I’ve worked with professional athletes in numerous sports, so I’m always on the lookout for new research on foods and nutrients with performance and recovery benefits. The latest to pop up is watercress. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reports that eating a small amount of this leafy green each day raised levels of key antioxidants that fend of damage caused by exercise.
As a board certified sports RD, I often explain to my clients that while exercise is necessary for seeing results in strength, endurance, and body composition, it also takes a toll on the body. The wear and tear and increased demand can create more free radicals, nasty substances that contribute to DNA damage. That’s why a nutrient-rich diet that neutralizes free radicals and allows the body to heal goes hand in hand with training.
In this particular study, ten healthy young men were given a small bag of watercress, about 3 ounces, daily for eight weeks. The participants were then asked to execute treadmill workouts that included short bursts of intense exercise. Another group, which was not given watercress also performed the treadmill workout after eight-week as a control.
The athletes who had not eaten watercress experienced more DNA damage, and for the watercress consumers, the benefits were seen after just one dose. In other words, the nutrients didn’t need to accumulate over days. Those who ate the veggie just two hours before hitting the treadmill experienced the same benefits as those who had munched on it daily for two months. Pretty powerful stuff!
So just what is watercress and how do you eat it? In a nutshell it’s the most ancient green vegetable on the planet. It was grown by Hippocrates himself, the father of modern medicine and source of the famous quote, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This member of the mustard family, which has a peppery flavor, can be enjoyed in many ways:
• Add it to a garden salad with other leafy greens and raw or grilled veggies• Use it as a garnish for sandwiches or wraps, or as a topping for pizza
• Add it to soups as you would kale or spinach
• Whip it into a green smoothie
• Dress with balsamic vinegar and use as a bed for a serving of lean protein (lentils, salmon, chicken, tofu)
• Add it to whole grain dishes including whole grain pastas, or wild rice pilaf
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.