by Lucy Williamson, Registered Nutritionist
Summer is here and watercress is now growing abundantly in mineral-rich spring water in the UK!
Watercress, a highly nutritious and British leafy green, is packed with more antioxidants than the rest of the Brassica family it belongs to (cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts, spring greens etc) and current, exciting research is continuing to show its many health benefits.
But what are Antioxidants and why do we need them?
Just as chopped apples turn brown when exposed to oxygen in the air, we too are constantly exposed to ‘free radicals’ which cause damage to our cells, proteins and DNA, in a process known as ‘Oxidative Stress’. We use and recycle, key antioxidants like Vitamin C, E and A in the food we eat, to neutralise these free radicals and so reduce oxidative stress. (Interestingly, most animals make their own Vitamin C) When these internal defence mechanisms are overwhelmed, extra antioxidants from food such as watercress play a key role in our long-term health because oxidative stress can increase the risk of some cancers, heart disease and stroke, and quicken the ageing process. For the record, sources of free radicals can be excessive intake of sugars in high energy food, smoke inhalation and other air pollutants, alcohol, UV radiation from the sun and lack of sleep. They can even be exercise-induced. All in all, part of our every-day lives.
So why is watercress so beneficial?
Natural plant chemicals in watercress are activated upon chewing, or digestion by our gut bacteria, to the peppery-tasting antioxidant, Isothiocyanate. Current research is demonstrating this antioxidant to be particularly effective in protecting against cell DNA damage which can lead to some cancers such as Colon Cancer.1 Watercress is also an excellent source of the Vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene as well as Lutein, both of which have antioxidant properties. And it doesn’t stop there – it’s high fibre too, so great for digestive health and a good source of Vitamins E and C, and potassium for heart health.
The Watercress Company based in Dorchester and a member of Love British food, is an innovative British watercress producer with main farms in Dorset and Hampshire. To ensure year-round supply they also have farms in Spain and Florida. They supply small grocers through to national supermarkets and work extensively to promote the health benefits of their product, currently partnering with their local Dorset County Hospital to supply watercress smoothies! They also grow wasabi and baby leaf salad. You can read more about their aims and achievements here.
Seasonality is key to healthy eating – getting the best quality nutrients, at their most plentiful and cheapest. Watercress, in season now, can be enjoyed
in the diet in so many ways – as a salad with trout and horseradish, in smoothies mixed with garden peas and blueberries for example or try this delicious
Watercress, garden mint and pea dip:
Blanch 1 cup of frozen or fresh peas for 4 minutes. Whizz with a handful of watercress, freshly picked garden mint, olive oil to desired consistency and
S&P to taste. Delicious!
Make the most of this fabulous British green this summer!
1 Gill, C.I.R., Haldar, S., Boyd, L.A., Bennett, R., Whiteford, J., Butler, M., et al (2007) Waercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults Am
J Clin Nutr 85:504 –10
Lucy is a Registered Nutritionist working to inform and inspire better health for all and is always delighted to answer queries: email@example.com https://lwnutrition.co.uk