Watercress: Benefits, Nutritional Value, Ways to Use & Side Effects

Mehak Shah

October 12, 2022

Considered one of the oldest leaves consumed by humans, the watercress is dark green and has a mild peppery flavour with a bitter tang. It belongs to the family of exotic cabbage, broccoli and kale. The herb is gaining its position amongst the superfoods because of its high nutrient content. 

The watercress leaf has a spicy taste. Therefore, it is generally used as garnish over salads, in sandwiches or diluted with vinegar to create a blend of Italian flavours. You can eat raw watercress. In addition, each part of it is edible, including leaf, stem, and flower. Although its roots might not taste bad, you should stay away from its consumption. 

Nutritional Value of Watercress

One hundred grams of watercress contains:

  • Calories: 11kCal
  • Fats: 0.1g
  • Carbohydrates: 1g
  • Proteins: 2.3g
  • Calcium: 120mg
  • Potassium: 330mg
  • Magnesium: 21mg
  • Iron: 0.2mg
  • Sodium: 41mg

10 Health Benefits of Watercress

1. Improves Eyesight

Watercress is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin; these are carotenoids with antioxidant properties. According to research, these two carotenoids are essential components for eye health. They constitute the primary pigments found in the yellow spot, which protect the macula from damage by blue light, improve visual acuity, and scavenge harmful reactive oxygen species. In addition, they help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. 

Lutein and zeaxanthin also show properties that help lower the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. In addition, the vitamin C content in watercress also helps to reduce the chances of developing cataracts.

2. Boosts Immunity

Watercress contains incredibly high amounts of vitamin C. It has up to 15mg of vitamin C per cup, about 20% of recommended daily intake (RDI). Several studies suggest that vitamin C is a micronutrient that supports various cellular functions of the immune system. In addition, it helps the skin barrier against pathogens.

Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant and helps to reduce oxidative stress. The oxidative stress by free radicals binds with the free-flowing oxygen in the body and prevents the healthy cells from getting fresh oxygen. Antioxidants eliminate these free radicals and prevent oxidative stress.

3. Protects Against Osteoporosis

Some essential minerals necessary for bone health are calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Calcium is the building block to the entire skeletal structure. However, vitamin K and potassium also play an essential role in maintaining bone health. 

Vitamin K is a part of a protein called osteocalcin, which makes up the bone tissue and regulates bone turnover. According to a study, people with the highest intake of vitamin K were 35% less prone to expecting a hip fracture than people with poor vitamin K intake.

4. Lowers Cholesterol Level

One of the many watercress’s benefits is that it aids in reducing cholesterol levels. Including watercress in your diet can reduce triglyceride levels significantly. High triglyceride levels are responsible for increased cholesterol.

According to research, watercress also reduces low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which is bad cholesterol and increases high-density lipoproteins (HDLs), the good cholesterol.

5. Lowers Blood Pressure

Like any other leafy vegetable, watercress contains naturally occurring dietary nitrates. Nitric oxide is a crucial compound in regulating vascular functions. A study demonstrates that people who consume nitrate supplements or nitrate dense foods have low blood pressure, suggesting that nitrate can positively control hypertension.

Watercress is also rich in potassium which can help lower blood pressure by balancing out the effects of sodium. It also relaxes the blood vessels’ walls and allows easy blood flow without restriction or cramping.

6. Prevents Cancer

Watercress contains high levels of phytochemicals. These phytochemicals reduce the risk of developing cancer. As per studies, compounds like glucosinolates in watercress have anticancer effects. In addition, it contains isothiocyanates like sulforaphane and phenethyl isothiocyanate. They inactivate carcinogenic chemicals and block the uncontrolled growth of tumours. As a result, they protect the healthy cells against cancer.

7. Lowers the Risk of Chronic Diseases

Watercress is full of antioxidant compounds that help to protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. It can also help to reverse some of the already caused damage.

Free radicals cause oxidative stress, leading to many chronic illnesses, like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and even cancer. Watercress has over 40 flavonoids (antioxidants) and can neutralise free radicals.

8. Enhance Athletic Performance

Watercress contains high amounts of dietary nitrates. Nitrates help relax the blood vessels and increase the amount of nitric oxide in the blood. As per studies, nitric oxide (NO) may improve exercise performance. In addition, dietary nitrates can help lower resting blood pressure. As a result, it reduces the amount of oxygen you need during exercise. Hence, it may increase exercise tolerance.

9. Assist in Weight Loss

Watercress is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. It has benefits for weight management and weight loss as well. One cup of watercress has minimal calories but is full of essential nutrients like vitamins and micronutrients. Low-calorie vegetables are highly effective for weight loss, and you should add them to your diet. Watercress is also very versatile, so it is easy to incorporate it into your regular dishes.

10. Promotes Healthy Pregnancy

Watercress is rich in folate. As per research, It is an essential nutrient for pregnant women. Folate ensures the healthy development of the foetus or the embryo. Folate deficiency can lead to abnormalities in the foetus and even cause complications for the mother. Having a folate-rich diet can also reduce the chances of developing anaemia.

Ways to Use Watercress

Watercress has some medicinal usage. However, there is not enough evidence or research to support the effectiveness of watercress for these uses. But you can use it to calm down specific symptoms related to cough, bronchitis, inflammation, flu and constipation.

Watercress is majorly used in cooking and has a bitter-tangy taste to it. However, a common way to use watercress can be a food dressing. 

  • You can add the watercress leaves to your leafy salads, some cherry tomatoes and other green vegetables, toss it with some olive oil and your favourite dressing. 
  • You can even replace spinach or lettuce with watercress to add some change to your daily salad.
  • Furthermore, you can use the watercress to make Italian vinegar dressing by adding some finely chopped watercress leaves to your chilli vinegar. Finally, you can enjoy it with some nachos. 
  • You can also add some watercress leaves to mayonnaise and use it for your wraps and sandwich. That gives it a different minty fresh flavour.

Watercress: Healthy Recipe

Watercress Curry 

Benefits of Watercress: The Oldest Leaves Consumed by Humans- HealthifyMe
  • Preparation Time: 25min
  • Servings: 2


  • Watercress: 660 g
  • Garlic cloves: 4
  • Dried chilli: 1 tsp
  • Onion (chopped): 1
  • Potatoes: 2
  • Water: 100 ml
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Oil: 1 tbsp


  1. Add some oil to a pan and put the onions
  2. Fry the onions till they are soft and golden
  3. Add in the garlic and chilli flakes
  4. Fry the ingredients for 1-2 minutes
  5. Add the chopped potatoes, add some water, and leave it to cook for about 12-15 minutes.
  6. Add the watercress and put on a lid, and let it cook for 10 min
  7. Once all the water is dried, remove it from the flame and serve it with rice.

Watercress: Possible Side Effects and Precautions

  • You should not suddenly begin eating vitamin K rich foods, like watercress if you take blood thinners. Vitamin K plays a vital role in blood clotting. 
  • Watercress is high in nitric oxide and nitrate containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria and contaminate the juice. Therefore, you should store watercress juice properly.
  • A high intake of cruciferous vegetables like watercress may cause a decrease in thyroid hormone function. Therefore, it is better to eat a balanced diet than to concentrate on individual foods.
  • Watercress is likely unsafe during pregnancy. It might start menstruation and cause a miscarriage. So it’s best to avoid use. 
  • There isn’t enough evidence to know if watercress is safe to use when breastfeeding. So, stay on the safe side and avoid use.
  • Watercress is unsafe for use as a medicine in children, especially in those younger than four years old.
  • Avoid using watercress if you have stomach or intestinal ulcers. It may worsen the pre-existing condition.
  • Don’t use watercress if you have kidney disease. It interacts with the medications and may cause harm. Also, watercress contains oxalates that stimulate the formation of kidney stones. 

The Bottom Line

Watercress is a powerhouse vegetable and contains many essential vitamins, minerals and micronutrients and is extremely low in calories. In addition, it has several antioxidants which can prevent many chronic diseases and several types of cancer. It is also a delicious addition to your meals, and you can use it to switch up lettuce or spinach. Although it may not be the most popular vegetable, it is one of the most nutritious ones.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the benefit of watercress?

A: Watercress is rich in essential nutrients that our body requires for healthy functioning. It also contains vitamin K, which is excellent for bone health. Additionally, vitamin C in it helps to keep the immune system strong.

Q: Who should not eat watercress?

A: If you have stomach ulcers or intestinal ulcers, you should not consume watercress as it may worsen the pre-existing condition. It may cause some serious issues in pregnancy as well. Hence pregnant women should avoid it too.

Q: Is watercress a superfood?

A: Yes, watercress is a superfood because it has more than 40 essential nutrients. In addition, it is full of various vitamins and antioxidants, which have fantastic health benefits.

Q: Is watercress safe to eat?

A: Yes, watercress is a reasonably safe vegetable to consume. You can even substitute it for your spinach or cabbage for a different tangy flavour. It is rich in multiple vital nutrients and has low calories. You can get all the required nutrients without increasing any significant weight by consuming watercress. 

Q: What happens if you eat watercress every day?

A: There is no harm in consuming watercress every day. It can help overcome vitamin K and C deficiency if consumed regularly in sufficient amounts.

Q: Is watercress bad for kidney disease?

A: Yes. You should not mix watercress with kidney disease medication as the interaction between the two can be dangerous. In addition, it can worsen the pre-existing condition. Watercress contains oxalates that stimulate the formation of kidney stones. 

Q: Is watercress good for the liver?

A: Yes, watercress can help to detoxify the body and liver cells. It helps in liver repair as it has many antioxidants in it.

Q: Which is healthier, spinach or watercress?

A: Watercress is a better choice if you are trying to manage your weight as it has fewer calories than spinach. Other than that, both are rich in vitamins and minerals and contain many antioxidants.

Q: Which is healthier: parsley or watercress?

A: Parsley has higher levels of vitamin K, C, folate, vitamin A, zinc and magnesium. That makes it much healthier than watercress.

Q: Is watercress a herb?

A: It belongs to the Brassicaceae family of vegetables. In some regions, people consider watercress an aquatic herb, whereas others consider it a weed. 

Q: Is it safe to eat raw watercress?

A: Yes, it is safe to eat raw watercress. It has many nutrients which are heat sensitive and has the highest nutritional value when consumed raw.

Q: What does watercress do to your body?

A: It can help reverse oxidative damage caused by the free radicals because of its antioxidant properties. That helps prevent cell damage. Moreover, it is low in calories. So it’s beneficial for people trying to lose weight. It’s also good for maintaining a healthy blood pressure level. 

Q: How much watercress should you eat in a day?

A: You can have about 34g of watercress daily to fulfil the body’s nutrient requirements.

Q: Can you eat the stems of the watercress?

A: Yes, you can consume a watercress stem. However, if it has a thick stem, it is advised that you remove it. Other than that, it is safe to consume. The only part of the watercress plant that you should refrain from eating is the roots.

About the Author

Mehak holds masters in foods and nutrition from Amity university, Noida. She has a keen interest in public health and nutrition and has been in charge of various projects with milestone NGO. She has worked with people over the globe to bring out the changes in their lives and has always been working towards lifestyle modifications via good dietary practices. According to her a healthy lifestyle is not about the destination but all about the journey.

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