Move over, iceberg lettuce! Arugula lettuce is making a big splash with medical researchers for its disease-fighting constituents - and creating a stir with chefs for its peppery, refreshing taste and crunchy texture.
As it happens, arugula has something of a “secret identity” that accounts for its health-giving properties.
Botanically known as Eruca sativa, arugula has the appearance of a leafy green – but is also a cruciferous vegetable in the Brassica family, and a close cousin to “super-veggies” like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Also known as rucola, roquette, “rocket lettuce,” colewort and Italian cress, arugula is more than just a tasty addition to salads. Research shows that this versatile green provides a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals, contributes to strong bones and even helps protect against cancer.
Arugula offers a nutritional jackpot of antioxidants and nutrients
Rich in dietary fiber, nutrient-dense and low in calories, arugula is truly a healthful food. It features generous amounts of B-complex vitamins - particularly folate (vitamin B9) - which has been shown to help prevent strokes and protect older adults against cognitive decline. (Folate is particularly important for pregnant women, and women planning to become pregnant, as it helps prevent neural tube defects in infants.)
Arugula also contains antioxidant vitamin C - which is essential for immune system function - along with vitamin A, which promotes eye health and visual acuity. And, arugula supports heart health with its content of the essential mineral potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
But where arugula really shines is in its content of vitamin K. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single cup of arugula features close to 22 micrograms of this important nutrient – over a quarter of the recommended daily intake. While previous research has focused on vitamin K’s role in normal blood clotting, scientists are now learning that it is indispensable to both cardiovascular and skeletal health. Vitamin K performs “double duty,” helping to prevent both atherosclerosis and osteoporosis by ushering calcium out of arteries and into bones - where it belongs. In fact, studies have shown that deficiencies in vitamin K increase the risk of bone fracture.
Finally, you can obtain all these nutrients without making a hefty caloric investment. A cup of fresh arugula contains a negligible 5 calories – easy to fit into any diet.
Arugula constituents can inhibit cancer cell proliferation
Where arugula really struts its stuff is with its content of glucosinolates – sulfur compounds that break down into cancer-fighting substances such as isothiocyanates (ITCs), sulforaphane and indoles. In a study published in European Journal of Nutrition, researchers evaluated the multiple ways in which these substances fight cancer.
What they found was that ITCs could help activate cell-protecting genes, while repressing the activity of enzymes involved in the progression of cancer cells. In addition, ITCs were found to stimulate apoptosis, the pre-programmed death of cancer cells.
And, there was more encouraging news. In a separate study published in 2018 in Molecules, researchers reported that glucosinolate breakdown products could limit the progression of tumors in breast, brain, bone, colon, stomach, liver, pancreas, prostate and lung cancer.
Like other dark leafy greens, arugula is also rich in chlorophyll, a disease-fighting plant pigment which binds to and neutralizes carcinogens.
Let's "supercharge" your next healthy (organic) salad
Naturally, arugula can make itself at home in any mixed-green salad. You can also use it to create variations on Waldorf, Caesar and Chef salads, add it to sandwiches and wraps, or utilize it as a pizza topping. And, arugula also makes an ideal addition to a healthy green smoothie.
For a show-stopping arugula/quinoa bowl, simply combine arugula, quinoa, sliced Bell peppers, olives, avocados, parsley and roasted pumpkin seeds - and toss with extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil.
By the way, natural health experts report that arugula can be heated or steamed without sacrificing too much of its antioxidant value. Although it may lose a small quantity of healthy phytochemicals in the process, the “up” side is that the body can absorb the remaining antioxidants more efficiently. (Cooked arugula tends to lose some of its peppery flavor and develop a more mellow taste.)
Whether you call it rocket, roquette or Italian cress, you really can’t go wrong with amazing arugula. Maybe it’s time to discover this healthy green – and all its peppery flair.