While a big cup of ice cream may be one of the sweetest summer treats, it can do some not so sweet things to the midsection. For a lighter refreshment, trying biting into a slice of watermelon. At only 48 calories per cup, this fruit packs in nutrition without packing on calories. And despite playground rumors, it’s even okay to eat the seeds.

Check Out These Melons — Why It’s Super

Watermelon isn’t the average treat. Instead of sugar, it’s filled with nutrients like vitamins A and C. It also packs a big dose of the amino acid citrulline, which helps the body produce yet another amino acid called arginine. Eating watermelon has been shown to raise the body’s arginine levels and could potentially lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseaseDetermination of citrulline in watermelon rind. Romando, A.M., Perkins-Veaize, P.M. US Department of Agriculture, Mississippi. Journal of Chromatography 2005 June; 1078 (1-2): 196-200.Effects of watermelon supplementation on aortic blood pressure and wave reflection in individuals with prehypertension: a pilot study. Figueroa, A., Sanches-Gonzalez, M.A., Perkins-Veazie, P.M., et al. Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences, Florida State Univewrsity, Tallahassee, FL. American Journal of Hypertension. 2011 Jan; 24(1): 40-44.. Arginine is also important in cell division, allowing the body to properly heal itself and create new tissue.

But this summer staple does more than help heal the occasional boo-boo. Watermelon also contains lycopene, an carotenoid that’s been shown to help protect the body from UV rays, cardiovascular disease, and cancerDietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. Stahl, W., Heinrich, U., Wiseman, S., et al. Institut für Physiologische Chemie I and Biologisch-Medizinisches Forschungszentrum, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany. The Journal of Nutrition 2001 May;131(5):1449-51.Nutraceutical properties of lycopene. Waliszewski, K.N., Blasco, G. Unidad de Investigación y Desarrollo en Alimentos. Veracruz, Mexico. Salud Publica de Mexico. 2010 May; 52(3): 254-265.. To reap the maximum benefit from these compounds, try chomping on the rind, which tends to contain more of the powerful aminos.

Melon Out — Your Action Plan

Thanks to modern transportation (and some super-cool greenhouse action), watermelon is available virtually year round in any climate. For the most flavorful and freshest slice, look for local watermelon during the peak months of June through November. To get more lycopene from a cut melon, refrigerate and eat within seven days, because lycopene content (and juiciness!) decrease significantly with storage.

And while watermelon makes a perfect mid-day treat, don’t be afraid to go beyond the basic snack time slice. Explore the savory side of things with an arugula, feta, and watermelon salad, or make a special cocktail-time treat by soaking chunks in spiced rum.

Photo by Kate Morin

Here’s one Greatist-approved recipe that’s sure to satisfy any sweet tooth:

Superfood Recipe: Grilled Balsamic Watermelon with Yogurt Sauce

(Adapted from Food and Wine, August 2010)

What You’ll Need:

1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon honey or agave tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper 10-12 1-inch thick slices of watermelon ¼ cup mint leaves, sliced into ribbons

What to Do:

  1. Heat grill to high heat.
  2. Mix yogurt, lemon juice, thyme, honey/agave, and olive oil. Set aside.
  3. Drizzle watermelon triangles with a little olive oil and the balsamic. Season with a little salt and pepper.
  4. Grill over high eat until the watermelon starts to char, about 1 minute per side.
  5. Transfer to plates, and top with yogurt sauce. Garnish with an extra drizzle of honey and balsamic, and a few ribbons of mint.