Research reveals that watercress has more health benefits than we realised

Watercress prevents damage caused by a workout

New ‘super food’ research marks breakthrough in sports nutrition

Researchers at Edinburgh’s Napier University have discovered that humble watercress, with its powerful antioxidants should not only be thought of a a super food but also as a stress buster that relieves the effects of a hard workout in the gym. We all know that we benefit from moderate exercise but the increasing demand we are putting on our bodies with so called intensive work outs can actually damage our DNA.

According to the new study from scientists at Napier, as well as a team led by Dr Gareth Davison from the University of Ulster, you can prevent some off the damage these high intensity workout inflict on our body by eating watercress. It can also help to maximise the benefits gained from a tough workout.

The study findings have now been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Study leader Dr Mark Fogarty, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Life, Sport and Social Sciences, said: “Although we are all aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill, lifting weights, or doing high-levels of training can take its toll. The increased demand on the body for energy can create a build-up of free radicals which can damage our DNA.

“What we’ve found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies, and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit. It’s an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research.”

Ten healthy men, aged on average of 23 years, participated in the study. For eight weeks they were given 85 grams of watercress – a small bag – and asked to participate in high-level exercise on the treadmill. An eight week study with no watercress consumption was carried out to act as a control.

The scientists also tested whether the protection properties of watercress were affected by the regularity of consumption. And they found that participants with no watercress in their system who ate the leafy vegetable just two hours before high level exercise still experienced the same level of protection.

Dr Fogarty said: “We put participants through short bursts of intense exercise and found that those who had not eaten watercress were found to have more DNA damage than those that did not. What was also fascinating is that the effect of eating watercress was not reliant on an accumulative build-up in our bodies. Those that ate the vegetable just two hours before exercise experienced the same benefits as those who had consumed the vegetable for eight weeks.”

He added: “A bag of watercress a day may be influential in aiding the bodies healing process. However, sensible advice when exercising still stands and whether you are consuming watercress or not, you should always stay hydrated and listen to your body when it tells you enough is enough.”

The study was sponsored by Vitacress Salads, one of Europe’s leading growers of watercress.

Dr Steve Rothwell of Vitacress Salads said: “This is a fantastic reaffirmation of the outstanding health attributes of watercress. It is always gratifying to see rigorous scientific studies such as this validate the belief held for millennia that watercress is a very special food. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was a great fan of watercress and indeed until the late 1800s watercress was regarded as a medicine rather than a delicious food.

“Dr Fogarty’s findings, added to published work demonstrating its anticancer properties, make for a compelling case to make sure watercress is a regular feature in our 5 a day.”

Grown in mineral rich spring water, drawn from deep under the chalk downs of Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire, watercress packs a powerful nutritional punch, gram for gram containing more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than milk. It is brimming with Vitamin A (converted from beta carotene) with 80g providing a whopping 42% of the recommended daily allowance. Its curative properties have been revered down the centuries; Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have located his first hospital close to a spring to ensure fresh watercress to help treat his patients, Greek soldiers were given it as a tonic before going into battle and the 16th Century herbalist Culpepper claimed it could cleanse the blood. More recent studies have suggested that watercress may have cancer fighting properties too – it really is a super food for a super you.

British watercress farmers are celebrating the start of the British watercress season with National Watercress Week that kicks off on Sunday 20 May with the Watercress Festival held in Alresford, Hampshire. For more information on the festival and the wonders of watercress, visit www.watercress.co.uk.