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Sweet cure for thirst


A SLICE of watermelon is the closest thing to heaven for a parched throat in summer. Botanically, it is native to Central Africa, but its earliest recorded cultivation is by the Egyptians and the Aryans in India. Murals on the walls of the burial chambers of the pharaohs depict the cultivation of this fruit.

Being more than 90 per cent water, the watermelon was highly prized by desert dwellers. For thousands of years, the succulent fruit provided precious water on journeys across the desert. The rind fed camels and cattle, and the pulp was a source of alcohol.

The earliest melons were bitter with a lot of tannin, but careful crop breeding by the Nile delta farmers brought the current sweet varieties into being.

Later, crop breeders satisfied the demand for bigger varieties.

These days, a watermelon can weigh as much as 20 kg. The flesh comes in three colours — the familiar red, white and yellow.

It is rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that gives the tomato its luscious colour.

Lycopene prevents heart disease and cancer by mopping up free radicals, which contain highly reactive molecules that attack DNA and the inner lining of blood vessels. Cells with damaged DNA can turn cancerous. Blood vessels with damaged inner linings are prime targets for the build-up of vessel-narrowing plaques and cholesterol deposits.

A diet rich in antioxidants like lycopene can lower risk of such diseases, besides slowing the aging process.

The juicy flesh is also rich in Vitamin A and contains some Vitamin C.

Vitamin A is essential for vision, reproduction, growth and for maintaining healthy skin.

The fruit pulp is low in sodium — good news for heart patients on a low salt diet. 100 grams of juicy watermelon flesh contains 32 calories.

Although this makes it an excellent low-calorie snack, its high water content makes it easy to overeat without feeling sated.

A few slices on a hot day, and bingo, you are in the custard apple calorie bracket. It gets worse if you add sugar to the juice or ice cream. No low-calorie food comes with an eat-all-you-want licence.

M. RAJIV

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