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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.

It is hard to believe it is July already!

As the "dog-days-of-summer" begin, it is more important than ever to make great nutritional choices. As the days heat up, a summertime favorite food also supplies important electrolytes for maintaining hydration and mineral balance. What is this special treat? Watermelon!

Watermelon not only is a low calorie treat, it is primarily water to help hydration (92 percent). It is packed with nutrient-dense minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Watermelon contains higher levels of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. It is a great source of vitamin C needed for immunity and vitamin A for eye health. Watermelon also provides B-6 needed for protein metabolism and potassium for water balance within our cells. Additionally, watermelon contains vitamins B-1, B-5, iron, calcium and magnesium.

Beyond the basics, watermelon is considered heart healthy as it is cholesterol- and fat-free. The lycopene has potential to reduce blood pressure and possibly prostate cancer risks. It may also prevent age-related macular degeneration. The vitamin C is needed for the body to make collagen. Collagen strengthens your skin while creating elasticity. The vitamin A also serves to repair skin cells, stopping the dry, flaky appearance.

The benefits of watermelon keep coming with improved digestion. Watermelon contains both water and fiber. These two compounds are important for healthy digestion. Fiber increases bulk in the digestive tract and may keep the frequency of bowel movements regular. Water keeps the food in your digestive tract moving so nutrients can be properly absorbed and fully digested. This can be very helpful for promoting normal bowel movements. Additionally, citrulline, an amino acid in watermelon, may reduce muscle soreness. Furthermore, it is believed watermelon may help lower inflammation and oxidative stress. Research has shown inflammation and oxidative stress are key factors in chronic diseases.

Purchasing a watermelon can be challenging. As a rule of thumb, a watermelon should be heavy — if one seems lighter than the rest, this could mean it has lost its water content and is spoiled. The rind offers other clues to a watermelon's overall edibility. First, the watermelon shouldn't have any dents or bruises. No matter what its size, it should also be symmetrically shaped. A healthy watermelon will have a yellow spot on the bottom — this is part of the normal ripening process from when the melon grew on the ground. A whole, uncut watermelon should be left at room temperature until ready to use. Once cut, place any leftover chunks in an airtight container and store in the fridge.

If you are looking for a healthy sweet treat for a hot summer's day, look no further! Watermelon is a great choice to tickle the taste buds and refresh vital nutrients for a healthier you.

Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. She has worked in the field of health and nutrition as a wellness practitioner for over 30 years. Core to her practice remains use of nutrition to improve health, vitality and quality of life. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master's degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.

WATERMELON POPS

Makes: 10 pops

4 cups cubed seedless watermelon (from about half a 5-pound watermelon)

1/4 cup plain 2% fat or whole Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon finely grated peeled ginger

Pinch of kosher salt

1/3 cup (or more) sugar

1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lime juice

10—3 oz. ice-pop molds & wooden sticks

Purée watermelon, yogurt, ginger, salt, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon lime juice in a blender until smooth. Add more sugar and lime juice, if desired. (Purée will taste less sweet once frozen, so err on the sweet side.)

Divide purée among ice-pop molds. Freeze until mixture begins to set around edges of molds, 45-60 minutes. Stir mixture in molds to blend; insert sticks. Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours. Dip molds briefly in hot water to release pops.

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