The “healthiest” veggie may be one you’ve never tried.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is making the rounds for awarding watercress, a leafy green, a perfect 100% score on their scale of “powerhouse fruits and vegetables.”
Watercress is incredibly nutrient-dense, with a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in every bite. It has a peppery and almost bitter taste, which is why it’s probably not the most popular green. Not to mention that watercress is difficult to find in the local supermarket.
But its nutrition profile does make it worth seeking out for adding to smoothies or wilting into a warm salad. Let’s take a look at the reasons why watercress is one of the healthiest veggies in the world and simple ways to try it.
Watercress nutrition facts
The CDC used 100 grams of watercress in their research to assess the nutrient density of the food. One hundred grams (about 3 cups chopped) of watercress has:
- 11 calories
- 2 grams protein
- 0 grams fat
- 1 gram carbohydrates
- 1 gram fiber
- 43 mg vitamin C (48% daily value (DV))
- 160 ug vitamin A (18% DV)
- 250 ug vitamin K (208% DV)
The health benefits of watercress
There are two stand-out nutrients in watercress — vitamin C and vitamin K. Both are abundant in the leafy green and offer a variety of benefits. Vitamin C is obviously known for its immune function, but it also plays a role in collagen production, iron absorption, protein metabolism and antioxidant defense. Most people get enough vitamin C on a daily basis, but eating watercress is a great way to ensure you’re having plenty of this helpful vitamin.
Vitamin K is a lesser-known nutrient that has several vital roles within the body, including contributing to blood clotting and bone health. It’s most prevalent in leafy greens, and watercress is an excellent source of this vitamin.
These nutrients, along with the phytochemicals (plant compounds) in watercress make it beneficial for a variety of health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. For example, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating 85 grams of raw watercress daily for 8 weeks caused less damage to DNA and increased antioxidant status in the body, both of which may reduce the likelihood of developing cancer. The study authors attribute these results to the antioxidants in the leafy green.
Research in animals also shows that supplementation with watercress extract has cardioprotective properties, such as lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. A more robust meta-analysis of human studies concluded that a high intake of green leafy vegetables reduces incidences of cardiovascular disease. Again, the study authors believe these protective effects come from the antioxidant power of leafy greens.
Lastly, a recent study assessed the effects of including watercress in a moderately high fat meal (40% calories from fat) on blood sugar in healthy men. The authors found that including 100 grams of watercress in the meal reduces blood sugar after eating. What’s more, research in animals suggests that a 4-week treatment with watercress extract decreased blood sugar and blood lipids in diabetic rats.
Are there drawbacks to eating watercress?
It’s probably no surprise that its perfectly safe for healthy individuals to eat as much watercress as they want. That said, those who are on blood thinners need to limit their intake of foods that are high in vitamin K, such as watercress. Vitamin K can interfere with the mechanism of action for blood thinner medications, causing them to not work properly.
Fun facts about watercress
Besides the nutritional benefits, here are a few other reasons to eat watercress.
Watercress reduces post-workout inflammation
With its antioxidant capacity, it’s no wonder that watercress has been studied for its ability to reduce post-exercise inflammation. A small study of 10 healthy males looked at the effects of short-term (2 hours before exercise) and long term (8 weeks) supplementation with watercress on post-exercise inflammatory markers. The authors found that both forms of supplementation decreased exercise-induced inflammation. Another study with 19 healthy subjects observed the effects of a single serving (85 grams) of watercress after a 30-minute high-intensity workout. Again, the research found that anti-inflammatory markers were higher for the participants that received watercress, as compared to controls.
You can grow watercress at home
Since watercress isn’t available at every supermarket, head to your local nursery to pick up a plant or a pack of seeds and grow it at home. Watercress loves water and sunlight and thrives on a sunny windowsill. Add the seeds or small plant to a pot of soil and submerge the bottom of the potted plant in 2-3 inches of water. Keep the soil damp at all times and leave the plant in a sunny place to watch it thrive.
Cooking watercress reduces the bitterness
Although the natural tendency is to use a leafy green in a salad, cooking watercress with fat (such as oil) reduces the peppery flavor. As a matter of fact, watercress is sometimes used as one of the greens in a warm “wilted” salad to celebrate Juneteenth.
Healthy watercress recipes
Since watercress is underutilized, recipes are hard to come by. Yet, here are some ways to try out this peppery green.