Chunks of watermelon squares arranged in a checkerboard pattern

On a warm summer day, you need to stay hydrated, but drinking water isn’t your only option. Turns out watermelon is more than just a juicy treat: This inexpensive and versatile fruit not only is good for you but also lives up to its name.

“As with all fruits and vegetables, watermelon is very nutritious, and it’s quite delicious,” says Lisa Sasson, M.S., R.D., clinical associate professor of nutrition at New York University. “As its name implies, it’s mostly water [92 percent] and is a great way to hydrate yourself in the warmer weather.” You can even use it as a post-workout snack to replenish fluids lost during exercise, she says.

Watermelon Nutrition

Watermelon supplies a number of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, all for the very low cost of just 46 calories per cup.

More On Healthy Eating

However, the nutrient watermelon is most known for isn’t a vitamin or a mineral, Sasson says, but a phytonutrient called lycopene—a powerful antioxidant that gives the fruit’s flesh its characteristic pink hue. “Like all phytonutrients, lycopene appears to protect against some cancers, such as prostate cancer and breast cancer,” Sasson says. “It may also help protect against heart disease.”

So is watermelon good for you? Yes. In fact, watermelon is unique in that it’s one of the few foods that are packed with this pigment. Tomatoes, pink and red grapefruit, and guava are among the other lycopene-rich foods. According to the Department of Agriculture, watermelon has an average of about 40 percent more lycopene than raw tomatoes (although cooked tomato products are the best source). The redder and sweeter the flesh, the more nutritious the melon, according to the Department of Agriculture.  

How to Prep and Use Watermelon

Of course, you can’t see the flesh when shopping for whole melons at your grocery store or farmers market. The USDA recommends keeping your eye out for a watermelon that has a smooth surface, a slightly dull rind, and filled in and rounded ends, with a cream-colored underside.

And as with all produce, be careful to wash your watermelon before slicing into it, because the outside can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, Sasson says. Always be sure to use a clean knife.

Eat watermelon fresh off the rind, mix it into a cold tomato-watermelon gazpacho, or crush it into juice. You can also spice it up with salt, pepper, lime, or chili as a snack or to add to a salad. Try combining it with peaches, mint, a little feta cheese, and farro for a summery whole grain dish.

You can also toast and eat the seeds. Like other seeds, watermelon seeds are rich in healthy fats and protein, plus they’re a decent source of iron, magnesium, and zinc.

And one last tip: Get it before it’s gone. “It’s a short season,” Sasson says, “so go out and enjoy.”