What does the research say about watercress?
With some of the latest advice suggesting that we should be aiming for up to 10 portions of fruit and veg a day, we might be wondering where to start and which options to focus on. However, some brand new research suggests that watercress, in particular, may have some impressive health benefits worth noting, so could this be one ingredient to focus on?
Some of the proposed health benefits of watercress are as follows:
- It falls into the category of a cruciferous vegetable which are considered to be highly nutritious
- It may have more 'functional benefits' meaning the benefits can affect specific areas of the body, including having a protective effect on the liver
- It may help prevent damage to DNA which is involved in supporting healthy aging processes
- It may support recovery from exercise and minimise metabolic damage afterwards
Here I explore some of these potential benefits in more detail, plus I outline how you can more easily up your intake of this wholesome veg.
Where are we with the advice on fruit and veg more generally?
As much as it's generally recognised that we need to consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, the more up to date research suggests that the benefits may extend beyond this so the more we eat, the better the benefits seem to be. Some authorities even recommend up to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day!1,2
It seems that upping our intake of fruit and veg has a number of potential benefits. Heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease is one, whilst potentially reducing the risk of other chronic diseases has also been investigated.
In the latest research, the authors outline a list of some of the fruit and vegetable options which are considered to be the healthiest of all. This includes cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale and watercress, dark leafy greens including spinach or spring greens, citrus fruits and berries.
Much of the health benefits of these fruit and vegetables are thought to be down to their nutrient and antioxidant content which, in turn, helps to manage unwanted inflammation and destructive oxidative stress within the body.
Whilst variety is very much key as different fruit and vegetables contain different nutrients which can therefore exert a number of diverse benefits, some are thought to be more helpful than others. Next, in light of some brand new research, we look at one particular vegetable, watercress, in more detail.
What are some of the health benefits of watercress?
Although the vibrant colour of watercress is a sure giveaway that it's nutrient-packed, before now there has been limited research investigating any specific benefits.
This latest study helps to do just that:
1. Protects the liver
Cruciferous vegetables are thought to be especially beneficial for our health and much of these benefits may stem back to how they support the digestive system.
Cruciferous vegetables are rich in dietary fibre (one to be aware of if you have to limit FODMAPs as part of a symptom management regime), but they're also thought to be especially supportive of the liver, one of our key digestive organs.
This new research highlights this once more, suggesting that increasing our intake of watercress may help to protect the liver, for example, from the affects of toxins or chemicals (including medicines such as paracetamol).3
2. Supports healthy aging
Healthy aging is a priority for many of us, especially as we tend to be living longer on the whole! DNA damage is one of the main mechanisms that drive aging and, as we understand it, increases in oxidative stress, which is driven by habits such as smoking, can risk accelerating this process further. On the other hand, healthy habits such as an antioxidant-rich diet can help to slow this process.
The latest research harps back to this idea and found that, as it's rich in certain antioxidants including beta-carotene and glucosinolate, watercress was actually able to help slow DNA damage in smokers.3
3. Recovery from exercise
As much as exercise is a healthy habit, we do experience some degree of oxidative damage afterwards, especially if we do too much!
Luckily, by supporting our system with sufficient nutrients and antioxidants, such as those found in watercress, we can help offer some protection against this process interestingly, even when taken in the short-term (2 weeks), and when having as little as 50g daily, as this new research highlights.3
How can you increase your intake?
Now that I've outlined some of the health benefits of fruit and vegetables (with a special focus on watercress), how do you go about upping your intake with minimal effort?
Some tips from me are as follows:
1. Get cooking
Cooking is one of the easiest ways to sneak some extra vegetables into your diet. This way you can pack as many as you want in, without having to scour over ingredients lists wondering how much goodness is in there!
Soups, stews and curries are tasty options, yet vegetable-packed meals and ingredients such as spinach or watercress are arguably even easier to squeeze in. By adding them in at the end of your cooking they'll wilt down to next to nothing so you'll barely even notice you're adding to your 5 a day!
2. Get creative
Whilst at first, looking up watercress recipes is a good place to start (I've posted some below for some inspiration!) eventually you can become more creative and confident with your cooking and start substituting different ingredients in or simply packing more in than was recommended – an extra handful or two can go a long way!
Variety is key so, even if you have a firm, family favourite recipes, why not try mixing them up a bit by adding in some new ingredients? Your taste buds (not to mention your health), will be thanking you for it, and a greater variety of colours on your plate can be a sure sign that you're on the right tracks.
Creamy Watercress Soup
Homemade Tangy Lime Guacamole
3. Don't forget about snacks
Cooking meals can be easier said than done, but once you're in the habit of it, it can often become second nature. Snacks are another area to focus on as, yet again, we're often tempted by convenience options when it comes to snacks.
Watercress can easily be slipped into smoothies and blitzed up with minimal effort (easily hidden in sweeter options too) or, much like our well-loved BioSnacky sprouts (another super-nutritious option, may I add), it also makes a great topper for more savoury snacks such as hummus or pates – enjoy!
Three Energy-boosting Smoothies
Sun-dried Tomato Hummus