The juicy sweetness of melons gives you the satisfaction of dessert without the hit to your waistline. The natural sweetness found in watermelons and cantaloupes can help you turn away from those ingredients to avoid: white table sugar (known as sucrose), corn syrup, and honey, all of which provide calories and few nutrients.
Melons may come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, but they all have two things in common: a soft, sweet, juicy pulp and superb taste. That's why it's hard to say no to melons. They offer a decent dose of fiber, which helps fill you up. As a snack for dieters, melons can't be beat. Their juicy sweetness is just the substitute for high-calorie snacks and desserts. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most people eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day. Melons are a great-tasting way to fulfill that recommendation.
Most melons are rich in potassium, a nutrient that may help control blood pressure, regulate heart beat, and possibly prevent strokes. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines state that a potassium-rich diet helps keep salt from raising blood pressure and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and possibly age-related bone loss. The guidelines encourage adults to consume 4,700 milligrams per day (while keeping sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, which is one teaspoon of salt).
Melons are also abundant in vitamin C, one arm of the now-famous disease-fighting antioxidant trio. Another arm that's well represented is beta-carotene. Researchers believe that beta-carotene and vitamin C are capable of preventing heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions. No matter which way you cut them, when it comes to nutrition, melons are number one.
Watermelon is a valuable source of lycopene, one of the carotenoids that have actually been studied in humans. Research indicates that lycopene is helpful in reducing the risk of prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers, as well as lung and colon cancer.
Selection and Storage
The three most popular melons in the United States are cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew. In general, look for melons that are evenly shaped with no bruises, cracks, or soft spots. Select melons that are heavy for their size; they tend to be juicier.
Cantaloupes should have a prominent light brown netting that stands out from the underlying smooth skin. If the stem is still attached, the melon was picked too early. Ripe cantaloupes have a mildly sweet fragrance. If the cantaloupe smells sickeningly sweet, or if there is mold where the stem used to be, it is probably overripe and quite possibly rotten. Cantaloupes continue to ripen off the vine, so if you buy it ripe, eat it as soon as possible.
Choosing a watermelon is a little chancier. Watermelons don't ripen much after they are picked, so what you see is what you get. The single most reliable sign of ripeness is a firm underside with a yellowish color; if it is white or green, the melon is not yet mature. A whole watermelon keeps in the refrigerator up to a week, but cut watermelon should be eaten as soon as possible. The flesh deteriorates rapidly, taking on an unappetizing slimy texture.
Ripe honeydew, signaled by a yellowish-white color, is the sweetest of the melons. Avoid those that are paper-white or greenish white; they'll never ripen. If the skin of a honeydew is smooth, it was picked prematurely. It should have a slightly sticky feel, indicating the natural sugars in the melon's flesh are seeping through the skin. It will be deliciously ripe! Honeydews keep longer than cantaloupes, but should still be refrigerated. Try to cut it open within four to five days. When you do, leave the seeds in place until you're ready to eat it; they help keep the fruit moist.
Preparation and Serving Tips
Some people like melons only slightly chilled or even room temperature, but watermelons taste best when they're served icy cold. A multicolored melon-ball salad topped with fresh, chopped mint makes a pretty dessert. Chilled melon soup is a refreshing change of pace in hot weather. And the natural cavity left in a cantaloupe after removing the seeds is a perfect place for fillers like nonfat yogurt or fruit salad. Squeeze a little lemon or lime juice onto cut melon for extra flavor.
For those watching their weight, a good rule of thumb is to keep your total added sugar intake below 32 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet. A sweet wedge of watermelon could be the missing piece of the dieting puzzle for you.
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