11 April 1997

Get watercress habit for the best of health

THE NFU Watercress Association launched its new information Service, WISe, with the news that research in America has shown that the daily eating of watercress can help prevent cancer of the lung caused by smoking.

Despite anti-smoking campaigns over 25% of the UK population seems to find it impossible to give up cigarettes. By developing a watercress habit, these smokers could cut the risk of lung tumours developing – if they eat watercress three times a day, every day.

The watercress contains a substance called Phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) which is only released on chewing or chopping and this appears to neutralise tobacco-specific carcinogens. PEITC is found in other green vegetables but not in the amounts contained in watercress – which also has the benefit of being pleasant to eat raw. Further research into the anti-cancer effects of the plant will start at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich in October.

The "healthy" properties of watercress have been known since the earliest times. In 460bc, when Hippocrates established the first-ever hospital, he stipulated that it should be built by a spring to provide watercress beds. Todays plant is just the same as the one Hippocrates appreciated.

Watercress, and other dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are an important source of fibre, iron, folic acid, vitamins C and E and betacarotene which the body converts to vitamin A.

"These vegetables have extensive protective powers, particularly against anaemia, which can be a problem for women and teenage girls; and spina-bifida, if taken in early pregnancy," said consultant nutritionist Tricia Younger, speaking at the launch of WISe (Watercress Information Service). "Folic acid and vitamin C can be destroyed by overcooking – and watercress has the advantage of usually being eaten raw. "

In America the aim is to ultimately produce a watercress pill, but the prospect of this is some way off and experts disagree on whether or not it will be as efficacious as the real thing. TG