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Watercress: sports nutrition's newest ingredient

Can watercress, one of the oldest leafy vegetables consumed by humans, protect your DNA from exercise-induced oxidation?

It’s almost time for my first CSA (aka Community Supported Agriculture) to kick in, and I’m looking forward to a bounty of fresh, healthy, nutrient-rich produce to consume all summer. While vegetables like broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, onions, and beets are projected to show up in my weekly basket of homegrown goodness, I expect the first few weeks will offer copious amounts of greens. Spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and hopefully (pretty please?!) watercress will be included.

Why watercress? Apart from its spicy and pleasantly bitter flavor, new research suggests that the water-loving plant's abundance of antioxidants like beta carotene and alpha tocopherol may protect against exercise-induced oxidative stress to cells.

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, 10 men were instructed to eat 85 grams of watercress per day—about 3 ounces—for eight weeks. As a control, study participants then ate no watercress for eight weeks. After each period the men exercised until exhaustion and blood samples were taken. Researchers found when men ate no watercress, they had increased DNA damage as well as elevated levels of lipid peroxidation—an indicator of oxidative stress. It's possible that the watercress shielded cell damage.

But how to use this pungent, micro-leaved plant? Incorporate into a salad, tuck into a sandwich, and use as a parsley alternative. Or try these delicious recipes to increase your watercress prowess.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 19, 2012

Isn't exercise supposed to reduce oxidative stress though? How does it cause it?

on Apr 23, 2012

This is a great question! While exercise is good for you, it can increase oxidation of cells, leading to more harmful free radicals in your body. You can counterbalance aerobic exercise’s free radical effect by cranking up your antioxidant intake before or after workouts, as the participants in the watercress study did. Here's a great article on this topic to learn more!

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