When you think about some of the most nutritious green veggies, kale, spinach, and broccoli may come to mind. But watercress, a cruciferous vegetable with round, coin-shaped leaves, is arguably the most nutrient-dense veggie, according to a study comparing nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits in Preventing Chronic Disease.
This green powerhouse packs vitamins C and K, as well as smaller amounts of calcium, potassium, and choline.
In fact, one cup of chopped watercress has 0.17 grams of fiber, 40.8 milligrams of calcium, 0.068 milligrams of iron, 7.14 milligrams of magnesium, 117 milligrams of potassium, 14.6 milligrams of vitamin C and 85 micrograms of vitamin K, per the USDA Food Database.
Here are all the reasons you should include this leafy green in your diet ASAP.
5 Reasons to Eat More Watercress Today
1. It supports your immune system.
In one cup of chopped, raw watercress, you get a good amount of immunity-supporting vitamin C, about 16% of the recommended daily value (RDV), says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, an inclusive plant-based dietitian and owner of Master the Media in Stamford, Conn.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that men get at least 90 milligrams and women 75 milligrams of vitamin C daily. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you need even more. Women who are pregnant need 85 milligrams daily, while those who are breastfeeding need 120 milligrams.
Research shows that vitamin C can help boost your body’s defenses against illness. According to a November 2017 review in Nutrients, vitamin C can help protect the body from infection and oxidative stress. It may also help prevent and treat respiratory infections by enhancing immune cell function.
Eating vitamin C-rich foods, such as watercress, can also help you absorb iron from plant-based sources, such as beans, lentils and peas.
2. It promotes bone health.
You get an excellent amount of vitamin K, about 71% of the RDV, in one cup of chopped, raw watercress. This nutrient is important for blood clotting and bone health, Gorin says.
Vitamin K helps create four of the 13 proteins that are needed for blood clotting, which is essential for healing wounds, according to Harvard School of Public Health. So people who are taking blood thinners should talk to their doctor about their vitamin K intake, since it can contraindicate their medication.
A vitamin K deficiency increases the risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, brittle bones, per the NIH. That’s because vitamin K helps with the production of proteins that help prevent bone weakness. According to a June 2020 review in Nutrients, a vitamin K deficiency is associated with bone fractures, particularly hip fractures. That’s why increasing vitamin K intake reduced the risk of fractures in those with a history of them.
3. It can help reduce your risk of cancer.
Watercress belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables, which includes broccoli and cauliflower.
“These vegetables contain sulfur-containing chemicals called glucosinolates. When you prepare cruciferous vegetables, chew, and digest them, these glucosinolates break down to form the compounds indoles and isothiocyanates,” Gorin explains.
Research has shown that these compounds can help inhibit the development of certain types of cancers, such as breast, colon and lung cancer in animal studies, but human studies are still inconclusive, Gorin says.
That said, a February 2014 review in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that high intakes of fruits, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables, such as watercress, are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.
4. It helps protect your heart.
Although watercress has small amounts of potassium, eating foods with potassium can help you manage high blood pressure by lowering sodium levels and relaxing your blood vessels, according to the American Heart Association.
5. It’s a versatile vegetable.
Watercress imparts a slightly spicy and peppery flavor, so it complements a variety of dishes. For example, Gorin suggests eating it raw in a salad, adding to a soup, or sauteing it.
“You can also get really creative and use it in pesto recipes or chop it up and use it in place of herbs in a dip recipe,” she says.
5 Mouthwatering Watercress Recipes
Here are some creative ways to enjoy watercress:
On busy weeknights, enjoy this quick and easy stir-fry, which you can pair with brown rice and your choice of lean protein for a satisfying and balanced meal. The peppery flavor of the watercress pairs well with garlic and ginger.
Watercress is commonly used in many Asian dishes. In this savory soup, watercress is cooked in a chicken and pork broth with carrots, dried jujubes (Chinese red dates), honey dates, and dehydrated mushrooms to create mouthwatering flavor. It takes only about 35 minutes to prepare, and can make plenty of leftovers for meals throughout the week.
(Image: Sunkissed Kitchen)
Looking to spice up your pesto? Try replacing basil with watercress. This recipe includes other traditional ingredients, such as garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan, and sea salt. Use this pesto to make a pasta, chicken or salmon dish.
You can sub the watercress for the arugula in this Roasted Wild Salmon and Spiced Cauliflower with Pistachio-Arugula Pesto from football legend Tom Brady’s TB12 Method guide to maintaining peak health and performance.
(Image: Pickled Plum)
This sweet, salty and spicy salad is an umami treat for your tastebuds. You cook the watercress in boiling water for about two minutes and then toss it in a salad dressing made with natural peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar and mirin. It’s so delicious, you’ll want to gobble up all the greens.
(Image: Kitchen Konfidence)
If you’re in search of a new dip, this watercress aioli is just what you’re looking for. It packs tons of flavor with serrano chile, green onion, lime juice, and mayonnaise. Great for dipping crudite, it also makes a delicious spread for whole-grain crackers and sandwiches.