Independence Day is this week, and what better way to celebrate our country's freedom than having a picnic with family and friends? Watermelon is a summer favorite, so I’ve included some tasty tidbits and facts about this healthy fruit.

There are about 200 to 300 varieties of watermelon grown in U.S. and Mexico. However, the Kalahari Desert in Africa is its place of origin. Egypt held the first recorded harvest 5,000 years ago, while the seedless variety was invented just over 50 years ago.

Watermelon has many health benefits. For starters, it has a high water content (92%) so it’s great for helping with hydration in the warm summer months. It is a leader in lycopene, an antioxidant in fresh fruits and vegetables. It also contains potassium, magnesium, thiamine and vitamin A as well as the amino acid citrulline that can help maintain blood flow in the heart.

Watermelon contains zero saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium in a standard serving and only has 46 calories per cup.

Some tasty ways to eat watermelon include dicing up and skewering it with other fruits for a fun fruit kabob or mixed with peach yogurt and pineapple for a sweet smoothie. The rinds of watermelon can be pickled and are delicious with grilled burgers. You can even try to use seedless slices on your sandwiches, or grill the slices and serve with ribs, chicken or shrimp.

Kids especially love to eat watermelon just off the rind, or they can make a “cupcake” with yogurt frosting and sprinkles for a healthy dessert. They can be creative this summer and carve a Jack-o’-melon, putting a fun twist on a summer Halloween. You just need to carve a watermelon like you would a jack-o’-lantern.

Cookie cutters can also be used to make fun shapes from watermelon slices. The shapes can be skewered with berries or other fruit for a fun, edible kids activity.

When selecting a watermelon, choose a firm, symmetrical one without bruises. It should feel heavy for its size. Look for the yellow spot: Watermelons develop a splotch where they rest on the ground. When this splotch is creamy yellow, that means the melon is ripe.

Kathy Hamlin is a registered dietitian for Hy-Vee stores in Rochester. This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

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