Loads of goodness: Include watercress in your diet by piling it into sandwiches, tossing into salads or using it in soups, sauces, pastas or stir fries Image Credit: Stock photos

Dubai: Ever wondered whether there was one food that had it all? Here is the answer. A recent international study has concluded that watercress is the world’s healthiest superfood. The dark green salad leaf has emerged with a full-blown nutrient density score of 100 and as such is the most nutritional veggie today.

The study’s results reported by the US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has suddenly put the spotlight on watercress, with nutritionists around the world talking about its wonders.

So why is watercress a powerhouse veggie?

Safeek Ali, dietician and nutritionist at the Mediclinic Welfare Hospital, said: “Watercress is a leafy vegetable with a peppery, tangy flavour. It is a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins A, K and C and also phytochemicals and antioxidants which provide protection against heart disease, cancer and other degenerative conditions.”

He said it is also beneficial in treating cough, bronchitis and constipation and improves general appetite and digestion. “It is very low in calories - 11 Kcals/100gm – and hence can be incorporated in a weight loss diet plan by piling it into sandwiches, tossing into salads or using it in soups, sauces, pastas or stir fries.”

Medicinal properties

Known to exist for centuries, watercress was an extensively used medicinal herb and food in the Middle Ages. Anita Apel, dietician with Organic Foods & Café, said: “Watercress contains 93.5 per cent water, besides mustard glycoside, essential oils, bitter substances, flavonoids and a high amount of vitamin C, so it was earlier used to treat scurvy. Nowadays, it is used in spring cures. It improves metabolism, purifies blood, promotes gastric juice and bile production. In folk medicine, watercress was used for treating metabolic disorders, debility, skin diseases, cough, rheumatism, gout, liver disease, stomach and intestinal problems, as well as bladder and kidney diseases. But it should not be taken excessively, as it may cause slight irritation of the gastric mucosa and the kidney. It is not recommended for pregnant women and children below four.”

As an advocate for vegetarianism, MEVeg Founder Sandhya Prakash also swears by watercress. “If you are a vegetarian looking for a good source of iron, include watercress in your diet along with bran flakes, spinach, muesli, chick peas, red and green lentils, dried fruits, nuts etc.”

Recounting a special session on watercress at one of MEVeg’s Open Access Sustainable Evergreen Saturday events in Abu Dhabi, she said: “We had a special Arabic vegetarian mezze evening where we used watercress in a fattoush along with other vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, tomato, parsley, mint, radish and spring onions, garnishing it with pomegranate sauce and olive oil, topped with sumac.”

But now the big question - where is this wonder leaf available and how much does it cost in the UAE?

While inquiries with many supermarkets drew a blank, Subhash K. Retail Marketing Manager, Choithrams, said: “We sell watercress at select stores.”

Becky Balderstone of Ripe organic fruits and vegetables, said RIPE does sell watercress but has run of stock. “We do not currently have watercress in stock. If we did, it would cost around Dh25 per kg and would be available at our Ripe Farm Shop in Al Manara Street or for home delivery or from one of our community markets.”

Throwing light on why it is not readily available here Apel of Organic Foods & Café said: “The original home of the watercress is probably South East Europe and West Asia. It grows mainly wild in damp locations along creeks, swamps and springs. Nowadays, it has become a victim of pollution and is cultivated only in some countries.” She added that watercress should be consumed as soon as possible – preferably the same day of harvest, making transportation of fresh watercress a costly affair.

That said, however, there is a way out for those who want to lay their hands on watercress. “The best way for a daily fresh harvest watercress is to put organic/demeter seeds in an organic mold humus soil and try to grow them at home with water like in a pond,” said Apel.