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Fresh, great-tasting local watermelons are available

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If you’re like me, you probably missed the fact July was National Watermelon Month, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy that wonderful summer fruit this month.
Local watermelons are now available.
For a long time, we’ve all enjoyed the great taste of this summer-time fruit, but now we’re finding out it is good for us, too.
The National Watermelon Promotions Board tells us watermelon is the lycopene leader among fresh produce. Watermelon is one of the few foods that contains a large amount of this phytochemical. Lycopene is the red pigment that gives tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit their color. A one-cup serving of watermelon supplies almost an entire day’s need for lycopene.
Many studies have shown diets rich in lycopene correlated to reduce chances of certain types of cancer and reduced risk of heart disease. Yes, lycopene is the antioxidant frequently talked about being in fresh tomatoes and cooked tomato products, such as ketchup.
Two cups of watermelon have about 15-20 mg of lycopene. On an average, watermelon has about 40 percent more lycopene than raw tomatoes.
Watermelons are 92 percent water by weight and contain about 6 percent sugar. That’s why two cups of watermelon have only 80 calories and are completely fat-free.
Along with that, watermelon has excellent levels of vitamins A and C and a good level of vitamin B6.
A two-cup serving of watermelon is also a source of potassium, a mineral necessary for water balance and found inside of every cell. People with low potassium levels can experience muscle cramps.
Vitamin B6 found in watermelon helps the immune system produce antibodies. Vitamin B6 helps maintain normal nerve function and form red blood cells. The body uses it to help break down proteins.
The more protein you eat, the more vitamin B6 you need.
Vitamin A found in watermelon is important for optimal eye health and boosts immunity by enhancing the infection-fighting actions of white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Antibodies are needed to fight many diseases. Vitamin C in watermelon can help to bolster the immune system’s defenses against infections and viruses and can protect a body from harmful free radicals that can accelerate aging and conditions such as cataracts.
Intimidated when buying a watermelon? It is hard tell if a watermelon is ripe from the outside appearance. Some people like to “thump” them. The sound of a ripe watermelon is a muffled, dull, hollow tone. An immature fruit will thump with a clear, metallic ringing tone. That’s not very scientific.
Here are a few other tips:
1. Look the watermelon over. You are looking for a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts or dents
2. Lift it up. The watermelon should be heavy for its size.
3. Turn it over and examine the spot where it has been resting on the ground (this is called the ground spot). As a watermelon ripens, the ground spot changes from pale green and white to a creamy yellow.
4. If after you cut into the melon you find lots of white seeds, this usually indicates it was picked too early. Also, the stem of the fruit will dry and turn brown when the fruit has ripened.

A food safety tip
Wash the watermelon before you cut into it. According to the Food and Drug Administration, you should wash all fruits and vegetables in clean, running water before eating them. This is true of all fruits and veggies, rinds or not. This eliminates the risk of transferring bacteria from the outside of the rind onto the moist internal fruit.
Uncut watermelons can be stored for two to three weeks. Once cut, they should be stored in the refrigerator. Covered cut melons will keep several days.
When storing in the refrigerator, cover with plastic wrap or in a tightly sealed container, as melon aroma readily mingles with other foods.
Since freezing or canning watermelon is not recommended, enjoy it when it’s fresh, but the watermelon rind may be made into pickles and preserves.
Sources: Ohio Line, Ohio State University Extension, the Watermelon Promotions Board at www.watermelon.org and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.