Watermelon's a healthy snack for your family this summer


Watermelon! What could be more aptly named?

Water is the main ingredient. A one-cup serving of watermelon weighs 160 grams. Water makes up 146 grams of that total.

Watermelon is high on the list of good things: sweet, yummy, filling and hydrating. It's also low on the list of bad things: calories, fat and cholesterol. A one-cup serving of watermelon has about 50 calories. This all-American favorite offers ample amounts of lycopene, a nourishing carotenoid that has been receiving lots of attention for its potential to protect against certain cancers, including prostate cancer. According to the USDA, 4 ounces of watermelon (about cup diced) supplies an impressive 6 milligrams of lycopene.

According to resources, there are more than 50 varieties of watermelon. Generally, they are divided into "picnic" and "ice-box" varieties. Picnic types usually weigh 12 to 50 pounds and are round, oblong or oval. Ice-box varieties - designed to fit into a refrigerator - weigh 5 to 10 pounds and are round or oval. Most watermelons have the familiar red flesh, but there are white-fleshed, yellow-fleshed and orange-fleshed varieties, too. There are also seedless varieties, which have been in existence for more than 60 years.

Served cold, it works as a dessert, as a snack or as part of a refreshing salad.

Consumers have a wide variety of watermelon to choose from during the summer, whether they shop at the supermarket or at roadside stands. You can find the usual red-fleshed melons or the scarce yellow ones. They both come with seeds or without, icebox size or jumbo.

It's a wonderful fruit. Actually, it's related to the cucumber, summer squash and pumpkins.

How do you pick out a good watermelon? Some experts swear by the thump test, which consists of tapping the melon and listening for a hollow sound.

A better method may be to inspect the stem end. A dry, brown stem indicates the melon was left on the vine until it fully ripened. If you are a home gardener and are lucky enough to grow your own watermelons, the easiest way to decide when to harvest is to inspect the tendril closest to the watermelon. A brown, shriveled tendril means the melon is ready to eat.

When buying a melon, you should avoid the ones that are particularly dirty or have cuts, insect holes, mold or decay on them.

Rinse the melon before you slice it. Don't use soap because the porous surface of the melon will absorb some of the residue. Rinsing in clean, cold running water is still the best way to wash produce.

Enjoy a slice of watermelon with your family today. It's an economically priced, tasty, wonderfully drippy treat.

Serving suggestions

- Puree watermelon, pour into ice cube trays, and freeze. Use to chill summer drinks.

- Cube watermelon, and combine with cubes of cucumber, diced red onion and toasted pumpkin seeds. Toss with a sherry vinegar dressing for a summer salad.

- Cube watermelon, and freeze. Add the frozen melon to smoothies instead of ice cubes.

- Puree watermelon, strawberries and fresh mint for a refreshing summer soup. Serve topped with grated lime zest and a dollop of nonfat sour cream.

- Blend watermelon, basil, parsley and red onion. Strain and mix with olive oil, rice wine vinegar and black pepper for a vinaigrette.