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Although found in markets most of the year, the watermelon (citrullus vulgaris) is essentially a summer fruit. Watermelons can be round, oblong or spherical in shape, with thick rinds which can be spotted or striped. Watermelons usually range in size from a few to as much as 90 pounds.

And it is not just the pulp which is useable. Watermelon seeds can be roasted and eaten; the oil extracted from watermelon seeds can be used for lighting lamps and for special culinary preparations.

Health benefits include:

Watermelons are very low in protein, fat and carbohydrate, making them suitable for people who want to lose weight and for those suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disorders. The higher water along with a lower calorie content provides more nutrients per calorie.

2. Watermelons are a good source of vitamin C and beta-carotene (antioxidants), all of which reduce the risk of heart attacks. The antioxidants present in watermelons are also good for reducing the risk of colon cancer, alleviating the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

3. A substance called lycopene is present in watermelons and this helps to prevent the risk of prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and heart diseases.

4. The risk of age related macular degeneration (ARMD), a primary cause of vision loss in older adults, can be reduced by eating watermelons.

5. Watermelons are rich in citrulline, an amino acid that our body uses to make another amino acid arginine, which helps to remove ammonia from the body. Arginine is also used by cells forming the lining of the blood vessels to make nitric oxide which relaxes the blood vessels and lowers high blood pressure. Arginine has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity in obese type II diabetic patients with insulin resistance.

6. Watermelons are rich in potassium which helps maintain the electrolyte balance of the body. Since in summer our body loses a lot of minerals therefore it is good to eat watermelons during this season.

Watermelon seeds contain considerable amounts of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorous, iron and provide high number of calories. For calorie watchers it is better to remove the seeds before eating the fruit.

Unaiza Arif
The writer is Masters in Food Science and Technology from the University of Karachi.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on May 10, 2009.