In the United States, watermelon’s role in our racist history is well-chronicled. According to a 2003 essay from the Poynter Institute, “since the earliest days of plantation slavery, the caricature of the dark-skinned black child, his too-red lips stretched to grotesque extremes as they opened to chomp down on watermelon, was a staple of racism’s diet. Over time, the watermelon became a symbol of the broader denigration of black people. It became part of the image perpetuated by a white culture bent upon bolstering the myth of superiority by depicting the inferior race as lazy, simple-minded pickaninnies interested only in such mindless pleasures as a slice of sweet watermelon.”
The caricature has persisted to the present day, even though there’s ample evidence we eat less watermelon than all other races.
But since we also have higher rates of heart disease and high blood pressure, largely due to our unhealthy eating habits, we say embrace the watermelon!
It’s hard to imagine summer and a backyard barbecue without watermelon’s sticky-sweet goodness. Tasty enough to be a dessert substitute, they’re packed with health benefits.
Don’t let the name fool you. Though watermelon is 91 percent water (thus helping you stay hydrated on sweltering days), it’s more than just water. A 10-ounce wedge will spot you about a third of the recommended daily value of vitamins A and C, as well as a small amount of potassium (9 percent of the daily value), which helps lower your blood pressure. It has dietary fiber, which is good for digestive health, and contains more lycopene—associated with a reduced risk of developing certain cancers—than raw tomatoes.
At just 46 calories per cup (84 per wedge), recent studies show watermelon also:
- soothes sore muscles. A study in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry found drinking watermelon juice can ease sore muscles after a grueling workout. Athletes who consumed a little more than 16 ounces an hour before exercise had less muscle soreness the following day. That’s because watermelon is rich in an amino acid called citrulline, which helps relax blood vessels and improve circulation.
- helps your love life. Improved circulation can benefit more than sore muscles, as Texas A&M University researchers have pointed out. In fact, they say citrulline has Viagra-like effects. But you’ll need to eat the rind, too, where citrulline is concentrated.
- helps heart health. A Florida State study of postmenopausal women found they experienced improved heart health after six weeks of taking watermelon extract supplements containing citrulline and arginine. An earlier study of these supplements showed they helped alleviate high blood pressure in obese, middle-aged adults.
Choosing a ripe watermelon is fairly easy. If you’re looking for a whole melon, check the bottom of the fruit where there’s a lighter spot where the watermelon rested on the ground while it grew. As it ripens, the spot will turn from a light green or white color to a pale yellow or cream color. If you’ll be eating it soon, choose a watermelon with the pale yellow or cream-colored spot. Store it at room temperature until you slice it.
If pre-cut watermelon is more your speed, the chunks that look red and juicy are ready to eat. Cut watermelon will stay good in the fridge for about three days, as long as it’s in a sealed container.