Watercress: The Ultimate Health Guide

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Over the past few decades, watercress has been overlooked and underrated as a veggie. But unknown to many, this often-unnoticed leafy green boasts a robust nutrient punch.

Commonly used as a food garnish, watercress is now gradually gaining the spotlight as one of the biggest superfoods.

So, if you want to explore the nutritional value of watercress and its benefits to your health, read on. We’ve also included amazing ideas on how you can add watercress to your diet!

What is Watercress?

Watercress is a dark, leafy green that can be found near slow-moving streams and springs. This often-overlooked aquatic plant belongs to the cruciferous family of veggies along with cabbage, arugula, kale, and Brussels sprouts.

It has small, scalloped leaves, and produces fragrant white flowers, too. A great source of pollen, watercress attracts bees during its flowering season.

Aside from flowers, watercress likewise produces edible seeds at the peak of its maturity. Also, comes with the plant’s maturity is the boldness of its mustard and pepper flavors.

Grown in North and South America, Europe, and Central Asia, this succulent plant is used for both medicinal and culinary purposes.

In fact, Hippocrates, who is known as the father of medicine, made use of watercress in treating his patients. Watercress sandwiches, meantime, became a staple among the working class of England during the 19th century.

Today, watercress is gaining the spotlight due to its high Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) score, which measures 34 essential nutritional parameters per calorie density.

In order to rank high, food must contain high levels of nutrients for small caloric content.

On a scale of 1 to 1,000, (1,000 being the most nutrient-dense cruciferous veggie), watercress got the highest rank along with kale, collard greens, and mustard greens.

Watercress: Interesting Facts

  • Watercress was considered the first fast food. During the 19th century, watercress was free throughout the United States and Europe.
  • Coined the “poor man’s bread”, rolled bunches of watercress were consumed as an on-the-go breakfast sandwich, much cheaper compared to the real thing.
  • This nutrient-dense veggie contains higher amounts of vitamin C than oranges, more iron than spinach, and more calcium than milk. Due to its impressive nutritional profile, it is considered a top-notch superfood.

  • Huntsville, Alabama was known as the “watercress capital of the world” during the 1940s.

What are the Health Benefits of Watercress?

Eating fruits and vegetables has been associated with a number of health benefits and lowered risk of various health conditions.

Research suggests that including plant foods such as watercress in your diet reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes, and even cancer while boosting energy levels and weight loss. Take a look at these generous watercress health benefits:

Watercress reduces the risk of certain types of cancer

Cruciferous veggies are known to have anti-cancer effects. Studies revealed watercress’ excellent potential in preventing and managing certain types of cancer.

This leafy green has been discovered to raise antioxidant levels in the blood, and guard DNA against free radical damage.

Research suggests that watercress consumption may prevent the risk of breast cancer as well as colon and prostate cancer.

Watercress supports thyroid function

Watercress has also been shown to benefit thyroid health. It is among the foods that are rich in tyrosine, an aromatic amino acid known to support the thyroid.

Along with butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and cabbage, watercress helps promote a healthy thyroid. It is best to consume a slightly steamed watercress, though, to enjoy its optimum nutritional value.

Watercress promotes healthy embryonic development

Aside from its crucial role in mood and cognitive function, folate also supports the development of a healthy embryo.

Pregnant women who consumed at least 400 mcg of folate a day were found to reduce their risk of neural tube deficiency.

Since watercress has a rich folate content, adding this cruciferous veggie to the diet of pregnant women may help prevent their risk of such an ailment.

Watercress promotes cardiovascular health

Aside from its nutritional content, watercress is also rich with secondary metabolites that help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

In general, the consumption of cruciferous veggies such as watercress has been linked to reduced LDL or bad cholesterol levels, helping to prevent the risk of cardiovascular diseases like arteriosclerosis.

This claim is backed by research. Studies further reveal that the antioxidant properties found in watercress help reduce oxidative stress, a known contributor to heart tissue damage.

Watercress combats severe colds and blood cell damage

Watercress was found to contain more vitamin C than an orange. Both vitamin C-rich foods and supplements help reduce the risk of various physiological systems and maintain healthy blood levels.

Consuming foods that are rich in vitamin C such as watercress makes you less prone to blood cell damage.

Meantime, while no studies have confirmed the power of vitamin C in reducing the risk of common colds, research revealed that this essential vitamin helps reduce cold's severity and duration.

Vitamin C supplements were found to decrease adults’ recovery time by 8 percent, and 14 percent in children on average. Eating foods rich in vitamin C like watercress may also fight severe and enduring colds.

Watercress helps improve bone health

Studies show that adding calcium-rich foods like watercress to your diet helps prevent the risk of osteoporosis.

Calcium not only repairs but also builds the bones by increasing the production of osteoblasts, the large cells that work in teams to form new bones.

While even the younger population can have osteoporosis, the elderly people are especially prone to developing this bone disease. Watercress also contains significant amounts of folate, a water-soluble B vitamin that helps reduce fracture risk.

Watercress helps reduce the risk of depression

A meta-analysis of 19 studies with 15,315 participants discovered that low folate levels raise the risk of depression.

Folate is an essential vitamin that helps transform amino acids into neurotransmitters such as serotonin, otherwise known as the “happy hormone”.

With depression affecting millions of individuals all over the world, the consumption of folate-rich foods such as watercress may help combat the risk of this medical disorder.

Watercress prevents cognitive decline

Folate also fights cognitive decline. A study concluded that folic acid contains memory-enhancing properties that help improve cognitive function.

Subjects who were supplemented with 800 mcg of folate daily decreased their systemic inflammation and boosted their cognitive performance.

The results suggest that consuming supplements or foods that contain high levels of folate such as watercress may guard your brain against cognitive decline.

Watercress promotes eye health

Vitamin C also plays a key role in the formation of connective tissues such as collagen found in your eyes’ cornea.

One European research also suggests that vitamin C fights the progression of cataract. Including vitamin C-rich watercress in your diet may help protect your eyes against the risk of this vision impairment.

How to Add Watercress to Your Diet?

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Watercress lends a mild, slightly peppery flavor to many recipes. And because it is easier to sauté watercress compared to collard greens and kale, you can add it to your delicious casseroles, pasta, and sauces. 

If you are going to buy watercress, make sure to pick only those that have green crisp leaves, without any signs of wilting. Also, keep it refrigerated and consume within a few days after your purchase.

Here are some amazing ways on how to use watercress, so you can reap its generous benefits!

  • Blend a handful of watercress into your favorite smoothie or fruit juice.

  • Want to upgrade your regular omelet? Why not add some watercress to it or try the healthy scrambled egg with watercress recipe?

  • You can also make a watercress pesto pasta or add watercress to any pasta sauce.

  • Watercress makes a great side dish, too! You only need to sauté this leafy green in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil, and season with grated cheese and ground black pepper.

  • Watercress can add more flavor to your soups, too! Simply mix it into your soup when you’re almost done with your cooking.

  • Once a “breakfast sandwich” watercress still makes a great addition to your sandwiches, wraps, and flatbreads.

What are the Potential Risks of Consuming Watercress?

While watercress contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals that promote optimal health, it still poses some potential risks.

Watercress apparently interacts with certain medication such as Chlorzoxazone (Paraflex, Parafon Forte), Lithium, and Warfarin (Coumadin).

It is best to talk to your healthcare provider first before consuming watercress, especially if you are under certain medications.

Takeaway

You can start adding this nutrient-dense leafy veggie to your diet and see how it can make a difference for your health.

And since you can find it in most supermarkets, you can give watercress a shot the next time you make a delish sandwich or salad recipe. But before you incorporate it into your dishes, make sure that you rinsed and soaked it well.

Aside from regular exercise and quality sleep, the secret to fighting illnesses and achieving optimum health is your overall eating habits. It’s always best to eat a variety of healthy foods rather than focus on a single staple.


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