W - for all things water.
We'll be talking all things water this week; watermelon, watercress and more.
First things first, lets kick off W by talking about that thing that keeps us alive - water.
Our bodies are 60% water, so it's important we remember to keep it hydrated.
So why is it important for you to drink water?
Water is the main make up of our body. Therefore it's hugely important to ensure we consume enough of it to make our bodily systems work as they are supposed to.
Firstly, water is there to hydrate us - and without it, we die.
We can live for a few weeks without food, but only a few days without water. In short - it's much more vital to our bodies than food.
It obviously depends on the individual - but on average people can live without water for about 3 days - but that will of course depend person to person.
However the reason we can't live without water is because we become dehydrated. Which in severe situations, will lead to organ failure as our body becomes unable to function and ultimately stops working.
The main reasons we need water is to help with many internal essential body functions and to also help keep our cells alive.
The key reasons we need water are outlined below:
To help regulate body temperature - we do this through breathing and sweating.
Aids digestion - water helps form saliva and helps to break down food.
Water helps to keep mucus membranes moist.
Water helps to keep the body in an optimal pH.
It helps lubricate the joints and the spinal cord.
It helps our brain to make and use certain hormones.
It helps to get rid of toxins from our cells
It eliminates waste from our body via urine and breath
It delivers oxygen throughout our body.
How much water should I be drinking each day?
So it can be difficult to know how much water we should be drinking each day. It is unlikey as a healthy, nourished adult that you will drink too much water (this tends to be more common for athletes when they are exercising and are wanting not to become dehydrated in long, or intense exercise stints).
The reason this can be dangerous is because it leads to sodium dilution in the blood. This then can lead to swelling of the brain and lungs as the body makes an attempt to balance out the blood sodium levels by shifting fluids.
Of course - the amount each individual needs to drink per day will be determined by a huge number of factors:
1. How much you sweat.
- If you live in a hot country, you are likely to sweat more than someone who lives in a cold climate. High altitude can also contribute to sweat loss too.
- If you do a lot of exercise - you are likely to fluids - it's important to make sure you replenish these so drink water before, during and after exercise.
2. Overall health
- If you are ill and either vomiting or have diarrhoea this can lead to huge fluid loss in the body. Of course if you also have a fever, this will contribute to this as sweating as mentioned above will lead to fluid loss in the body.
- If you have issues like bladder infections or urinary tract stones you might be required to intake more fluids too.
3. Pregnancy / breast feeding
- If you are pregnant or breast feeding you might also need additional fluids to help keep you hydrated.
4. What you eat
- What you eat can determine how much you need to drink. For instance if you eat a lot of food with high water content like watermelon, fruits, lettuce etc
So how do I know if I need to drink more water?
Our urine is always a good tell-tale sign of whether we need to drink more water or not.
When your urine is colourless or a light pale yellow, that's a pretty good sign to tell you that you're well hydrated.
You can also pinch your skin on your arm or tummy. Let the skin go - it should spring back in one to three seconds. If it slower than this - it could show that you are dehydrated.
You know you're dehydrated when you start to see the following signs:
- Dark yellow urine
- Tiredness / lack of energy
- Muscle cramps/joint pain
- Lightheaded or dizzy or headaches
- Dry mouth (and or lips and eyes)
- Urinating less than four times a day
- Feeling thirsty (this is our brain detects dehydration in our body and sends signals to stimulate thirst so that we drink - we're pretty clever huh!!)
This delicious fruit and is great for helping you to stay hydrated as it is 90% water so can make a really refreshing, sweet snack in the Summer months.
It comes most commonly in these five varieties; mini, yellow, orange, seeded and seedless.
Why should I eat watermelon?
There are a great many health benefits to eating watermelon.
I'll outline them below.
1. Watermelon can help keep you hydrated.
Because of its 90% water content - it is a great fruit to eat if you are not overly good at remembering to drink water.
2. Watermelon can help protect against a range of diseases including cancer and heart disease
Watermelons contain antioxidants. These are beneficial for helping to remove free radicals from our bodies. These free radicals either are created by our body through things like metabolism, or they can be as a result of other environmental pressures or activities such as smoking, air pollution or stress for example.
Ultimately when too many free radicals stay in the body - this leads to something called oxidative stress which damages cells and can trigger the onset of diseases such as heart disease or cancer.
Watermelon contains a huge amount of lycopene. In fact, it is one of the best sources of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant which combats against oxidative stress which as we said above can lead to diseases in the body.
3. Watermelon can help aid weight loss.
Watermelon is very high water content - 90% of its weight is water. It is also very low calorie. If you are looking to make conscious snack choices to help you lose weight, watermelon is a great snack as it is sweet, and juicy and very little calories. It also contains an amino acid known as arginine which can help burn fat quickly.
4. Watermelon helps lower blood sugar and improve circulation
Watermelon contains a natural substance known as L-citrulline. This substance - which is found a lot in the white part of the rind - has been shown to help lower blood pressure and improve artery function. In some studies it has also been proven to help athletic performance during endurance exercise.
Food hack: Frozen watermelon
If you want a nice refreshing heathy treat on a hot summers day, you can always slice watermelon and freeze it. Make sure you freeze it not on top of one another otherwise you won't be able to separate it when it's frozen.
It's a great way to preserve melon if you have too much. But make sure you eat it while it's only just thawing as it goes very mushy very quickly.
Alternatively - you can then use this frozen watermelon to make watermelon sorbet or smoothies.
Quick Eats: Watermelon, corn and mango salad
Fresh, vibrant, sweet, tangy and delicious! What more could you ask for from a salad. The ultimate BBQ accompaniment - Perfect freshness to cut through meaty sausages, steak or chicken, a delicate complement to prawns or fish and absolutely fabulous with soft grilled halloumi skewers. (I'm trying to withhold from drooling as I write this!)
You can literally eat it alone or put it with anything and best of all it leaves no one out as it's gluten-free and vegan and with any good salad - totally customisable to your taste.
Watermelon (seedless is ideal)
Peppers (avoid green - they're not as sweet as red or orange)
Fresh coriander (optional) - could substitute for mint or basil
Rice vinegar / red wine vinegar works as a substitute
Fresh lime or lemon juice
Optional add ins:
Feta or mozzarella
Get fancy and let your creative juices run...pineapple/blueberries/raspberries also work.
Super simple. Mix the dressing ingredients in a bowl - olive oil, vinegar and lime or lemon juice in the absence of lime. Maybe add in some salt and pepper to taste here.
Slice and dice your ingredients however you feel fit. And toss/mix all together in a big bowl.
Pour over your dressing, scatter with some more fresh coriander (or which ever herb you chose to use), and serve. Delicious.
Watercress is a dark green leafy vegetable which comes from the cruciferous family; the same family as kale, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and other similar vegetables.
It has a highly dense nutritional profile and as a result in recent times, has become popular.
It has small round leaves and the stem is also edible. It is peppery in its taste with a slightly spicy flavour.
Why is eating watercress good for me?
Consuming any type of vegetable - especially green, dark, leafy vegetables, is always beneficial for your health.
Ranges of studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables can minimise the risk of inflammation in the body.
Top benefits of eating watercress
There are many reasons to eat watercress as it is regarded as a powerhouse when it comes to nutrients and it is very low calorie.
Below I will share the many benefits that eating watercress can bring.
1. Nutrient dense and packed full of vitamin K.
Watercress is a high nutrient dense food - this means for the amount of calories it offers a huge number of nutrients by way of vitamins and minerals. It also contains over 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K per cup of watercress.
2. Watercress can help reduce your risk of chronic disease and illness
Watercress, like watermelon and other veggies and fruits that I have noted throughout this A-Z, is packed full of antioxidants. As explained previously, antioxidants are important for protecting against the harmful impact and cell damage that free radicals can cause. This damage caused by free radicals can lead to diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart diseases.
In studies watercress has proven to outperform other vegetables in terms of it's ability to neutralize free radicals and lower the risk against these other diseases.
3. Watercress contains compounds that have shown to help reduce the risk of cancer.
Watercress is high in something known as phytochemicals. These compounds have been shown to protect healthy cells against damage by cancer causing chemicals and also blocking and slowing the growth of tumours.
Many studies have proven that the compounds found in watercress have been shown to prevent lung, colon, skin and prostate cancers.
4. Watercress is beneficial for heart health
Watercress is part of the cruciferous family which has many proven benefits. A diet containing large amount of cruciferous vegetables may help benefit heart health.
Studies have shown that those who consume cruciferous vegetables have a 16% lower risk of developing heart disease.
In addition the compounds found in watercress have been proven to help lower blood pressure and also lower 'bad' cholesterol.
5. Watercress can help with bone strength
As we age, we become more susceptible to reduced bone density. A balanced diet incorporating nutrient dense vegetables is shown to help improve bone health.
Along with calcium, there are other important vitamins such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorous which are also important for bone health. Added to this is vitamin K which contains an important protein which makes up healthy bone tissues and helps regulate bone turnover. As I mentioned already - one cup of watercress contains over 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K. So load up your plate with this good green stuff!!
6. Watercress can help to protect eye health
Watercress contains carotenoid antioxidants specifically lutein and zeaxanthin which have been highlighted as essential for eye health. In particular protecting against blue light.
These two antioxidant compounds have also been shown to help lower the risk of developing age-related eye degeneration problems.
The vitamin C found in watercress has also been associated with lower risk of developing cataracts.
How do I use watercress in cooking?
Watercress can be used in a variety of ways from soups, to sauces, to salad leaves and stir-fries, dips and pesto. As a veggie it is incredibly versatile.
It's often eaten as a salad ingredient but that doesn't mean that it's not delicious cooked.
You can sauté it, wilt it, puree it.
If however like with most things, you want to gain the most benefit from it, it is most nutritious when eaten raw.
So load it in to sandwiches, salads, pestos and dips.
What does watercress go well with?
Watercress is peppery and spicy but it goes well with lots of foods but also is just as delicious on its own.
As a sauce it can be paired with grilled fish, meat, eggs, vegetables...
As a pesto it makes a nice change to the traditional basil flavours.
It's also a great addition chopped up to add a subtle flavour to sauces and other dishes, used in stir-fries or as part of an omelette ingredient.
My best advice, experiment.
Food Hack: When cooking with watercress - add it right at the end of cooking the dish. This way it will still keep a little bit of its bite and also retain most of its nutrients and health benefits.
Quick Eats: Chicken and Watercress Stir Fry
This is a fast and nutritious, simple dish - with some lovely Asian flavours.
Perfect for a mid-week supper. And packed full of goodness.
You can always use the sauce as a stir-fry sauce for other stir-fry dishes too - like veggies or other meat or fish stir-fries. It's a great staple to have in your cooking toolkit.
Oil (for cooking - sunflower is ok here)
Pepper (ideally yellow or red)
rice to serve (optional)
You can always add in more veggies if you prefer too as well. Ideas are broccoli, mangetout, green beans, pak choi, baby sweetcorn etc.
Fresh ginger (grated)
Rice wine or white wine vinegar
Quick Eats: Classic Watercress Sauce
Pour over steak, chicken, fish like cod or salmon and grilled veggies. The options are endless and it's going to pack a punch nutrient wise.
Stock (vegetable or chicken)