Watercress – more nutritious than protein powders and supplements

Sales of protein powders and supplements have soared during the pandemic as more than just sports or exercise enthusiasts have consumed them in the belief that they can support immunity  

The global protein supplements market size was valued at USD 18.91 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 8.4% from 2021 to 2028. 

The United Kingdom whey protein market alone is forecast to reach USD 2.16 billion by 2025.

But before buying another jar of whey protein or energy gels costing anything up to £100, simply pick up an 85g bag of watercress from any supermarket for around £1.50 instead. 

Watercress scores as one of the top-ranking vegetables in terms of its nutrient density and guarantees the nutritional benefits claimed by many of the artificial sports supplements for a fraction of the cost. But that’s not all. 

Research has proved that watercress has impressive effects on reducing DNA damage, induced by exercise, and has benefits for sportsmen and women in aiding recovery after exercise but also for average Jo or Joe against the DNA damage caused by daily life.

A 2012 research study by scientists at Edinburgh Napier University and Ulster University led by Professor Mark Fogarty used a sample of ten ‘healthy’ males, who were required to ingest 85g of watercress daily, for 8 weeks.

The participants were then asked to engage in high intensity exercise on a treadmill.

This was compared to a control group where no watercress was consumed but who undertook the same programme of activity.

A further group consumed watercress acutely, 2 hours before exercise.

The results found that exercise increases DNA damage, as well as increasing lipid peroxidation, whilst watercress consumed chronically or acutely reduced DNA damage, as well as lipid peroxidation.  

These results were replicated on the Channel 4 programme Superfoods – the Real Story, where presenter Kate Quilton demonstrated how eating watercress prior to exercise, reduced her DNA damage by 7% compared to when not eaten.

These results provide support for the powerful protective effects of watercress and highlights its contribution to reducing exercise induced DNA damage but also to damage caused by the daily stresses of life – running for a bus or even just pollution in the air.

Amino acids are often referred to as the building blocks of proteins and are compounds that play many critical roles in your body. 

The body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly.

Though all 20 of these are important for health, only nine amino acids are classified as essential. 

Unlike non-essential amino acids, essential amino acids can’t be made by the body and must be obtained through diet.

The best sources of essential amino acids are animal proteins like meat, eggs and poultry. 

When protein is eaten, it’s broken down into amino acids, which are then used to help the body with various processes such as building muscle and regulating immune function.

Research has revealed that watercress has a full complement of the 9 essential amino acids, which is unusual for a plant.

What’s more, although the overall number of calories are low in watercress, half of them are made up of protein. 

This proportion is about that same as chicken, cod and beef!  

Tests with powdered watercress are under way to capture this highly concentrated protein source and may well be used in the future to create protein supplements.

Until then, simply enjoy the fresh stuff and take advantage of the 50 plus vital vitamins and minerals watercress contains, including (gram for gram) more Vitamin C than an orange, more calcium than milk, more folate than a banana and more Vitamin E than broccoli. 

Added to that, watercress is a rich source of fibre and of crucial antioxidants, both vital for gut health which is linked to immunity and mental health. 

It’s also high in Vitamin A and iron. This is good news for the growing number of people adopting plant-based diets in the UK and who need a reliable source of iron. 

For plant iron to be absorbed, vitamins C and A are required to convert it into a more easily absorbable form such as haem iron as found in meat. 

Because watercress has high levels of iron AND vitamins C and A, it is a reliable and rich source of iron too.

Convinced yet? Try these tasty ways to incorporate more watercress into your life and feel it doing you good:

Watercress, Avocado & Lime Smoothie

This smoothie is simple to make, powerful in colour, filling and delicious, whilst brimming with a range of fantastic compounds, vitamins and minerals that will leave you feeling great!

Have this smoothie as part of your daily routine, whether it’s for breakfast or just a snack.  You’ll love its versatility!

Ingredients

1 small avocado, peeled and seed removed

50g diced pineapple, fresh or frozen

33g watercress

23g baby spinach

1 whole lime, peeled

Small handful mint leaves

250ml chilled coconut water

Method

1.      Add all ingredients into a blender or smoothie maker and blend thoroughly. 

2.      Add more coconut water to achieve desired consistency, if necessary, then either serve immediately or keep in the fridge for up to three days.

Brown Rice Pilaf with Mushrooms, Watercress and Pine Nuts (v)

Cooked in a seasoned broth, this delicious Middle Eastern dish is sure to leave you and your guests feeling full and satisfied.

The heightened fibre content of the brown rice will aid with high cholesterol and blood pressure, whilst the nutrition rich watercress adds a peppery kick.

This simple dish is sure to be a favourite with its cost effective, tasty and highly nutritious ingredients.

Serves 4

Prep time:  20 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

250g brown basmati rice

700ml vegetable stock

100g pine nuts

100g shiitake, chestnut or button mushrooms, roughly chopped

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp paprika

25g butter (can be left out or swapped for vegan butter for vegan or dairy free option)

15g watercress, roughly chopped

15g rocket, roughly chopped

Juice of half a lemon

4 eggs

1 red chilli, finely diced

3 spring onions, finely chopped

100ml white wine vinegar

2 tsp salt, plus more to taste

Black pepper

Method

1.      Bring the vegetable stock to the boil.  In the meantime, place a large frying pan on a medium high heat.  Add the pine nuts and toast for a few minutes until lightly browned, tossing occasionally.  Remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl.

2.      Return the pan to the heat.  Add the chopped mushrooms and dry-fry, stirring occasionally, until they have released liquid and begun to brown.  Remove from the pan and add to the bowl with the pine nuts.

3.      Add the vegetable oil to the pan and turn up the heat to high.  Add the rice and stir to coat thoroughly with the oil.  Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the onions and continue to cook until the onions have softened and turned translucent.  Add the pine nuts, mushrooms and spices and remove from the heat.

4.      Carefully add the rice mixture to the saucepan with the stock along with 2 tsp of salt and a pinch of ground black pepper.  Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and cover the pan.  Cook for around 40 minutes or until the rice is tender.  Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes.  While the rice is standing, bring another pan of water to the boil then add the white wine vinegar.  Once the water has boiled again, turn down to a gentle simmer and carefully crack in the four eggs.  Cook the eggs in the simmering water for 3.5 minutes, then remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on some paper towel.

5.      To serve, stir the watercress, rocket, lemon juice, chilli, spring onion and butter into the brown rice, adding seasoning to taste.    Split evenly between four serving bowls and top each with a poached egg, finishing with a sprinkling of sea salt and black pepper.  Serve immediately.

Ultimate Superfood Salad

A simple and popular way of incorporating the leafy green vegetable into your diet is by making a salad.

It’s quick, simple and tastes great! But don’t be fooled… you can be sure this superfood salad will live up to its name. 

Why not add a roasted salmon fillet or chicken breast for an extra protein hit.

Serves 2

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

85g watercress

100g quinoa

1 pomegranate

1 ripe avocado

100g roasted sweet potato

1 small punnet alfalfa sprouts or mixed sprouts

1 clove garlic

1 head broccoli, cut into small florets

25g mixed nuts, toasted

Sea salt and black pepper

Pinch chilli flakes

Juice of 1 lime

75ml olive oil

25g chopped coriander

Method

1.      Preheat the oven to 200°C, then chop the sweet potatoes into inch cubes with the skin on.  Place into a roasting tray, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

2.      Cook the quinoa in salted boiling water according the packet instructions.  Place the broccoli into a metal colander and set over the boiling quinoa.  Cover and steam the broccoli for three minutes.

3.      Once cooked, drain and rinse the quinoa and broccoli under cold running water.  Remove the sweet potato and salmon from the oven.

4.      Cut the pomegranate in half and squeeze the juice from one half into a large bowl.  Add the olive oil, chilli flakes and lime juice, whisk together and season to taste.  Add in the coriander, alfalfa, quinoa and sweet potato and toss well.

5.      Peel the avocado, remove the stone and roughly chop.  Spread the quinoa and sweet potato mixture onto a serving plate and dot the avocado over the top.

6.      Finally, bash the second half of the pomegranate with a wooden spoon to knock the seeds out and scatter these over the plate along with the toasted nuts.  Serve.

Asian-Style Warm Beef and Watercress Salad with Nuoc Cham Dressing

For a real protein kick try this delicious salad with beef and watercress in a very ‘on trend’ Asian style.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main meal

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

85g watercress

½ a small red onion, thinly sliced

1 plum tomato, thinly sliced

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

300g sirloin steak, cut into strips

Salt and pepper

For the nuoc cham dressing (makes about 250ml):

Juice of 2 limes

3 tbsp fish sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed and very finely chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2 tbsp palm sugar or dark brown soft sugar

100ml warm water

1 tbsp chopped coriander

Method:

  1. First make the dressing: Stir together warm water and sugar until completely dissolved.
  2. Combine with all other dressing ingredients in a bowl, season to taste and set aside.
  3. Add oil to a frying pan and heat on high until oil is smoking.
  4. Add the beef and stir fry for one minute, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Beef should be browned on the outside but remain pink in the centre.
  5. Remove beef and allow pan to cool slightly, then add chopped garlic.  Stir-fry until fragrant.
  6. In a bowl, combine watercress, red onion, tomato, beef and garlic.  Toss with the dressing and mix well, saving the rest of the dressing for later.  Serve immediately.

Spiced Duck, Pickled Cherry, Olive & Watercress Salad

For another high protein option try this stunning spiced duck salad recipe.

Serves: 4

Prep Time: 45mins

Cooking Time: 20mins

Ingredients:

4 Duck Breasts

3 tsp Sumac

1 tsp Brown Sugar

½ tsp Salt

100g Macadamias, roasted at 160C for 20 minutes

200g Watercress

100g Olives, pitted and halved

½ Cucumber, julienne

Pickled Cherries:

300g Fresh Cherries, pitted

450ml White Wine Vinegar

   50g Caster Sugar

2 Star Anise

1 Cinnamon Stick

2 Bay Leaves

Cherry Vinaigrette:

4 tbsp Cherry Juice (from a carton is fine)

2 tbsp Pomegranate Molasses

4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Cracked Black Pepper to season

Method:

1.      Begin the day before you wish to eat by dry brining the duck. Mix the sumac, sugar and salt in a bowl and rub over the duck flesh, leaving the skin. Turn, skin side up and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

2.      For the cherries, bring everything apart from the cherries to a simmer in a small pan. Pour over the cherries in a sterile jar and leave to pickle for at least 12 hours, although they will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.

3.      The day you wish to eat, add all the dressing ingredients to a jar and shake to combine.

4.      Preheat the oven 200C. Pat the duck skin dry and score with a sharp knife, taking care not to penetrate the flesh. Lay, skin side down, in a cold pan and set the heat to medium. Cook for 4-6 minutes, or until the fat has rendered and the skin is crisp.

5.      Transfer the entire pan to the oven and cook for 4-5 minutes for rare. Remove and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes.

6.      To assemble the salad, mix the watercress, cucumber, macadamias and olives in a bowl and drizzle over 2-3 tbsp of dressing. Slice the duck and arrange on top, with some pickled cherries and extra dressing on the side.

Watercress adds a peppery hit to any dish and with its impressive range of vitamins and nutrients is the perfect addition to all diets – vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian – to provide an extra boost of vital nutrients and protection against the stresses of life.

Discover more about the health benefits of watercress or, for more recipe inspiration, go to to watercress.co.uk 

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