The Forgotten Superfood: Delicious, Nutrient-Rich Watercress
Knowing exactly what nutrients you need, how much, and where to get them is one of the biggest challenges vegans and vegetarians face…
In this nutrition bite, we reveal the vast array of benefits packed into one of our favorite cruciferous vegetables, watercress!
Centuries ago, watercress was so much more than a simple garnish. It was consumed by many in vast quantities, treated like an edible treasure by the cultures as far back as the Roman Empire.
It’s unclear what led to watercress falling out of favor with people, but whatever the reason, such a potent superfood deserves better than being used as a simple decoration. Fortunately, a growing number of culinarians are starting to realize this!
Watercress gets the maximum score possible on two of the most comprehensive lists that measure nutrient density of foods: the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) and the CDC’s Nutrient Density list.
It may seem like everything is being labeled a “superfood” these days, but with more calcium than a glass of milk, more vitamin C than an orange, and more iron than spinach, watercress truly rises above other foods.
Watercress is a superior source of vitamins A, B1, B6, C, K, and beta-carotene, as well as the minerals magnesium, lutein and zeaxanthin. In fact, just one cup of these greens will give you more than the minimum daily recommended amount of vitamin K.
What Specifically Makes Watercress Benefit Your Health?
Of all the many components that make up watercress, the following are the most significant bioactive compounds and nutrients for promoting health.
Gluconasturtiin and Sulforaphane: These phytochemicals are part of the powerful Glucosinolate family. Gluconasturtiin is being studied extensively for its ability to kill cancer stem cells.
In a 2007 study, scientists reported “reductions in basal DNA damage” in smokers who consistently ate watercress.
Sulforaphane gets produced after plants are damaged, like when they are chewed. Sulforaphane is under even closer scrutiny for its wide range of effects on health. (Note: full list of studied benefits and references in our VegHealth Nutrition Mastery Program)
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: These two carotenoids are crucial for health. Deficiencies have been linked to advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the primary cause of blindness for those aged 55 and up. Lutein has also been seen to be “inversely associated with risk of ER-, but not ER+, breast cancer”, meaning it may be linked to preventing breast cancer.
Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll makes plants green, and helps them convert sunlight to food. For humans, it acts as a “blood purifier”, and, according to the Hippocrates Health Institute, “intestinal regularity, reducing cholesterol, detoxification and deodorization.” Chlorella, an algae with concentrated amounts of chlorophyll has been “reported to be effective in enhancing the excretion of heavy metals”.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant required for tissue repair, making collagen and both maintaining and repairing bones and teeth. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, deficiencies in vitamin C are associated with slew of health problems, including, but not limited to “high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, stroke, some cancers, and atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in blood vessels that can lead to heart attack and stroke.”
Folate: Watercress contains natural, bioavailable amounts of this B vitamin (in its synthetic form, folic acid). A water-soluble vitamin like vitamin C, your body requires regular doses to maintain health. Folate helps with cell function and is a well-known nutrient needed in pregnancy. It’s also being studied for cancer prevention.
Calcium: It is undoubtedly healthiest to obtain your calcium from plants, as it provides the most benefits and does not include the heart risk that is associated with dietary supplements. Calcium is required for bone health, but also for “vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling and hormonal secretion,” as stated by the National Health Institute.
Vitamin K: Rare in the plant world, watercress contains high amounts of bioavailable Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that is key for proper blood clotting.
(For the full info on why you need Vitamin K, the dangers of deficiency and how to get it, check out the lesson on Watercress in our VegHealth Nutrition Mastery Program)
How To Obtain The Health Benefits Of Watercress From Your Food
Simple! Add a cup to your salad or smoothie. Or, plop a fresh heap of watercress on your soup just as you serve it, so it doesn’t lose all its nutritional value from the heat of cooking.
When it’s out of season, or if you feel you wouldn’t be able to get enough watercress in food form, you may want to consider a supplement version of it. The powder can be put in smoothies, soups, dressings, or simply mixed with a glass of water. If you do choose to go this route, be sure to keep an eye out for quality and the range of absorbable nutrients for extra health benefits.
But, it’s SUPER easy to grow if you know how and have the desire.
As we mentioned at the start, knowing exactly what nutrients you need, how much, and where to get them is one of the biggest challenges vegans and vegetarians face…
That’s why we created the most comprehensive, science-backed, expert-written and vetted nutrition course…