In an epic battle of fruits and veggies set up by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an unexpected leafy green emerged with the only perfect 100 score. Watercress is now officially the “World’s Healthiest Food,” say researchers, who were hoping to shine light on forgotten produce with that can make well-being soar. The list of watercress benefits is long, including everything better skin to better blood sugar and lower cancer risk. Another key watercress benefit: Its jackpot of nutrients includes many linked to effortless weight loss. “Watercress is nature’s gift, especially for anyone hoping to get to lose excess pounds,” says women’s health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. “You can make one pot of watercress soup to enjoy with other healthy meals through the week, and by the time the soup is gone, your energy will be sky high and your waist will be noticeably smaller.” Read on to discover how women like 63-pounds-slimmer Cindi Levengood, 59, are using watercress to speed to their health goals — and how you can do the same.
What is watercress?
Watercress, a tender leafy green cruciferous vegetable, is an aquatic plant that grows in fresh water. Studies show watercress has a root system that is exceptionally good at absorbing nutrients, a big reason it boasts more vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds than, say, kale or spinach.
How to add watercress to your meals
Long popular in Great Britain, where watercress grows wild in mineral-rich streams, the leafy green is now readily available in most supermarkets in bunches and bags. Experts say it can be enjoyed in just about any dish that calls for spinach. The main difference is taste. “It’s very peppery and a little pungent,” notes Gittleman. It’s addictive after a while, “but if you’re new to watercress, using it in soup is a great way to mellow the flavor.”
Why pair watercress and soup
Like watercress, soup is a great choice to speed slimming, Gittleman notes. Studies show its liquid-solid mix tricks the body into lowering appetite about 400 calories. Plus, pureeing veggies (as in a classic watercress soup) helps break down plant walls and can double or even triple nutrient absorption. Given that cress scored high for every single nutrient targeted in the CDC study — including potassium, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, plus vitamins A, B-6, B-12, D, E, K and the list goes on — blended soup and smoothies let our bodies drink in a tremendous amount of good stuff. So it’s no wonder watercress eases arthritis, helps heal skin, lowers blood pressure and helps stave off cancer, notes Gittleman.
Watercress benefits: How it supports weight loss
For starters, watercress is “a marvelous diuretic, so it flushes away bloat,” shares Gittleman. Meanwhile, it has a high concentration of polyphenols and other potent antioxidants that soothe inflammation linked to weight gain; polyphenols can even prevent some carb calories from being absorbed. And cress is loaded with fiber to fill you up and “feed” gut bacteria that lower blood sugar and speed metabolism. Enjoy the veggie daily, and you can also expect these benefits:
1. It’s loaded with plant protein to fight age-related weight gain.
Calorie for calorie, watercress has as much protein as tuna and chicken. And that’s great news for anyone over the age of 50. Italian scientists found that postmenopausal women who get more plant protein (from watercress or any non-animal source) end up with faster metabolisms than dieters many years their junior, according to lead researcher Mauro Lombardo, MD, of San Raffaele Open University in Rome. More research is needed to explain the phenomenon, but Dr. Lombardo says there’s no need to wait for answers. Plant protein has no downside — and it may be the great equalizer.
2. It’s rich in vitamin C to help build strong muscles.
Just 16 calories of watercress a day delivers enough vitamin C to help us reverse a vitamin C shortfall — and that, in turn, helps us burn 323% more fat for energy, per Arizona State findings. And that’s not all vitamin C can do.
Our bodies use C to make carnitine, an amino acid essential to building and maintaining muscle tissue; a recent study determined that women with the highest levels of C have the most firm, lean muscle. “Our muscles give us strength and also burn calories around the clock,” explains Gittleman. “C helps us create muscle to burn extra calories, even as we sleep.”
3. Its nice dose of folate can further boost metabolism.
Millions of us are deficient in this metabolism-revving B vitamin — and there’s evidence pureed watercress in soup and smoothies is one of the best ways to get levels where they need to be. Once we get enough, the fat melt begins. One study found increasing folate suddenly makes it possible for us to shed 750% more flab.
4. Its bitter compounds prompt our livers to burn more fat.
Bitter foods like watercress increase bile production in the liver. Why should we care? Bile not only helps digest food, but preliminary evidence suggests it stimulates the production of thyroid hormones, “increasing metabolism by 53%,” says Gittleman, citing a Harvard study. Scientists are even trying to turn bile into an anti-obesity drug. “But food it always the best medicine. Watercress is highly effective at lowering weight. And the only ‘side effect’ is glowing health!”
Watercress success story before and after: Cindi Levengood
After Cindi Levengood hit menopause and had her gallbladder removed, “the weight just piled on,” recalls the Pennsylvania mom, 59. Traditional diets stopped working. Then Facebook led Cindi to Gittleman’s book Radical Metabolism.
Cindi started a four-day cleanse built around watercress soup and was suddenly able to lose eight pounds when the scale had previously refused to budge. “I was thrilled. It was like my body started working again,” shares Cindi.
She continued using Radical Metabolism’s long-term eating guidelines, dropping 63 pounds in nine months. Five years later, she regularly eats ‘clean’ meals that include watercress and adds a four-day soup detox every few months. “Several friends and my daughter do the cleanse with me. We love that it makes your brain feels clearer after and you have lots of energy. Plus we all lose weight doing it. I usually end up cooking a vat of watercress soup for everyone to take home.” The strategy allows Cindi to indulge liberally during holidays and special occasions. “I’ve easily been able to keep the weight off. It’s amazing!”
Watercress meal ideas to get you started
Want to use watercress to speed to your health and weight goals? Gittleman suggests simply adding at least one or more 4-calorie cups a day, emphasizing blended watercress from soup or smoothies (to maximize nutrient absorption). Round out menus with natural, unprocessed foods that limit dairy and grains. We’ve got ideas below:
Sample breakfast: Turbo Smoothie
Blitz 1 cup nut milk, 1 handful watercress, ½ cup frozen berries, 1 scoop protein powder and 1 Tbs. flax oil
Sample lunch: Pesto + Protein
Blitz ⅓ cup pine nuts, 3 Tbs. olive oil and ¼ tsp. garlic salt. Add 1 cup watercress and 2 Tbs. lemon juice. Enjoy over protein/veggies.
Sample dinner: Easy Cress Salad
Add watercress to any healthy salad; top with protein, olive-oil vinaigrette and an optional ½ cup beans.
Bonus Recipe: Classic Watercress Soup
This powerhouse meal or snack whips up with just 5 ingredients!
- 8 cups chicken bone broth
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 Tbs. fresh cilantro, chopped
- 4 tsp. cumin
- 6 bunches watercress, chopped
- In soup pot, bring broth, onion, cilantro and cumin to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes; stir occasionally.
- Add watercress; let soften, 2–3 minutes. Cool.
- Blitz in a blender until smooth. Reheat and enjoy with an optional poached egg or any lean protein. Serves 8