Watercress is a nutrient-rich plant found in aquatic and semi-aquatic environments across the globe. Scientifically, it belongs to the cabbage family, alongside common vegetables such as kale, broccoli, horseradish, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, turnip, and collards. It is a herb native to the United Kingdom and Asia.
Today, the vegetable is still grown in the United Kingdom. It is found in many more regions in the United States, New Zealand, Africa, Australia, and South America.
Although watercress is designated a weed in certain jurisdictions, it is cultivated commercially in the United Kingdom. In addition, watercress is grown in gardens and hydroponic farms.
The vegetable can be found in supermarkets and local markets in fresh and packaged form. In some cases, watercress is sold as sprouts, with edible shoots being harvested just a few days after sprouting.
Health Benefits of Watercress
Watercress is a well-known superfood, considering its rich nutritional profile. The high nutritional value and superfood label have caused widespread use of this vegetable across the world. In addition, watercress often gets included in the diet to improve the flavor profile of different dishes.
Watercress is a nutrient-dense vegetable
Watercress provides more than half the total number of essential vitamins and minerals when consumed. The amount of vitamins and minerals derived from a watercress meal often surpasses that of recommended sources. For instance, watercress has a higher calcium content than milk.
The vegetable also contains more folate content than a banana, a fruit often recommended as a one of the best sources of vitamin B9. Additionally, watercress contains a higher vitamin C content than oranges.
The vegetable also supplies a higher amount of vitamin E when compared to broccoli. Besides, watercress is a rich vitamin K source and provides more than 100 percent of the recommended daily intake for this nutritional component.
The CDC also ranks watercress at the top among 41 Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables, with a nutrient density score of 100. As a result, this score puts watercress above fruits and vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, spinach, kale, strawberry, chicory, chard, and parsley.
Watercress can prevent cancer
Watercress has anticancer properties associated with the high content of phytochemicals. Specifically, watercress contains glucosinolates like most vegetables in the Brassicaceae family. Glucosinolates get activated to isothiocyanates when the watercress is chopped or chewed.
Isothiocyanates consist of compounds that help protect the body against cancerous cells that multiply to form malignant tumors. In particular, the antigenotoxic and anti-proliferative effects of isothiocyanates prevent DNA damage, a common cause of cancer.
Isothiocyanates also deactivate carcinogenic chemicals, arresting the development and proliferation of cancerous cells. Current evidence suggests that watercress can help protect those who consume it from prostate, colon, lung, skin, and breast cancers.
Watercress can reduce the risk of chronic diseases
Watercress is a vegetable rich in strong antioxidants relative to most fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants act against free radicals, ensuring that there is no cellular damage.
Normally, free radicals trigger oxidative stress in the body, contributing to the onset of chronic conditions that may include cancer, heart disorders, and diabetes.
A recent research study examining 12 cruciferous vegetables found that watercress has among the highest antioxidant activity. The finding has significant health implications for watercress consumers because they enjoy adequate protection from chronic diseases.
Watercress contributes to better heart health
Consuming watercress as part of the diet improves heart health, minimizing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. As noted, watercress promotes cardiovascular health by providing antioxidants that include lutein and zeaxanthin. The carotenoids have protective effects against the onset of heart disease, strokes, hypertension, and heart attack.
Watercress also provides dietary nitrates, which play a vital role in promoting blood vessel health. The nitrates achieve this objective by decreasing inflammation in the blood vessels, maintaining elasticity, and preventing atherosclerosis.
Besides, there is a consensus that consuming nitrate-rich vegetables reduces blood pressure and leads to better endothelial function. Watercress might also help reduce cholesterol levels, promoting heart health.
Watercress reduces skin aging
Watercress promotes skin health and inhibits skin aging by providing vitamin A and C. These vitamins have antioxidant properties and aid in counteracting the effects of free radicals, which contribute to skin aging. As a result, watercress can arrest skin damage, preventing the development of fine lines and skin wrinkles.
The isothiocyanates present in watercress also help keep the skin intact by curtailing elastin and collagen damage. Consequently, this helps maintain adequate collagen and elastin levels, improving skin elasticity, and eliminating aging signs.
Watercress promotes bone health
Watercress is a good source of essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These minerals contribute significantly to bone health. Additionally, watercress has a relatively high content of vitamin K, which helps in the production of osteocalcin.
Osteocalcin is a protein that helps in the manufacture of healthy bone tissue. The protein also aids in bone turnover regulation. As a result, eating watercress can help prevent bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
Watercress improves vision or eye health
Watercress nourishes the body with lutein and zeaxanthin. The two carotenoids play a key role in promoting eye health and improving vision. In addition, they have a protective effect and help avoid the damage caused by blue light.
Eating watercress also significantly cuts the risk of experiencing macular degeneration and cataracts by providing carotenoids and vitamin C.
Watercress makes the immune system stronger
Watercress is a vegetable with a high vitamin C content. Vitamin C is a major immune-boosting nutrient. Usually, the vegetable provides about 15 mg of this vitamin for every 34 grams. Thus, it accounts for 17 percent and 20 percent of the recommended daily intake for men and women, respectively.
Vitamin C also contributes to a strong immune system by supporting the manufacture of white blood cells (leukocytes) in the body.
How is Watercress Eaten and Its Taste
Watercress is consumed when cooked or raw. It is added to smoothies, salads, and sandwiches to improve flavor and for nutritional benefit.
In addition, watercress can help make a healthy soup. It also serves as a garnish for dishes, including meats. it usually adds a distinct spicy and peppery taste, making dishes more flavorful and enjoyable.
Precautions When Collecting Watercress
Caution is advised when consuming watercress growing in the wild. It follows that such watercress may harbor parasites that include liver fluke.
Adding manure when growing watercress might as well increase the risk of parasites. In addition, watercress might interfere with the metabolism of certain drugs, for instance, chlorzoxazone.
Raw Watercress Nutrition Data Table
|Total lipid (fat)||0.1||g|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||1.29||g|
|Fiber, total dietary||0.5||g|
|Sugars, total including NLEA||0.2||g|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||43||mg|
|Vitamin A, RAE||160||µg|
|Vitamin A, IU||3191||IU|
|Lutein + zeaxanthin||5767||µg|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||1||mg|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||250||µg|