Are you looking for a special treat to make for Valentine's Day? Try a fresh bouquet of watercress. This delicate green with its peppery flavor, is more than just a celebration salad.
First, it's a cruciferous vegetable ( that means its flowers have four petals,resembling a cross.) The cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower, are well-known for their cancer-fighting potential. Like all other dark green vegetables, watercress is packet with beta-carotene, a nutrient that helps to fight off heart disease and diseases associated with aging, such as cataracts.
Watercress has long been known as a healthy superfood. Anglo-Saxons munched it to prevent baldness. Roman emperors ate it to help them make bold decisions. In Crete, watercress has an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac. Irish monks called it “pure food for sages.” And the Victorians prized it as a cure for headaches and hiccups.
Cancer-fighting potential This spicy green is a traditional filling for dainty sandwiches, served at a proper English high tea. If you ever have the choice between watercress or cucumber sandwiches at a fancy tea, go for the watercress – and say yes to second helpings. Population studies show that people who eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, like watercress,have lower rates of cancer. Watercress researchers will tell you that this crusifer is particularly potent against lung cancer caused by smoking and breathing secondhand smoke. Scientists have found that when they included phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a natural compound found in watercress that gives this food its peppery flavor, in the daily diet of laboratory animals and exposed them to cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke, the animals were 50% less likely to develop lung cancer tumors than animals given their regular diet, without PEITC.
Encouraged by the results, the scientists recruited 11 smokers to see if watercress would have similar effects in people as it did in laboratory animals and it did. “We got results with humans that were consistent with what we saw in laboratory animals,” says Stephen Hecht, PhD, professor of cancer prevention at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center in Minneapolis.
Watercress is the richest food source of PEITC. More than 50 research studies have shown that it seems to prevent cancer-causing agents – including some of those found in tobacco smoke – from being metabolized by the body to become carcinogens. It also seem to trigger enzymes that disarm carcinogens. But watercress seems to hide other anticancer compounds in its tiny green leaves as well. British researchers have discovered that it contains methylsulphinylalkyl glucosinolate – which also turns off the development of cancer and seems to make this salad green twice as potent as a cancer fighter.
However, you have to eat a lot of watercress for it to be effective. And watercress won't necessarily protect you from other cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, adds Dr.Hecht.
Of course, no one is telling you that eating watercress is going to wash away smoke's toxic effects. No food on the planet can. But adding watercress to your daily diet may be a step in the right direction while you work on clearing the smoke from your life.
Other Benefits Besides keeping cancer cells at bay, watercress also helps fight off another major public health enemy-heart disease. Like all other dark green leafy vegetables, watercress is packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant nutrient that has been linked to lower rates of heart disease. In fact, watercress has more beta-carotene than broccoli or tomatoes. It's also packed with the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, well known to protect your vision.
As a bonus, one cup serving of watercress also provides 24% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C,another valuable disease-fighting antioxidant vitamin. The antioxidants, which include beta-carotene and vitamin C and E, help to remove cell-damaging oxygen molecules from your body. Keeping lots of beta-carotene in your bloodstream seems to be the key to lowering your risk of heart attacks, certain cancers, and ailments associated with aging, such as cataracts and wrinkles.
Eat it Raw To get the most out of watercress, you have to eat it raw. Watercress is best eaten in its natural state,fresh and crisp. When you cook it, it looses its ability to release PEITC. “ Fortunately, most people don't cook it,” says Dr. Hecht. Your dose of that active ingredient is less in a cooked vegetable than a raw one.”
Use it often Changes are that you never eat the 6 ounces of watercress a day that you need to extract the maximum healing benefits, says DR. Hecht. But you can put a hefty amount in your diet, simply by using it more often. For example, it makes a tasty alternative for lettuce in sandwiches and salads.
Keep it fresh To keep watercress fresh, refrigerate it n a plastic bag. Or refrigerate it in a glass of water, and cover it with a plastic bag. It will keep fresh up to 5 days.
When using watercress , unless you're adding it to soup stock, use only the leaves and the thinner stems. Otherwise, the pungent, peppery flavor may be overpowering.
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