Diabetes Diet: The Surprising Nutritional Benefits of Watercress
One way to ensure our body gets a variety of nutrients is eating nutrient dense foods, and one of the most nutrient dense foods on our planet is watercress.
It’s hard to imagine that watercress, a delicate appearing aquatic plant with a soothing name, packs an amazing vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant punch—but it does. Nor does this flimsy veggie look as if it could contribute much flavor to a meal, but the peppery taste of watercress adds a dash of zing to sauces, sandwiches, and salads.
Watercress and Diabetes
The health benefits of making watercress a regular part of one’s diet are universal, but for those with diabetes watercress offers specific nutritional supports important for glucose management and longterm health:
- Besides protecting cells from free radicals, alpha-lipoic acid - one of the many antioxidants in watercress - helps increase insulin sensitivity, and lower blood sugar levels. Studies also suggest alpha-lipoic acid may decrease peripheral or autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.
- Watercress is a treasure trove of minerals including those important for cardiovascular health. The calcium, potassium, and magnesium in watercress are helpful for reaching and maintaining normal blood pressure since they release sodium out of the body, and increase artery dilation. The dietary nitrates in watercress have been shown to lower blood pressure, as well.
- A cup of chopped watercress contains some fiber, no fat or cholesterol, and only 4 calories, making it one of the best foods available for people needing to lose weight.
- Two carotenoids found in watercress, lutein and zeaxanthin, protect the heart and arteries from cell damage, and help keep our arteries unclogged. In studies, high lutein levels have been linked to a reduced heart attack risk—and lutein supports healthy vision.
- Watercress is nearly bursting with vitamin A which is necessary for good eye health. Plus, vitamin A supports the immune system, offers cell protection, and plays a role in the development of red blood cells.
Watercress is also an outstanding source of vitamins C and K. Vitamin C is vital for immune system function and since our body doesn’t store vitamin C, we need good sources of it in our daily diet. Vitamin K increases the absorption of calcium from our food—helping to ensure the strength of our bones and teeth.
Watercress - like its cruciferous cousins kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and arugula - can easily be added to casseroles, pastas, and sauces. Look for watercress with deep-green, crisp leaves having no signs of wilting; it should be stored in the refrigerator in a closed container and used within a few days of purchase.
You might enjoy watercress by:
- Blending a handful into your favorite smoothie, or fruit juice.
- Making pesto with watercress.
- Adding watercress to scrambled eggs or omelets.
- Putting chopped watercress into your pasta sauce.
- Turning it into a side dish: saute´ watercress in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, season it with ground black pepper and grated Parmesan; this also makes a delicious baked potato topping.
- Toss some watercress into your soup near the end of its cooking time.
Keep in mind that watercress cooks more quickly than some of our sturdier vegetables.
A Couple Cautions
Though most of us will not eat more than a handful of this nutritious veggie per day, there are a couple watercress cautions to keep in mind.
People taking blood thinners (e.g., Coumadin) should avoid a sudden intake of more or fewer vitamin K containing foods, since vitamin K is involved with blood clotting.
Also, those with cardiovascular disease or associated risk factors should talk to a physician before beginning a high-nitrate diet as it can interfere with the medicinal workings of organic nitrate (nitroglycerine), or nitrite drugs that treat angina.