Watercress is the perfect food, a plant you probably haven’t heard of. In addition, it is consumed, most of the time, without knowing it inside fourth-range salads. They are found in bags of clean, well-cut and ready-to-eat vegetables where you are likely to find watercress savoring its characteristic spicy touch on the palate.
The lack of consumption of this plant would not be noticed if science did not insist on its magnificent properties for health. A study for the Center for Preventive Chronic Diseases (CDC) calculated the percentages of nutrients in raw foods. The research was led by Dr. Jennifer Di Noia and developed a method to define the most nutritious fruits and vegetables on the planet.
1. Nutrients, a peculiarity of the properties of watercress
Among the properties of watercress, it should be noted that it is low in calories and contains a wide variety of nutrients.
Nutrient density is a measure of the nutrients a food contains relative to the number of calories it provides. Therefore, watercress is an extremely nutrient dense food.
One cup (34 grams) of watercress contains the following:
- Calories: 4
- Carbohydrates: 0.4 grams
- Protein: 0.8 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0.2 grams
- Vitamin A: 22% of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)
- Vitamin C: 24% of the DRI
- Vitamin K: 106% of the DRI
- Calcium: 4% of the DRI
- Manganese: 4% of the DRI
As you can see, one cup (34 grams) of watercress provides more than 100% of the DRI for vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for blood clotting and bone health.
Watercress also contains small amounts of vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and copper.
2. High antioxidant content, prominent benefit of watercress
Watercress is full of plant compounds called antioxidants that protect against cell damage caused by free radicals, which are harmful molecules that lead to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress has been associated with several chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Fortunately, diets rich in antioxidants like those found in watercress can help protect against oxidative stress, which can reduce your risk of these diseases.
It is one of the vegetables with the highest total amount of phenols and the greatest ability to neutralize free radicals.
In addition, various studies have linked the antioxidants in this food with a lower risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
3. Contains compounds that can prevent certain types of cancer
Because watercress is high in phytochemicals, it may reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer.
This food and other cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are activated into compounds called isothiocyanates when cut with a knife or chewed.
Isothiocyanates include chemicals such as sulforaphane and phenotyl phenothiocyanate (PEITC).
These compounds act against cancer by protecting healthy cells from damage, inactivating cancer-causing chemicals, and blocking the growth and spread of tumors.
The isothiocyanates found in watercress have been shown to prevent colon, lung, prostate and skin cancer.
In addition, research shows that the isothiocyanates and sulforaphane found in watercress suppress the growth of breast cancer cells.
4. Beneficial for heart health
Eating watercress can be beneficial for heart health in several different ways. It is part of the cruciferous vegetable family, and a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables may benefit heart health.
A review of studies in more than 500,000 individuals linked the consumption of cruciferous vegetables with a 16% reduction in the risk of heart disease.
Watercress contains antioxidants, beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Low levels of these carotenoids are associated with heart disease and high blood pressure.
Studies have shown that high levels of carotenoids not only protect against the development of heart disease, but also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Watercress also contains dietary nitrates, which improve blood vessel health by reducing inflammation and decreasing the stiffness and thickness of blood vessels.
Dietary nitrates have also been shown to lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide in the blood.
Plus, it can help lower cholesterol, which can improve your heart.
5. Mineral and Vitamin K Contents Protect Against Osteoporosis
Watercress contains many minerals necessary for bone health, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorous.
Although calcium is known for its effects on bone health, magnesium, vitamin K and potassium also play a role.
A balanced diet high in nutrient-dense vegetables is correlated with a positive effect on bone health.
Vitamin K is a component of osteocalcin, a protein that forms healthy bone tissue and helps regulate bone turnover.
In one study, people with the highest vitamin K intake were 35% less likely to experience a hip fracture than people with the lowest intake.
6. Boosts immune function thanks to high levels of vitamin C
Watercress contains 15 mg of vitamin C per cup (34 grams), which is 20% of the daily intake for women and 17% for men.
Vitamin C is known for its beneficial effects on immune health. Vitamin C deficiency has been linked to decreased immune function and increased inflammation.
Vitamin C stimulates the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells that fight infection.
7. Nutrient Density of Watercress for Weight Loss
Although not specifically studied, watercress may also have weight management benefits.
It is an extremely nutrient dense food and contains very few calories, but it does provide several important nutrients as we discussed earlier.
If you’re trying to lose weight, this nutritious, low-calorie vegetable is worth adding to your diet.
8. Dietary Nitrates May Improve Athletic Performance
Vegetables in the Brassicaceae family contain high levels of nitrates, which are compounds found naturally in foods such as beets, radishes, and green leafy vegetables, including watercress.
They relax blood vessels and increase the amount of nitric oxide in the blood, which can improve exercise performance.
In addition, nitrate lowers blood pressure at rest and reduces the amount of oxygen needed during exercise, which can increase exercise tolerance.
Several studies on nitrates from beets and other vegetables have shown improved exercise performance in athletes.
9. Rich in carotenoids and vitamin C for eye health
Watercress contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidant compounds from the carotenoid family.
Numerous studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin are essential for eye health.
In particular, they protect the eyes against damage caused by blue light. Lutein and zeaxanthin have also been linked to a lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
In addition, vitamin C, which as we saw is very present in watercress, is also associated with a lower risk of developing cataracts.
10. Easy to add to any meal
Watercress can be used in a wide variety of dishes. However, to get the most benefits from its active antioxidant compounds, it is best consumed raw or lightly steamed.
Here are some easy ways to add watercress to your diet:
- Sprinkle over your salad.
- Add it to the soup near the end of cooking.
- Use it to replace lettuce in a sandwich.
- Turn it into pesto by mixing it with garlic and olive oil.
- Serve it with scrambled eggs in the tortillas.
- Use it to finish any dish.
Watercress is a powerhouse vegetable that contains several important nutrients but is extremely low in calories.
It contains a varied amount of antioxidants, which may reduce your risk of heart disease and various types of cancer.
It is also a good source of minerals that protect the bones.
In addition, watercress is a delicious addition to any meal and is a nice change from the usual lettuce or spinach.
Although watercress is not one of the most popular vegetables, it is an interesting addition to our diets given its many benefits.