In a world oversaturated with superfood hype, it's rare that you can find a something that delivers the nutritional goods without raising questions about foreign economies or finding itself the subject of false-advertising lawsuits. But that's exactly what makes watercress so great.
Watercress is a well-kept health food secret, a fast-growing, aquatic member of the brassica family. So, just what makes this leaf worthy of all the praise? In a ranking conducted by the CDC, watercress topped the chart of Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables thanks to its nutrient density score of 100, which means that 100 calories of watercress will give you your entire daily value of 17 essential nutrients.
Not eating watercress yet? Here's why you should be.
Watercress is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense machine
According to Rene Ficek, dietitian and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, watercress is loaded with health benefits. "Peppery and tangy-flavored cress is a storehouse of many natural phytonutrients like isothiocyanates that have health promotional and disease-prevention properties," Ficek says.
As a low-calorie green leafy vegetable, watercress contains a tiny amount of fat, and what's not to love about that? According to Ficek, this superfood's calorie count is pretty darn low, which means you can basically call it a day, nutrient-wise, after just 100 calories of the stuff. (Note: You're probably going to want to eat more than just 100 calories of watercress in a day.)
It provides anti-carcinogenic effects
Since anything and everything will inevitably give you cancer, it's good to know where to find foods that might work in the opposite direction. Luckily for you, Ficek notes that watercress is considered to have some pretty promising cancer-preventing properties. Additionally, watercress is helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease because it lowers LDL, the cholesterol associated with cardiovascular disease, Rebecca Lewis, in-house RD for HelloFresh, says.
It's got loads of pretty much every important vitamin, including vitamin C
When you think of foods rich in vitamin C, your mind probably goes to oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus, but watercress can't be overlooked on this one. "Fresh watercress has a higher concentration of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) than some of the other fruits and vegetables," Ficek says. "As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps trap free-oxygen radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) through its reduction-potential properties."
Vitamin K is no doubt some good stuff, and watercress is loaded with it. According to Dr. Scott Schreiber, certified nutrition specialist and licensed dietitian/nutritionist, vitamin K can assist with blood clotting, strengthening of bones, and brain damage prevention. "Vitamin K has a potential role in bone health through promoting osteotropic (bone formation and strengthening) activity," Ficek adds.
It's good for your eyes
Since it's also an excellent source of vitamin A, which you remember from when your mom told you to eat your carrots, watercress helps support your eyesight. And, according to Ficek, the leafy green is also a great source of flavonoid antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Its B vitamins keep your cells (and your brain) powered
And the hits just keep on comin'! Adding to its impressive list of nutrients, watercress will also give you a nice dose of B vitamins. Ficek notes that this group of vitamins, "such as riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid" are "essential for optimum cellular metabolic functions." One of the most important places B vitamins do their jobs is your brain, so you want to make sure you're eating them whenever you can.
It's rich in minerals
Metals and minerals aren't just valuable components of your international mining empire; your body needs them, too. Watercress contains copper, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. How many times do you have to hear that watercress has everything you need?
"Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure by countering effects of sodium," Ficek says. "Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Calcium is required as a bone/teeth mineral and in the regulation of heart and skeletal muscle activity."
How to incorporate it into your diet
Seeing as there’s not much this powerful green can't do, you should probably start eating it by the bushel, like, yesterday. But even if you're not that into leafy greens, getting your daily dose of this superfood might be easier than you think. According to Lewis, here are three exceedingly easy tips for upping your watercress intake.
1. Next time you make pesto, swap the basil for watercress.
2. Toss it into your favorite soups and stews, as it’s hardy enough to withstand higher-temperature cooking.
3. Mix up your salads by using this green instead of your ordinary go-to choice of lettuce.
You could also put it on a sandwich, burger, French fries, deep-fried Twinkie -- just eat your damn watercress!
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Julie Peirano is a freelance writer covering health and fitness. She is currently trying to figure out how she can incorporate watercress into mac 'n cheese. Follow her: @juliepeirano.