On a hot, summery day, ice-cold watermelon serves up a delicious treat. Sure, the rosy flesh quenches your thirst. But now there are more reasons than ever to reach for a slice.
Meet Dr. Alison Edwards. She is a scientist at the
Agricultural Research Service. Scientists are people who think
of new ideas, called theories.
They also make up scientific experiments
to test their new
ideas. That's how they figure out if a new idea is a good one, or
if the new idea will lead to an even better idea.
At her lab, Dr. Edwards recently learned more about the secrets of why watermelon is good for you! With all the seed-spitting fun you have eating watermelon, you might not have known it also packs a nutritious punch.
But before sharing secrets, let's share some fun facts about how today's watermelon came about.
About a half-century ago, watermelons were round! So they were hard to stack. And they rolled around during the rough ride from farm to market. They were also soft. So all that bumping made them crack and bruise.
Back then, an ARS plant breeder named C. Fred Andrus set out to develop a better watermelon. He came up with the first sweet melon that could be stacked, because it was shaped like an oval, called oblong. The new breed of watermelon also resisted the most serious watermelon diseases of the day.
That new watermelon breed was named after the city where Dr. Andrus worked. It was dubbed "Charleston Gray," after Charleston, South Carolina. Now, most of the watermelons you find still have that handy, oblong shape.
Today, there are more than 1,200 kinds, or what scientists call varieties, of watermelon grown worldwide. That's according to the National Watermelon Promotion Board.
Now, let's get back to the news about how watermelon is good for you. After all, good news shouldn't be kept secret.
Dr. Edwards has known for a long time that watermelon contains vitamin C. But in recent years, scientists learned that watermelon also contains a phytonutrient called lycopene (sounds like "LIKE-oh-peen").
It is the substance, or pigment, that gives tomatoes and watermelon their rosy red color.
These red pigments are known as carotenoids (ka-ROT-en-oids). Scientists are interested in carotenoids because of their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are one of many nutrients that we get from plants that are needed to help keep the body's cells healthy.
What's so special about the lycopene in watermelons?
Dr. Edwards says that watermelons and tomatoes both have lots of lycopene. It seems that your body can use the lycopene from watermelon more easily than the lycopene from raw tomatoes. Actually, the lycopene from tomatoes is more easily absorbed inside your body once the tomatoes have been cooked.
Still, if you're at a picnic on a summer day, a steaming plate of spaghetti may be the last thing you want. A slice of lycopene-rich watermelon might be more appealing.
And if you tell your mom, she just might bring watermelon home more often!!