Articles on Food Matters:

Watermelon: The Fresh Juicy Fruit With Numerous Health Benefits

Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise promotes health and may substantially reduce the risk of certain fatal diseases associated with old age. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains has always been of incredible health benefit. Watermelon, scientifically known as Citrullus lanatus, has a great potential as a basic food source and contributes to a healthy nutritional diet.

Watermelons were primarily grown on lighter soils in regions with warmer climates. Watermelons were a warm season crops consumed as dessert fruits and the rinds were used for making pickles and preserves. However, with increased market acceptance, better edible quality and long distance shipping adaptability, the growth of watermelons has increased worldwide. Certain breeds of watermelons have been developed to be more specific to regions of the world. The breeding has resulted in improved quality, which involves maximum sugar content, excellent flavor, and firm flesh with deep red color pigment due to the presence of lycopene.

The sweet, juicy watermelon is actually packed with some of the most important antioxidants in nature. It reduces the risk of fatal diseases like asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and arthritis. Watermelon is rich in the B vitamins necessary for energy production. Watermelon is a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of vitamin B1, magnesium, and potassium. Watermelon has a high nutrient density due to the higher water content and lower calorie content than many other fruits. A rich source of vitamins A and C, watermelon also contains lycopene. Lycopene is a red pigment that occurs naturally in certain plant and algal tissues. In addition to giving watermelon and tomatoes their color it is an excellent anti-oxidant that can help prevent heart disease and some forms of cancer.

Up until a few decades ago, watermelon was largely a seasonal fruit that appeared in the market for a few months and then disappeared by the end of summer. Considering the current information regarding the health benefits of watermelon there has been a huge increase in the per capita watermelon consumption. The increase in imports during the winter and early spring is helping satisfy the consumer demand for year-round supplies of watermelon.

Selective plant breeding programs are being employed in order to improve the overall nutritional qualities of watermelon. Commercial companies are employing trained scientists to research and develop long-term solutions that lead to a better product quality in terms of higher sugar content and consequently increases acceptance among the consumers.

In terms of acreage, production, and per capita consumption watermelon is the leading U.S. melon crop. A recent survey indicates that the middle-income groups are the leading consumers of watermelon. The bulk of watermelon purchase has been from retail outlets and it is categorized as a home food. Among the top three melons, the honeydew variety is the most prevalent. Cantaloupe use is similar to watermelon with 16 percent purchased as food away from home.

Christine Macguire
09 Dec 2006

Christine is an expert Internet marketing professional with years of experience in various industries such as: Business, Finance, Real Estate, Web-Design, Health & Medicine and many more.


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All About Oils

Oils tell a story. A sniff and taste of good quality olive oil speak of freshly cut green grass and each drop of dark sesame oil releases an earthy intensity. And butter, which is oil in solid form, conveys indulgent richness combined with simple comfort.

These flavours can sometimes reveal a unique health benefit. Specifc compounds that give sesame oil its robustness, for example, also act as anti-oxidants. And the burning sensation that is felt at the back of the throat from taking extra virgin olive oil comes from a chemical called oleocanthal that reduces inflammation in the body in a way that is similar to a common anti-inflammatory medicine.

Once taken in, certain oils become converted into helpful substances that soothe the overall body's system, while others are badly behaved trouble-makers that agitate the system, and in the process kick and damage many organs and cells. Trans fats - the worst of the lot - act like a layer of stiff plastic that make arteries and heart muscles less flexible.

Taste and health: two of three main considerations when selecting cooking oil. The third is smoke point. Each type of oil has its own ability to withstand heat - called smoke point. Go beyond that and oil starts smoking. As a result, even a healthy fat can become toxic.

In general, the more refined the oil has had most of its taste and colour processed out. The less refined oils offer greater depth in flavour and tend to be rich in substances that are good for the body.

Here is a guide to help you navigate the supermarket aisles to select the right oils for your use.

Low Smoke Point Oils
>> Fish oil, borage oil, flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil
More likely to be found in a health food store than a supermarket, many oils with a low smoke point are supplements. Examples are flaxseed and fish oils. Oils with such a low heat tolerance should never be used in cooking. It is also a good idea to refrigerate these oils.

Medium Smoke Point Oils
>> Olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most health-promoting oils available. It is best known for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease by controlling LDLs (bad cholesterol) and raising HDLs (good cholesterol).

Studies have also linked olive oil to lower incidence of stomach ulcers, improved asthma control, lowered incidence of gallstones and reduced inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. Preliminary studies also show that it may be linked to a reduction in the risk of colon and breast cancers.

Use the least processed kind, which is cold pressed extra virgin oil. This is the first press of oil that is squeezed from olives, without using heat. The result? Full flavour coupled with maximum nutrients since the specific health-giving compounds that are found in olives are captured in the oil.

While superb in terms of taste and health, this type of oil is fragile when it comes to heat treatment. It is best used raw, on salads or poured over cooked food, and may be used for light cooking. Do not use it for heavey frying.

Other than extra virgin, there are other types of olive oils: Virgin olive oil adds a second pressing of the olives, pure olive oil is more processed through filtering and refining; and extra light olive oil is the most processed with only a mild olive flavour. Anything called light olive oil may contain vegetable oils.

Think you might be an olive oil convert? Great. Remember to keep your bottle of oil out of light and away from heat to prevent it from becoming rancid.

>> Sesame oil
Sesame oil has found its placed in health food stores following a study that showed a reduction in blood pressure in patients with moderate hypertension when they switched exclusively to cooking with sesame oil for three weeks.

The study was conducted in India, where sesame oil has been used for generations in cooking and also for ayurvedic treatments. Known there as gingelly or til oil, the variety used in Indian cooking is made from raw sesame seeds, which delivers golden coloured oil.

The oil most commonly used in Chinese, Korean or Japanese cooking ranges in colour from golden brown to dark brown, and is made from roasted seeds.

In South-east Asian cooking, sesame oil is usually not heated too much and is used primarily as a seasoning. The oil is able to withstand moderate levels of heat.

>> Coconut oil
Coconut oil is currently in vogue in health food circles. After years of being shunned, the tropical oil is enjoying popularity as a health food and weight loss product. The rationale? The molecules found in coconut oil are shorter that those of most other edible oils. As a reslt, coconut oil is not stored in the body as a fat. Instead, it is burned as energy.

Research from McGill University in Canada suggests that this is true and that these molecules also boost metabolism and satiety. Because they are easily digested, similar shorter fat molecules are given in hospitals to provide nourishment for critically ill people who have trouble digesting fat.

Proponents of coconut oil also note that it is high in lauric acid and contains trace amounts of caprylic acid, both of which appear to have antiviral and antifungal properties. Coconut oil can also withstand higher cooking temperatures which adds to its popularity. The downside is that it is a sturated fat (which raises bad cholesterol) and consequently carries serious heart-health concerns.

The take home message: More research is needed on coconut oil. Till then, it may be only used in small amounts if at all.

High Smoke Point Oils
>> Refined soya bean, safflower and other vegetable oils
The most common oils on any supermarket shelf are these neutral-tasting oils, which tend to be ultra-refined and processed to the point where they lose any flavour or specific nutritional components that come from the seed or fruit that they originate from.

What is good about these oils? These versatile oils are not saturated fats, are usually affordable and can be cooked to high temperatures. And the down side? Other than being processed aggressively, they also give the body high levels of omega-6 fats. generally speaking, we don't get enough omega-3 in our diet and get too much omega-6 from the widespread use of such oils.

>> Rice-bran oil
Rice bran oil is notable for its high temperature tolerance, and mild flavour, making it suitable for high-temperature cooking. The oil may also offer some health benefits, as it is a natural source of vitamin E. But the ultra-processed oils available may not preserve many of these nutrients.

>> Canola oil
Canola oil - or Canadian oil - is extracted from a variety of rapeseed that was specifically bred in Canada for edible oil extraction.

The oil is monounsaturated - similar to olive oil, which is a good start. Added to that, it has high levels of omega-3 fats. All in all, it looks good. Ironically, one of its virtues - the omega-3 fat content - may also be the source of its problem.

Omega-3 fatty acids become easily damaged during the heat-intensive processing of canola oil - and become the dreaded trans fats. A study at the University of Florida found trans content in canola oil to be as high as 4.6 per cent. So a less refined canola oil (organic, expeller-pressed brands) would be a good oil to take (this would have a lower smoke point). But the lower-cost products sold in supermarkets have often been overheated.

>> Palm oil
Striking red in colour, the oil from the fruit of the palm tree is hard to miss. High levels of pigments called carotenoids give the oil its colour, and countless health benefits. Add to that the abundance of natural vitamin E found in palm oil, and this oil has a hefty dose of anti-oxidant power.

Palm oil is gaining a following within the food industry. The heat-stable oil is less likely to form trans fats during processing - and the industry needs a good alternative. By the time the oil enters a packaged food, though, it loses much of its vitamin E and carotenoid value.

The main concern about palm oil is the same as coconut oil - both of these are saturated fats. Some studies, however, have found that red palm oil protects the heart. Look out for further research on the topic.

The oil has a high smoke point and can be used for cooking, even to high temperatures.

Pooja Vig
09 Mar 2007

Pooja is a microbiologist, has worked in health acre for 12 years. She is pursuing a degree in nutritional medicine.