A recent study at William Paterson University in New Jersey ranked the top "powerhouse fruits and vegetables," based on the nutrients they provide per calorie. What topped the list? No, not kale or spinach (though they didn't do too badly). The most powerful of the powerhouses was watercress.
The ranking used Agriculture Department data based on fruits and vegetables' content of fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin D and other nutrients, all considered important to our health. Watercress, a cruciferous vegetable, received a score of 100 (51 points higher than kale). At only four calories per cup, every bite packs a huge dose of vitamins and minerals.
Watercress, used as a cleansing medicine since ancient times, is a delicate and tender leafy green known for containing high levels of B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, riboflavin, niacin and folate. All of these nutrients help to protect against cancer and heart disease. Watercress is also a good source of calcium. Served fresh, rather than boiled, you get 100 percent of the nutrition it offers.
Watercress is often found in the herb section of grocery stores. When selecting watercress, go for green (not yellow) leaves and smell it for freshness. Stems should not be slippery. When storing, rinse and cut the stems, gently dry with a paper towel and refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to five days.
Shrimp-Watercress Summer Rolls
This time of year, summer rolls are a great way to use powerhouse foods without falling into a salad slump. So what is a summer roll, exactly? I like to describe it as a Vietnamese version of a burrito or sandwich wrap (but much more delicate and tiny). It is like packing a salad snugly into a light rice container and pairing it with a dipping sauce that complements what's inside.
Summer rolls (also known as fresh spring rolls) are naturally healthful, especially because the rice paper is not deep-fried.
These summer rolls can be an elegant appetizer or even a light lunch. This dish can be interactive for a party, too. Set up all your ingredients in an assembly line and encourage everyone to create customized rolls.
Each summer roll has a subtle touch of sweetness from thin slices of peach. Avocado provides a creaminess that is contrasted by the subtle crunch from the bell pepper. Combined with two shrimp, these rolls make for the perfect finger food. (Vegetarians can substitute black beans.)
You can use regular rice wrappers or brown rice wrappers for extra fiber. Either way, the recipe is gluten-free, low-calorie and easy to prepare. Just add your ingredients in the center of the wrapper and roll 'em up. No grill, stove or oven required.
Spices and fresh herbs, which are abundant this time of year, boost flavor without adding sodium. In fact, many herbs contain disease-fighting antioxidants, so you can feel extra good about incorporating them into your recipes. This recipe uses fresh mint, cilantro and ginger.
Mint provides a refreshing and unexpected balance against the spicy and intensely flavored dipping sauce. To keep your mint fresh longer, cut the ends and store the bunch upright in a glass of water.
Cilantro is a pungent herb that makes a fantastic garnish and perks up the rolls with a bit of Asian flavor.
Ginger contains chemicals that may reduce nausea and inflammation, according to the National Institutes of Health. NIH rates ginger as possibly effective for dizziness, menstrual pain symptoms, pain associated with osteoarthritis, nausea and vomiting in pregnant women, and nausea and vomiting following surgery.
The rolls also get a natural and low-calorie flavor boost from green onions, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic cloves, fresh lime juice and, of course, our peppery powerhouse, watercress.
• Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthful-recipe site EatingbyElaine.com. Follow her on Twitter @EatingbyElaine.