Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable. Like the other veggies in its family, watercress is a powerhouse of various nutrients. Some even believe it was a staple in the diets of Roman soldiers.
Watercress is replete with potent polyphenols that scavenge free radicals and fight chronic disease (1). In fact, it could be among the healthiest foods you can add to your diet. In this post, we have discussed the various ways watercress can promote and nurture your health and well-being.
Table Of Contents
What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Watercress?
Watercress is a nutrient-dense vegetable. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks watercress at number one on the list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables (2).
One cup of watercress (34 grams) contains just 4 calories. It contains vitamin K (a whopping 106% of the RDA), vitamin C (24% of the RDA), and vitamin A (22% of the RDA). The other nutrients this vegetable offers are listed in the table below.
|Nutrient||Unit||1Value per 100 g||1 cup, chopped = 34.0g||1 sprig = 2.5g||10.0 sprigs = 25.0g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||0.1||0.03||0||0.03|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||1.29||0.44||0.03||0.32|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||0.5||0.2||0||0.1|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||43||14.6||1.1||10.8|
|Vitamin A, RAE||µg||160||54||4||40|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||3191||1085||80||798|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||1||0.34||0.03||0.25|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||250||85||6.2||62.5|
Source: USDA National Nutrient Database, Watercress, raw
What Are The Health Benefits Of Watercress?
Watercress is rich in isothiocyanates that may help prevent cancer and boost immunity. The nitrates in the vegetable promote heart health and may also enhance your physical performance. Other nutrients in this veggie can help prevent osteoporosis and aid diabetes treatment.
1. May Aid Cancer Prevention
Watercress fights the reactive oxygen species, thereby helping in cancer prevention. Cruciferous vegetables, including watercress, contain organosulfur compounds and isothiocyanates that play a role in this regard (3).
Watercress was also found to suppress the development of breast cancer. This could be attributed to phenylethyl isothiocyanate, a compound in the vegetable. This compound interferes with the function of a protein that plays a role in breast cancer development (4).
Watercress may also play a role in the prevention of colorectal cancer. In a study, a group of New Zealand population with a high intake of watercress was found to have low rates of colorectal cancer (7).
2. May Promote Heart Health
Reports suggest that nutrient-dense veggies, like watercress, are more likely to protect people from heart disease (2). Studies show that cruciferous vegetables, in general, have cardioprotective properties (8).
These green leafy veggies also contain nitrates, which promote heart health. Dietary nitrates lower blood pressure levels and prevent platelet aggregation. They improve endothelial function and exercise performance in individuals (9). Nitrates achieve this by reducing arterial stiffness and thickness and their inflammation (9).
In rat studies, watercress extracts could reduce levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and bad cholesterol (10). More human studies are warranted, though.
3. May Aid Diabetes Treatment
There is not a lot of research to support this claim. However, one study states that watercress may have a beneficial effect on serum glucose levels. The study conducted on diabetic rats found that extracts of watercress could lower the levels of both serum glucose and serum cholesterol. These effects, if replicated in humans, can have beneficial effects on individuals with diabetes (11).
People with diabetes also tend to have a higher risk of vascular disorders, including hypertension and neuropathy. The nitric oxide in watercress can help alleviate this (12).
The nitric oxide can also reduce the risk of other diabetes complications, like blindness and limb amputations (12).
4. Can Promote Bone Health
Rutin, a flavonoid found in watercress, was found to stimulate the formation of osteoblasts (cells that secrete the matrix for bone formation) (13). The vegetable was also found to stimulate bone mineralization, which is an important function to prevent osteoporosis.
The vitamin K in watercress also plays a major role in bone health. Deficiency of this nutrient has been linked to higher rates of osteoporosis and fractures (14).
5. May Boost Immune Function
In a study involving fish, watercress was found to boost immune function. The nutrients of watercress that contribute to its immune-boosting effects include vitamins A, B1, B2, and C, folic acid, iron, glucosinolates, and calcium (15).
Watercress showed similar effects in another study involving broilers. Including watercress in their diet could improve the performance and immune response of the broilers (16).
The vitamin C in the vegetable, in specific, also has beneficial effects on the immune system. 34 grams of watercress offers about 24% of the daily value of vitamin C. Vitamin C is known to boost immune function by promoting the production of white blood cells (17).
6. May Promote Athletic Performance
We have seen that watercress contains nitrates. There is some research that states that these nitrates may boost athletic performance. They relax your blood vessels and improve nitric oxide levels in the blood. This may promote athletic performance (18).
On the contrary, other research shows that watercress may have a negative impact on exercise performance (19). Hence, more research is warranted in this regard.
7. May Improve Skin Health
Watercress may help reduce skin inflammation. The use of watercress in the cutaneous inflammatory process treatment has been well documented. Interestingly, the use of watercress for treating skin inflammation may produce no adverse effects (as opposed to the conventional treatment methods) (20).
The vitamin A in watercress also contributes to skin health. It protects the skin cells from damage due to free radicals. The nutrient also boosts resistance to skin infections (21).
The isothiocyanates in watercress can prevent skin cancer too. These compounds interfere with malignant cells and restore normal cell function (22).
8. May Aid Weight Loss
Watercress is a nutrient-dense vegetable that is low in calories. Hence, one can include it in a weight loss diet. It would be a way of getting more nutrients with fewer calories.
Though there is no research citing the direct weight loss effects of watercress, you definitely can try including it in your weight loss diet.
Watercress is a humble veggie with an incredible nutrient profile. Including it in your regular diet would sure be a wise move. But how do you do it?
How To Incorporate Watercress Into Your Diet
Due to its tenderness, watercress sautés faster than most other greens. It also imparts a mild spice and tang to any dish it is added to. You can incorporate this veggie into your diet in the following ways:
- Toss it into a salad. Include watercress in your evening vegetable salad. You can also eat it along with a delectable dash of pepper.
- Add it to your wrap or sandwich. You can complement this with grilled cheese.
- Add it your breakfast omelet or egg scramble.
- Include watercress in your morning vegetable juice.
There is nothing that should stop you from eating watercress every day. But before you do that, you ought to know the potential adverse effects this vegetable may cause.
What Are The Potential Side Effects Of Watercress?
- May Interfere With Thyroid Health
Most cruciferous vegetables, including watercress, contain compounds called goitrogens that may interfere with iodine metabolism. Iodine is a nutrient essential for thyroid health, and this interference may cause thyroid issues (23).
Individuals with thyroid issues may have to limit their intake of watercress (and other cruciferous vegetables) and consult their doctor.
- May Aggravate Kidney Disease
Watercress contains potassium, though only in low amounts. Excess potassium may aggravate kidney disease (24). If you are dealing with kidney issues, please check with your doctor before adding watercress to your diet. Your doctor may suggest you limit consumption and even advice you on the right dosage.
- Insufficient Information On Its Effects During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding
There is less information available on the safety of watercress during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Hence, please check with your doctor before you include the vegetable in your diet.
Now we know why watercress was a staple in the diets of Roman soldiers. Its potent antioxidants may keep diseases at bay and promote athletic performance. Adding it to your diet is quite simple. Be wary of its adverse effects, though.
Do tell us how you have liked this article. Anything else about watercress you want to know? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
What is the right dosage of watercress?
The right dosage of watercress depends on the user’s health condition, age, and other factors. There is little information on the appropriate dosage of watercress. Your doctor can guide you better.
Can you eat watercress raw?
Yes, you can eat watercress raw, but it may taste a little bitter. You can toss raw watercress into your vegetable salad.
Can you freeze fresh watercress?
Yes, you can freeze fresh watercress. This works best if you use the veggie in a soup or a smoothie or any other cooked recipe.
Can you eat the watercress stalks?
Yes. In fact, the entire plant is edible. You can eat its leaves, its stalks, and even the plant’s flowers. You may discard the roots, though, as they don’t taste great.
What does watercress taste like?
Raw watercress has a peppery taste. Once cooked, you get to enjoy its distinctive vegetable flavor.
- Phenolic profile and antioxidant potential of wild watercress (Nasturtium officinale L.), SpringerPlus, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Role of reactive oxygen intermediates in cellular responses to dietary cancer chemopreventive agents, Planta Medica, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Watercress may ‘turn off’ breast cancer signal, ScienceDaily.
- Effects of watercress consumption on metabolism of a tobacco-specific lung carcinogen in smokers, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Metabolic targets of watercress and PEITC in MCF-7 and MCF-10A cells explain differential sensitisation responses to ionising radiation, European Journal of Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- A Comparison of Risk and Protective Factors for Colorectal Cancer in the Diet of New Zealand Maori and non-Maori, Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- The effect of green leafy and cruciferous vegetable intake on the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis, JRSM Cardiovascular Disease, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effect of hydroalcoholic extracts of Nasturtium officinale leaves on lipid profile in high-fat diet rats, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effects of Hydroalcoholic Extract of Watercress (Nasturtium Officinale) Leaves on Serum Glucose and Lipid Levels in Diabetic Rats, Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Say NO to disease, Oregon State University.
- Effects of Watercress Containing Rutin and Rutin Alone on the Proliferation and Osteogenic Differentiation of Human Osteoblast-like MG-63 Cells, The Korean Journal of Physiology & Pharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Vitamin K and bone, Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effects of Watercress (Nasturtium nasturtium) extract on selected immunological parameters of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), Open Veterinary Journal, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effect of Watercress (Nasturtium officinale L.) powder on performance and immune response of broilers, ResearchGate.
- Technical advance: ascorbic acid induces development of double-positive T cells from human hematopoietic stem cells in the absence of stromal cells, Journal of Leukocyte Biology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Nitrate ingestion: a review of the health and physical performance effects, Nutrients, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Moderate dose of watercress and red radish does not reduce oxygen consumption during graded exhaustive exercise, Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Nasturtium officinale R. Br. effectively reduces the skin inflammation induced by croton oil via glucocorticoid receptor-dependent and NF-κB pathways without causing toxicological effects in mice, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- What Do Specific Foods Do? University of Minnesota.
- From chemo-prevention to epigenetic regulation: The role of isothiocyanates in skin cancer prevention, Pharmacology & Therapeutics, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Effects of low-carbohydrate diet therapy in overweight subjects with autoimmune thyroiditis: possible synergism with ChREBP, Drug Design, Development and Therapy, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Potassium and Your CKD Diet, National Kidney Foundation.
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