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Move Over Kale; This is the Healthiest Vegetable

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Every year, one food is listed as the "must-eat" food of the year. This year, it looks like watercress is the leafy green to beat. Full of essential vitamins and minerals, watercress provides many health benefits. Read more below!

Although kale is the current darling of the health food industry, new research discovered by the William Paterson University of New Jersey in 2014 has uncovered that there are several vegetables that are healthier than the world’s most popular green.

Topping the list was the unlikely green watercress. Watercress has long been used as a garnish, in tea sandwiches, and occasionally in vegetable mixes. However, health trends have overlooked this water-based lettuce in favor of other, larger greens.

It turns out, that may have been a mistake. Of over 100 vegetables profiled for nutrient density, watercress tops the list with a score of 100. Researchers determine a vegetable’s score by how much of a person’s daily vitamin requirements could be met by eating 100 grams of the vegetable. Kale, on the other hand, had a score of just 49.7.

If you’re curious about what makes watercress so healthy, read on:

Nutrients in Watercress

These are the biggest nutrients contained in watercress. 

Vitamin A, K, and C

The three largest concentrations of vitamins in watercress are vitamins A, K, and C. In 100 grams of watercress, there is about 96 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A, over 300 percent of your daily intake requirement for vitamin K, and 72 percent of your daily recommended intake for vitamin C.

Vitamin A is essential for eye health, for boosting the immune system, and for growing healthy cells. Studies indicate that watercress is beneficial in maintaining eye health and possibly even reducing cancer risk, due to the high concentration of vitamin A and antioxidants.

Vitamin K is an undervalued nutrient that has recently been uncovered as a highly beneficial vitamin. Vitamin K is used to build strong bones, bolster the immune system, and even in preventing heart disease. Vitamin K is also linked in several studies to a reduction of plaque in the brain, which may help prevent the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Vitamin C, is obviously beneficial for the immune system, but it also acts as an antioxidant and can help work with other vitamins to build healthy bones and to reduce iron deficiency.


Watercress also contains medium amounts of many vital minerals including magnesium, selenium, manganese, copper, iron, and potassium. Calcium is necessary for heart health, muscle health, and bone and teeth health. Magnesium is essential for almost all bodily functions- particularly efficient thyroid function. Potassium is essential for regulating blood pressure and sodium levels in the blood. 

B Vitamins

Watercress contains many of the important B vitamins that are important for proper cell, brain, and energy functions. Watercress contains riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and thiamin.

Flavonoids and Antioxidants

Watercress is packed full of minerals and antioxidants. Watercress contains calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous. It also contains the flavonoids carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Flavonoids are used to develop healthy cells and fight free radical damage. Manganese works together with flavonoids to boost the antioxidant power of other nutrients.


Watercress is one of the few vegetables that contains gluconasturtiin. This is what gives the leaves their somewhat spicy flavor. According to studies, when gluconasturtiin is converted into the body, it converts to 2-phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which has been identified to help inhibit phase I cancer enzymes (mono-oxygenases and cytochrome P450s).

Scientific Studies on Watercress

There have been numerous studies conducted on the health benefits of watercress specifically. Watercress and Lung Cancer In 1995, a study published in the Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention Journal found that when smokers at watercress, a cancer-causing chemical in their blood was neutralized.

Watercress and Free Radical Damage

In a study conducted by the University of Ulster in 2007, researchers found that eating watercress daily was able to reduce DNA damage to blood cells and prevent damage caused by free radicals over a two-year period. This study also revealed that the compound found in watercress, phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), was able to reduce blood triglyceride levels by 10 percent and an increase in lutein and beta carotene between 33 and 100 percent. These nutrients can reduce a person’s risk of getting eye diseases as they age.

Watercress and Breast Cancer

Another study on PEITC conducted by the University of Southampton in 2010 found that the nutrient starved breast cancer tumor growth by turning off the signal that causes cancer cells to grow. According to the study researchers, "as tumors develop, they rapidly outgrow their existing blood supply so they send out signals that make surrounding normal tissues grow new blood vessels into the tumor, which feed them oxygen and nutrients." This means that by turning off the signal, tumors are unable to get enough blood to continue to grow.

Watercress and Prostate Cancer

In 2004, a study conducted on the benefits of watercress for prostate cancer found that when When human prostate cancer cells were exposed to PEITC, the multiplication of cancer cells and the production of tumors were inhibited. Additionally, the compound also triggered the death of existing cancer cells. According to this study and the breast cancer study, there is growing evidence that watercress is extremely beneficial in not only preventing the onset of cancer, but may even be able to reverse it. Although further study is necessary, currently all signs point to watercress as an effective and powerful cancer-fighting vegetable.

Other Watercress Benefits

Other studies have shown that including watercress in the diet regularly was able to cut down on risk for developing osteoporosis, anemia, colon cancer, and even heart disease.

How Much Watercress Do I Need to Eat?

100 grams of watercress is about 3 cups or about three large handfuls. This is quite a bit of leafy greens to eat in a day, but if you combine about a handful of watercress with some of the other top vegetable superfoods, then you will get a variety of nutrients and keep all of the positive benefits of watercress.

Other Powerful Superfoods to Add to Your Diet

In addition to watercress, the William Paterson University study listed several other surprising picks for the top 10 healthiest vegetables. These vegetables included:

World’s Healthiest Vegetables
  • Chinese Cabbage (score of 91.99)
  • Chard (score of 89.27)
  • Beet Greens (score of 87.08)
  • Spinach (score of 86.43)
  • Chicory (score of 73.36)
  • Leaf Lettuce (score of 70.73)
  • Parsley (score of 65.59)
  • Romaine Lettuce (score of 63.48)
  • Collard Greens (62.49)

As you can see, leafy greens continue to top the list for the foods that pack in the biggest concentration of nutrients. Many of these greens have a bitter flavor when consumed raw.

Luckily, almost anything tastes delicious when it is cooked with butter. You will find the following nutrients in each of the healthiest vegetables:

Chinese Cabbage: glucosinolates, vitamin A, vitamin K, B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese.

Chard: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, B vitamins, choline, calcium, iron magnesium, copper, potassium, manganese.

Beet Greens: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese.

Spinach: vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin A, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, manganese Chicory: Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, calcium, copper, manganese

Leaf Lettuce: vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, manganese

Parsley: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese Romaine Lettuce: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate

Collard Greens: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, vitamin K, choline, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese.

The study was conducted on 100 gram serving sizes, which is about three cups of raw greens. If you aim to get a full 3 cups of greens daily from any of the top 10 vegetables, you will ensure you receive the maximum cancer-fighting, and body-benefiting nutrients in these amazing greens.

However, when you have the choice, choose watercress as often as possible. Not only is it higher in complete nutrients, but it is also tastier than many of the other greens on this list. Beet greens, for example, are quite bitter when consumed raw- but taste much better when cooked.

Add More Greens to Your Diet this Year

New studies come out every year about what is the vegetable with the highest level of nutrients. Watercress tops the list this year, and it is an extremely healthy food to add to your diet on a regular basis.

All studies indicate that watercress is extremely beneficial in reducing cancer risk (particularly prostate cancer and breast cancer), protecting brain health, building stronger bones, and boosting the immune system. The main concentration of vitamins- A, E, and K- contained in watercress and other leafy greens are fat-soluble. This means that eating the greens along with a healthy fat source (such as by sautéing them in butter) will allow your body to absorb and use more of the nutrients. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it can be consumed raw and must be taken daily to work properly in the body.

A combination of both cooked and raw greens will provide you will all of the vitamins that you need to stay healthy throughout life. When you add watercress and the other top vegetables to your diet, you are working to dramatically improve the health of your entire body in the most efficient way possible. Watercress and the other vegetables on this list are amazing health foods that will set you up for a lifetime of healthy living.





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