Watercress is a dark, leafy green grown in natural spring water. For the past few decades, watercress has been used as little more than a plate garnish; however, it is now seeing a resurgence in popularity as one of the next big super foods.
An ancient green said to have been a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers, watercress is a part of the cruciferous (also known as brassica) family of vegetables along with kale, broccoli, arugula, and Brussels sprouts.
As more varieties of salad leaves were cultivated over the next 100 years, watercress became known as a poor man’s food and was eventually shoved off our plates. Its newfound popularity is partly due to its high ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). The ANDI score measures vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.
To earn high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories. Watercress received the highest rank possible. If you are looking for food to eat to improve your health and shrink your waistline, look no further than watercress.
This article provides a nutritional breakdown of watercress and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits; it also gives ideas to help incorporate more watercress into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming watercress.
Health Benefits Of Watercress
The major health benefits of watercress are discussed in detail below.
Prevents Breast Cancer
Watercress has such effective cancer preventive phytonutrient that even eating a single salad shows an increase in molecules into the body’s circulatory system that may prevent and stop the recurrence of breast cancer. Based on a study those who ate at least 80 grams of watercress on a daily basis were shown to have beneficial results.
Another study on the anticarcinogenic abilities of watercress showed great benefit when added to the diet as a cancer preventive for stomach, lung, and breast cancer.
Watercress is shown to be effective in reversing DNA damage to white blood cells. This study of cigarette smokers, who participated in eating 85g of fresh watercress daily had a 22.9 percent decrease in cellular structure damage. Also, the cells were more able to protect themselves as shown when hydrogen peroxide was introduced into the cells and the damage was 9.4 percent lower than expected.
These studies suggest that it’s the phytochemical compound that gives watercress and other cruciferous vegetables their bitter flavor. This phytochemical stimulates the body’s natural defense promoting cellular protection. The same study states that the anti-carcinogenic benefits may be from the antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene since these were determined to be at elevated levels in the bloodstream of participants. These studies conclude that there are benefits of adding watercress to the everyday diet including preventing the recurrence of breast cancer as well as preventing its onset.
Watercress is rich in vitamin C, which is also beneficial in reducing oxidative stress caused by cancer in high concentrations and preventing tumors. Folate is also is associated with low risk of cancer. Daily consumption of folate over a ten year period by women showed results of a 22% reduction in breast cancers. The increased daily consumption of folate did not pose any health risks. In fact, it proved to be beneficial against ‘estrogen negative receptor’ breast cancer tumors rather than ‘estrogen positive receptor’ tumors.
Prevents Colorectal Cancer
Although studies have shown mixed results, many have concluded that the dietary intake of folate as part of a daily diet may act as a preventive against colorectal cancer. This benefit was found to be massive when folate was taken for 15 years or more.
Improves Functioning of Thyroid Gland
Watercress has shown a beneficial effect in thyroid health. It works by reducing thyroid hormone production and is most beneficial when eaten raw. It is good to lightly steam watercress, in order to enjoy all of its nutritional value.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
In addition to the nutrient content of watercress, it also has many secondary metabolites that may help lower risk of various chronic diseases. Cruciferous plants like watercress are shown to be beneficial in lowering LDL or bad cholesterol, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis and other chronic heart diseases. Watercress contains vitamin C which works as an antioxidant and helps in reducing heart tissue damage caused by oxidative stress. Vitamin C is an active component in the process of embryonic cells developing into cardiac myocytes and improving heart health.
Improves Bone Health
Studies show that inclusion of calcium-rich food such as watercress works in reducing risk of osteoporosis. Calcium works in repairing and building the bones by causing an increase in the production of osteoblasts, the cells responsible for this beneficial activity. This benefit of calcium is essential for the aging population, though the youth may also benefit if their lifestyle is sedentary, which promotes bone density loss. Watercress is also a good source of folate which plays a direct role as an interactive nutrient in maintaining bone density. Post-menopausal women may also benefit from folate in their diet as a preventive against osteoporosis.
Rich in Calcium
Many researchers agree that calcium through the dietary intake is necessary and perhaps the most beneficial in the prevention of many diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension. Calcium through food sources such as watercress is also shown to be safe against adverse cardiac effects.6 If supplemental calcium of 500 mg is added to the daily diet, it is enough for most women to boost their daily food intake. Though amounts up to 1000 mg daily are taken by some, risks of calcium deposits and health problems, which result from them may occur.6 Overall food sources remain the best way to maintain healthy levels of calcium in the body.
Many other studies have shown that the benefit of regular consumption of watercress may be from secondary metabolites and other phytonutrients which repair cellular damage and work effectively as a preventive against certain cancers, and cardiovascular, and thyroid
Rich in Folate
Folate is an essential nutrient that plays a role in preventing birth defects and in daily health maintenance. Folate levels are affected by alcohol consumption. A diet rich in folate containing food such as watercress and other cruciferous vegetables can be preventive and even resolve certain health conditions.diseases.
Intake of folate-containing food may help in reducing the risk of depression, stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and neural tube deficiency in babies.
Acts as Antidepressant
Low folate levels may be caused by a lack of dietary intake or excessive alcohol intake. A meta-analysis of 19 studies, inclusive of 15,315 participants, showed that low folate level increases the risk of depression. Folate works with neurotransmitters, the pathways of the central nervous system, affecting production of neurochemicals such as serotonin. With depression affecting a significant percentage of the world population, the addition of food with high folate content such as watercress is an important dietary supplement in reducing the risk of this chronic disease.
A cross-sectional study of 662 adults showed beneficial results of foods fortified with folate in preventing stroke. If not eating fortified foods, large amounts of folate containing foods such as watercress needs to be consumed in order to reach the same level of beneficial nutrient status.
Helps in Pregnancy
Folate is important for the development of a healthy embryo as it plays a crucial role in a normal cellular division. Additionally, consumption of at least 400mcg of folate daily by pregnant women is shown to reduce the incidence of neural tube deficiency. Watercress with its high content of folate may help in reducing the risk of these ailments.
Prevents Cognitive Disorders
Folate may act as a preventive against cognitive decline. Results of a study, of males aged between 50-70 years showed that participants given 800 mcg of folate daily were shown to have a beneficial effect on cognition and verbal fluency. An inclusion of watercress which has a high folate content may protect against cognitive decline.
Rich in Vitamin C Vitamin
C is a water-soluble vitamin which indicates that it is excreted through urinary excretion on a daily basis. Both, dietary and supplemental daily intake helps in preventing diseases and treating many physiological systems, when vitamin C is found in high concentration in the blood. Watercress contains higher amount of vitamin C than an orange and is beneficial to providing and maintaining blood levels.
Intake of vitamin C rich food such as watercress is beneficial in reducing the risk of blood cell damage and common colds.
Improves Brain Health
Consumption of vitamin C rich foods may be beneficial in preventing cognitive changes related to Alzheimer’s and aging; it also helps in protecting and repairing the brain tissues. It also works to reduce bleeding when the stroke has occurred. Other results have shown that those having sustained traumatic head injury often have lower blood concentrations of vitamin C. These studies suggest that the daily intake of vitamin C rich food such as watercress may benefit in preventing damage and improving the outcomes of brain injury. In fact, high concentration of vitamin C may play a role in neuron building activity.
Reduces Oxidative Damage to Blood Cells
A research study suggests that vitamin C along with vitamin E is effective in reducing oxidative damage to red blood cells. Though the study is based on supplements, it is also suggested that consumption of foods such as watercress with these nutrients may be beneficial to health.
A European study suggests that vitamin C might be effective in reducing the risk of cataract development. An inclusion of watercress with a good amount of vitamin C may be beneficial in protection against cataracts.
Prevents Common Cold
Vitamin C rich food is an effective remedy for common cold. A study on this immune protective ability of vitamin C shows that consuming food rich in vitamin C may reduce the risk of a cold by 66 %. Watercress is a good source of vitamin C.
Relieves Pediatric Asthma
A study of children suffering from asthma showed results of significantly increased forced expiratory volume (FEV) with vitamin C of at least 0.2g daily.4 These results varied with each child’s history of mold and dampness exposure. Those having no exposure saw a 37% increase and those with exposure, saw a 21% increase of FEV per second.4 Intake of food such as watercress may provide relief from pediatric asthma.
How to incorporate more watercress into your diet
Watercress is most commonly consumed fresh in salads but can also be incorporated into pastas, casseroles, and sauces just like any other green.
Try making watercress soup or mix watercress into soup near the end of cooking.
Watercress will sauté faster than tougher greens like kale and collard greens because of its tenderness and lends a mild, slightly peppery taste to any dish.
Choose watercress with deep green crisp leaves and no signs of wilting. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days of purchase.
• Throw a small handful of watercress and blend into your favorite fruit juice or smoothie.
• Add watercress to your next omelet or egg scramble.
• Make a pesto using watercress.
• Chop watercress and add it to pasta sauce.
• Sauté watercress in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil and season with ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Eat as a side dish or top your baked potato.
• Add watercress to your wrap, sandwich, or flatbread.
• Mix watercress into soup near the end of cooking.