Friday, May 30, 2014

Slave to the Rind: The War with Watermelon

When one has tasted watermelon he knows what the angels eat.”
Mark Twain

As a Registered Dietitian (RD), I discuss food preferences with individuals regularly. Food favorites and aversions can be extremely personal to people, as they are rooted in childhood memories, family tradition, and cultural heritage. These exchanges ideally should be handled delicately and with finesse. And during these exchanges, we may unexpectedly uncover our own long-dormant biases. 

Yesterday, I discovered one of mine. 

I now publicly admit to loathing one of the healthiest foods on the planet: watermelon.  There is no choking incident, childhood seed-spitting torture, or other random trauma with this nutrient-packed fruit in my past, but I have avoided it for decades nonetheless. I will not eat it in its natural state, or in the form of candy, margaritas, juice, gum, or a carved out punchbowl. With all due respect to Mr. Twain’s quote above, I simply do not get it.

When counseling a client recently, this watermelon disdain apparently showed on my face. I blamed it on a fictional toothache, but mentally noted my bias. So, in order to get a grip on this problem of mine, I decided to investigate the benefits of watermelon in terms of dietary intake. 
One cup of watermelon provides less than 50 calories and no fat, so clearly we have a weight loss winner with this fruit. Watermelon consists of over 90% water, is low in cholesterol and sodium, and is a good source of vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as lycopene. Vitamin A boosts immunity and maximizes eye health. Vitamin B6 assists with immunity, nerve functioning, and red blood cell formation. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that assists the body in tissue growth and maintenance. The watermelon’s red flesh indicates the presence of lycopene, which may lower the risk of heart disease, macular degeneration, and several types of cancer.
There are hundreds of watermelon cultivars, which vary in taste, texture, and color. Not surprisingly, there are recipes for watermelon salads, smoothies, juices, cocktails, sorbets, soups, and salsas, and it can certainly be eaten on its own, or even grilled as “watermelon steak,” though I don’t know from personal experience. 
Watermelon is classified as both a fruit and a vegetable. The watermelon is cousin to the pumpkin, squash, and cucumber. (By the way, I adore those three foods to an embarrassing degree.) This relation is evident in elaborate displays of watermelon carving, but even here I admit to preferring the knife artistry involving pumpkins and autumnal gourds over these summer favorites.
Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
1)    Watermelon has minimal calories, no fat, no cholesterol, and low sodium. With its high water content, it provides hydration along with a stomach-filling effect to promote weight loss. Watermelon is therefore a high-volume food (filling with few calories) and a dieter’s friend.
2)    As with other foods of the same family, watermelon may provoke symptoms of oral allergy syndrome, which is connected to ragweed pollen and can potentially lead to anaphylaxis if left untreated. Contact a healthcare professional if you detect similar symptoms after ingesting watermelon, or other associated foods, such as honeydew or cucumber.
3)    A watermelon’s bitter rind is often tossed away quickly. As one summer option, consider using a pickled watermelon rind (from an organic melon) to serve with grilled hamburgers. Watermelon seeds are also edible, but one cup contains 602 calories, most of which come from fat! (Unlike the flesh of the watermelon, its seeds are not weight loss-friendly.)
4)    Food Safety first! Despite the presence of the outer rind, as with all fruits and vegetables, wash your watermelon in clean, running water before consumption. Also, be sure your knives, cutting surfaces, and most importantly, your hands, are clean before you dig in! 

While I am happy to recommend watermelons professionally as I have above, I am still personally biased. For those of you who enjoy them, please have my portion, and feel free to learn more about watermelons here

To read the full article on my watermelon war in OKRA Magazine, click here.