Health Benefits of Watercress, According to a Dietitian

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Watercress is a leafy green that's often overlooked, though the vegetable is widely consumed in Asia and Europe. So, what's all the fuss about? Keep reading to learn all about the potential health benefits of watercress.

Related: 30-Day Eat More Vegetables Challenge

What Is Watercress?

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a semi-aquatic plant that naturally grows in springs and shallow waters. Belonging to the mustard family, watercress is related to collard greens, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, turnips and radishes.

If you're unfamiliar with what watercress looks like, it's a cluster of glossy, small, round, green leaves with circular edges attached to light green hollow stems. The flavor is pungent and peppery, with a fresh, leafy scent similar to arugula. The flowers are typically not eaten.

During the peak season from late spring to early summer, you can find watercress in specialty food markets, local grocery stores and farmers' markets. Watercress can also be grown hydroponically year-round. (Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil.)

Watercress Nutrition

One cup of raw watercress contains:

  • 4 calories

  • 0.8 g protein

  • 0 g fat

  • 0 g carbohydrate

  • 0 g fiber

  • 15 mg vitamin C

  • 85 mcg vitamin K

Watercress Health Benefits

Watercress may not be your typical fiber-rich vegetable. Still, it's a nutrient-dense green that provides a good source of vitamin C and an excellent source of vitamin K, as well as a range of other nutrients, such as vitamin A, manganese, riboflavin and vitamin B6.

In addition, watercress may offer the following health benefits.

Promotes hydration

Drinking a glass of water isn't the only way to hydrate. Eating vegetables such as watercress may also have the same effect. In fact, watercress is one of the many leafy greens made up of almost entirely water: 95% of watercress is water.

Consuming enough fluids, particularly water, is essential for all bodily functions, including moving nutrients and waste through the body, maintaining healthy blood pressure, controlling body temperature, preventing dehydration and more.

Supports building bones

Eating 1 cup of raw watercress provides all the vitamin K you need for the day. This fat-soluble vitamin is not only important for blood clotting but also supports bone formation. Some studies suggest that high consumption of vitamin K may increase bone density and reduce the risk of hip fractures. A review of studies published in the journal Medicine also noted that participants with the highest intake of vitamin K had a 22% reduction in the risk of fractures compared to those with the least amount of vitamin K in their diet.

May reduce cancer risk

Watercress is a good source of vitamin C. This nutrient has a long list of health benefits, including supporting collagen production to keep your hair, nails, skin and joints healthy. Vitamin C also has immune-boosting and wound healing properties.

In addition, vitamin C may also help fend off free radicals that may damage body cells by preventing the formation of certain cancer-causing compounds. A meta-analysis of studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet rich in vitamin C, primarily from vegetables and fruits, may lower cancer risk.

May lower heart disease risk

You may be surprised that vitamin C also protects the heart. Many studies, including one published in Public Health Nutrition, have noted that eating a more produce-packed diet (and this would include watercress) may lower one's risk of heart disease. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in vitamin C may support blood vessel function to guard against heart attack.

May support vision

Watercress is a rich source of lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids also act as antioxidants, potentially lowering the risk of age-related eye diseases and cataracts. Research suggests that eating foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin may help protect eye health.

Potential Side Effects of Watercress

Certain blood-thinner medications, such as warfarin, have potentially dangerous interactions with vitamin K. So, consuming vitamin K-rich foods may decrease the effectiveness of your medication. If you're on any blood-thinner medications, check with your doctor about the appropriate amount of vitamin K to include in your diet.

How to Enjoy Watercress

Watercress is a versatile vegetable. Add it as a green to sandwiches, such as these Avocado Egg Salad Sandwiches or use it as the base of a salad, such as this Green Salad with Peaches, Feta & Mint Vinaigrette.

Want to eat watercress cooked instead? One easy way is stir-frying it, like in this Watercress with Rice Wine-Oyster Sauce.

Looking to boost your iron absorption? You're in luck—watercress is rich in vitamin C, which improves iron absorption. This bold-flavored green pairs well with beef, such as Rosemary-&-Garlic-Basted Sirloin Steak or Skillet Steak with Mushroom Sauce.

Bottom line

Watercress offers more than just a garnish—its wide array of nutrients may protect your heart, strengthen your bones, lower your risk of cancers and improve your overall health. Be sure to browse these Healthy Watercress Recipes to find out how you can add this nutritionally potent green into your weekly rotation of dinner veggies.