Healthy Benefits of Watercress

Close-up of watercress leaves
Close-up of watercress leaves (Image: thaumatrope/iStock/Getty Images)

Watercress combines a peppery tang with a spicy zest, delivering an overall flavor that is strong enough to stand on its own or complement other dishes. It’s worth finding ways to work this vegetable into your diet because you don’t need to eat a lot to gain a significant amount of your daily vitamin K and vitamin A. Plus, it contains plant-based substances that may help prevent the growth of cancer.

Maintain Strong Bones

Your bones reach maximum strength and density between the ages of 20 and 30, reports Purdue University. After that, old or damaged bone is replaced with new bone at a slow but constant pace for the rest of your life. You need plenty of calcium and vitamin D to support this rebuilding process, but vitamin K is also essential for healthy bones. It helps synthesize new bone and regulates the loss of minerals. One-half cup of watercress, or about six to seven sprigs, provides 47 percent of women’s daily requirement for vitamin K, while men get 35 percent of their daily intake.

Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Watercress contains vitamin A in the form of three carotenoids: beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, but your body can convert it into the form of vitamin A that supports healthy vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids that accumulate in the retina. They work as antioxidants that protect your eyes from harmful blue light. If you eat 1/2 cup of watercress, you’ll get 542 international units of vitamin A, or at least 18 percent of the recommended dietary allowance. The same portion provides about 1 milligram of lutein and zeaxanthin. A recommended daily intake has not been established, but you may need 6 milligrams of lutein daily for beneficial effects, reports the All About Vision website.

Prevent Cancer Growth

Like broccoli and cabbage, watercress also belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables. These veggies are known for their sulfur-containing substances called glucosinolates that help fight cancer. Watercress is the primary source of a specific glucosinolate, gluconasturtiin, which helps inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It also stimulates the release of enzymes that protect cells from cancer-causing substances, according to a report in the December 2007 issue of the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.” One cup of chopped watercress has about the same amount of total glucosinolates as 1/2 cup of red cabbage and broccoli.

Ways to Use Watercress

The easiest way to add watercress to your diet is to use it like lettuce and put fresh sprigs on your favorite sandwich. Its flavor goes well with everything from turkey and roast beef to egg salad. Try adding chopped watercress to vegetable soup, stew, lasagna or a chicken stir-fry. Make a salad starring watercress as the main ingredient. While you can mix it with any of your favorite veggies, try using avocados, walnuts, orange sections or slices of apples. Consider topping whole-wheat spaghetti with a watercress pesto. You can also steam it with spinach or peas for a side dish.

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