Once considered just a juicy treat with limited culinary range and nutritional value, watermelon actually is a versatile and very healthful fruit. On a salad plate, it's a succulent stand-in for tomatoes. It adds crunch and color to entrees. It makes a sweet background for smoothies and sorbets. And it freshens up a tangy barbecue sauce.
If you're pregnant, the benefits are even more delicious. Watermelon eases heartburn and reduces swelling; its high water content (92 percent) and fruit sugars can help alleviate morning sickness and dehydration; and the minerals it contains can help prevent third-trimester muscle cramps. Ounce for ounce, watermelon is richer than tomatoes in lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against cancer and cardiovascular disease, boosts the body's immunity to infections and naturally raises the skin's SPF, according to Steven Pratt, M.D., author of SuperFoods Rx(HarperCollins).
Even better news for pregnant women: A study in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics found that daily lycopene supplements reduced the incidence of preeclampsia by 50 percent. Test subjects were given 4 milligrams of lycopene; a single serving of watermelon can have triple that amount. What's more, scientists have discovered that watermelon is packed with vitamins A, C and B6, as well as potassium and magnesium. These nutrients are important for the development of your baby's vision, brain, nervous and immune systems, and more. For you, potassium regulates water balance in the blood and body tissues during pregnancy. And you get all these benefits for less than 50 calories per cup.
With its plentiful health perks and juicy, refreshing taste, watermelon is one of summer's most perfect nutritional packages. Try it in these sweet and savory recipes.
Some pregnant women swear that watermelon is all they can keep down when morning sickness kicks in. Perhaps the only thing more refreshing than a big slice is a glass of fresh watermelon juice or a watermelon ice pop – and making either is so easy.
To make juice, purée 8 cups cubed seedless watermelon in a blender until smooth. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve (don't press the fruit through with a spoon, or the juice will be too fibrous). Discard the pulp. Serve the juice immediately or chill it, stirring well before serving. If desired, add 1 tablespoon citrus juice (such as lime, lemon or orange) to intensify the flavor. Makes 1 quart, or about 4 8-ounce cups.
To make ice pops, purée 4 cups frozen, seedless, cubed watermelon and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a blender. Pour purée into popsicle molds or 10 small paper cups. To forgo the fibers, strain purée through a fine-mesh sieve before pouring into molds. Top each cup with aluminum foil, making a small slice in the top of each with a knife and inserting a wooden stick. Place in freezer until hardened, then unmold when ready to eat. For variety, mix the purée with lemonade, sweetened low-fat yogurt, fruit juice or other fruit purées before freezing.
Makes 10 2 1/2 -ounce servings.