene content!
A relatively new area of research is also showing the watermelon has a high content of citrulline, an amino acid that is not present in many other foods. Sorry—I’m going to get a little sciencey here (I’ll have an easier to understand summary at the end if you’d prefer to skip this bit). When the body absorbs citrulline, it is often converted into arginine, which is another amino acid that is not always present in high quantities. An increased amount can improve blood flow, which is helpful for both cardiovascular health and recovery from workouts. A study (summarized in EatingWell) has shown that people who drank 2 cups of watermelon juice before working out were less sore, allowing them to recover faster and work out more intensely. There is also some evidence that the conversion of arginine to citrulline may block an enzyme whose activity leads to the accumlation of fat in fat cells.
So overall, the citrulline content in watermelon may lead to faster recovery from workouts, increased blood flow, and prevent the accumulation of fat. Not bad! And one last thing—watermelon has extremely high levels of vitamin C, another antioxidant and compound used for healing in the body. For maximum benefits, choose riper watermelons with darker flesh.
Eating watermelon plain is satisfying on its own, but just in case you need some other ideas or want to incorporate at every single meal, try some of the recipes below:
Watermelon, feta, arugula salad: this is probably my favorite salad. My birthday is in the spring, just as watermelons are starting to come into season, and I have eaten it at every single birthday party for the past few years. It is also my go-to recipe if I ever am stuck with what to make for dinner! It is best in the summer when both arugula and watermelon are at their peak.
-watermelon, cut into cubes
-arugula (best if you can get it at the farmer’s market!)
-optional (but delicious): chopped mint, cucumber
-dressing: balsamic vinegar and olive oil
I don’t put down any amounts because the ratio is up to you. Some days I feel like eating lots of watermelon and some days I prefer more arugula. It also tastes best if dress the salad early and allow the watermelon to soak up the dressing for a bit.
Frozen watermelon: this is great on its own as a dessert or snack but can also be a great addition to smoothies! Cut watermelon into cubes and place in freezer. You can also make a good slushie with this by blending the frozen watermelon, either on its own or with milk (I like using almond milk).
Watermelon-mint bowl: This is a really easy “recipe” but looks great for parties! Simply cut a watermelon in half and scoop out the insides of one of the halves to create a bowl. Chop the watermelon into cubes and mix with mint, then place in the hollowed out watermelon rind.
Watermelon cake: I actually have not tried this recipe yet, but I found it in a magazine and am dying to try it out! Simply cut off the rounded ends of the watermelon so you have the middle two-thirds of it. Cut off the rind (you’ll have a watermelon cylinder). Then “frost” with whipped cream and decorate with berries and/or nuts. Get creative—make American flags, flowers, stars, or anything else you can think of!
Sources: EatingWell, July/August 2014 issue, http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=31