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H4: Head, Heart, Hands, & Health – It’s watermelon season!

You know it’s summer when watermelons make an appearance in the stores and roadside stands. Last weekend, Jefferson County held their Watermelon Festival; marking the beginning of the summer season, so you will find an abundance of melons over the coming weeks. What better way to cool off during these hot summer days we are experiencing than to eat a slice of this red fruit? Sweet to the taste, a watermelon is packed with vitamins, minerals and healthy-enhancing phytochemicals. According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, a serving of watermelon contains 15 to 20 mg. of lycopene, the cancer-fighting phytochemical abundant in red fruit and vegetables. You may be surprised to learn this amount of lycopene is higher than any other fresh produce, even tomatoes. Other nutrients include vitamin A, and C, potassium and fiber. Another major health benefit, watermelons are low in calories; a two cup serving is only 80 calories and since it is 92 percent water, it is also a great snack to help keep your body hydrated during the warm summer weather. Here are a few interesting facts about Florida watermelons.

Florida is among the top producing states, in a good year, the sunshine state produces approximately 800,000 melons. A watermelon vine can grow to six to eight feet within a month, producing a crop within 90 days. Watermelon rinds are hard, but very fragile; requiring melons be handpicked, but the melon you get at the road side stand or the grocery store is well worth the effort. There is a watermelon for any size household, consumers have a wide variety of choice in today’s market. In the U.S. about 50 varieties of watermelon are grown; some are large in size, up to 30 pounds, while others can be as small as one pound. Some produce dark seeds and others are seedless.

How do you pick a ripe melon? According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, choose a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents. A ripe melon should feel heavy for its size; the underbelly should have a creamy spot of yellow. Watermelons will not continue to ripen much after being picked. A food safety concern is to wash the outside of a watermelon with soap and water before cutting it to prevent dirt from getting into the edible fruit. For more information on food selection and food safety, contact the Madison County Extension Service. The University of Florida Extension/IFAS – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.

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