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Is Watercress the New Kale?

By Nell Stephenson, B.S.
May 13, 2016
Is Watercress the New Kale? image

I love kale.

I’ve loved it for a long time and have been a staunch promoter of it, and in large doses, no less.

And while I continue to enjoy growing my own, preparing it and suggesting it to clients and blog readers alike, I must admit that it’s not the only leafy green we should be incorporating into our regular regime.

Another cruciferous vegetable – Watercress – has been gaining popularity. But can Watercress compete with kale as the new ‘it’ veggie?

Let’s take a look at the nutritional breakdown and compare the two leafy greens.

While both are low in calories and sugar, a 100 gram serving of cress offers:

  • 0.5 grams of dietary fiber
  • 0.2 mg iron
  • 3190.7 IU Vitamin A
  • 0.1 mg Zinc
  • 120 mg Calcium (another reason to say “no thanks” to dairy)
  • 330 mg Potassium and
  • 41 mg Sodium

And kale?

  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • 1.7 mg iron
  • 15,374.5 IU Vitamin A
  • 0.4 mg Zinc
  • 135 mg Calcium (another reason to say “no thanks” to dairy)
  • 447 mg Potassium and
  • 43 mg Sodium

Clearly, kale wins out in terms of nutrient density, but that doesn’t mean we should throw all other veggies into the compost bin!

Why?

Kale, like all crucifers, are considered a goitrogenic food, meaning that they contain substances (goitrogens), which may contribute to an enlarged thyroid.

The substance thiocyanate, present in all crucifers, can interfere with adequate iodine nutrition in very high concentrations, according to Dr. Leung, an endocrinologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine1. The thyroid needs iodine to produce thyroid hormone, and so exposure to very high amounts of thiocyanate can potentially result in hypothyroidism and compensatory growth of the thyroid (goiter).

So does this mean we need to eat kale as sparingly as the occasional honey containing, special treat?
Not at all.

By incorporating the three strategies below, we can eat it without fear of compromising the health or function of any of our organs.

1. Add iodine

By adding a complimentary food source of iodine, we can create a balanced eating regime to support thyroid health. High-iodine kelp and other varieties of seaweed added to your diet can provide a natural solution to optimize thyroid gland functioning and boost performance, even in people already diagnosed with mild hypothyroidism2.

2. Steam your crucifers

By steaming kale, as well as other crucifers, you can reduce the amount of goitrogens you end up ingesting.

3. Vary Your Veggies

While all the cruciferous veggies, such as Bok Choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, Mustard greens, radish and Brussel sprouts can play a role in contributing to excess goitrogen, they also all offer unique health benefits. So adding them into the picture to create a more balanced micro nutrient panel can help to decrease your chances of getting in a food rut.

And of these other veggies Watercress is a great vegetable to consider. But what is the big deal about Watercress? Well, aside from it’s crisp, fresh taste, it’s got a laundry list of health benefits3:

  • The parts that grow above the ground are used to make medicine. Cress is used for swollen breathing passages in the lung, coughs, bronchitis and swine flu. Other uses include treating baldness, constipation, parasitic worms, cancer, polyps, scurvy, and tuberculosis.
  • Watercress is also used to improve appetite and digestion, to enhance sexual arousal, to kill germs, and as a “Spring tonic.”
  • Finally, some people apply watercress directly to the skin for arthritis, RA, earaches, eczema, scabies, and warts.

In the culinary world, cress is widely used in leaf salads and as a spice. It can have a peppery taste and if left to mature, can develop a more bitter flavor profile. You can also toss it into your salad, top off a grilled pasture-raised chicken breast Paillard Style, or throw some into your smoothie.

Without a doubt, it won’t be long before we see watercress chips right alongside the many kale-chip brands in the market these days!

Keep your common sense about you and don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that the varieties that have been fried, doused in almond flour and sweetened with honey offer the same nutrient density as the fresh, real deal. Save those for the once in a while, in a pinch scenario.
Bring on the cress!

References:

[1] "News Update: Can Kale Cause Hypothyroidism?" EndocrineWeb. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
[2] "Why Is Seaweed Good for the Thyroid?" LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 Apr. 2016[3] "WATERCRESS: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

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