When it comes to leafy greens, most people think of spinach and kale. Arugula falls further down the popularity chart, yet it tends to make its dishes spicy and delicious, and some would say “exotic” tasting. Let’s dive in to all things arugula and why this green should be on your must- eat list.
Arugula is a leafy green with a distinctive, peppery flavor that originated in the Mediterranean regions of Morocco, Portugal and Turkey. It is also called rocket, rucola and Italian cress. Arugula is a member of the brassica, or cruciferous family. This classification includes mostly cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts.
This delicious green is nutrient dense, high in both fiber and beneficial phytochemicals, which are compounds in plants that contribute to their color, taste and smell. Arugula is also full of antioxidants, which can reverse damage to your cells.
[See: Best Foods for Brain Health.]
Arugula Is Rich in Nutrients
Arugula is low in sugar, calories, carbohydrates and fat. It’s high in several vital nutrients including:
— Vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant that supports immune function, cell growth, overall eye health and night vision. It also helps maintain heart, lung and kidney function.
— Vitamin K, which helps with blood coagulation. Be sure to discuss your vitamin K intake with your primary care physician prior to changing your eating habits if you are on any prescription blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin).
— Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, another powerful antioxidant that helps with immune system support. This is important for iron absorption from food and overall tissue health.
— Folate, a B vitamin specifically important for women who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant. It helps support production of DNA and other genetic material.
— Potassium, a mineral that is vital for nerve and heart function/support. This mineral helps muscles contract normally. If you’ve ever had a leg cramp in the middle of the night, potassium deficiency can often be to blame. Potassium also helps reduce sodium’s negative effects and can be very beneficial for those with high blood pressure.
— Calcium, a mineral that helps blood clot normally and efficiently. This mineral is also needed for bone and tooth health and muscle/nerve function.
How Does Arugula Stack Up Against Other Greens?
Arugula’s distinctive and peppery flavor adds flair to a variety of cold dishes, as well as salads. Its overall nutritional value is generally lower than some of the other green leafy vegetables, but it does combine well with its leafy cohorts spinach and kale.
Arugula provides a variety of antioxidants and fiber and does have more calcium than kale. Like parsley, it can be chewed to help combat sour breath. It has a distinctive leaf shape, and all of its flowers, seeds and leaves are edible.
Health Benefits of Arugula
Arugula has a variety of health benefits, especially when combined with other nutrient-dense foods.
Reduced Cancer Risk
Certain vegetables have specific anti-cancerous properties, and arugula is one of them. Because arugula is considered a cruciferous vegetable, it is a source of glucosinolates, which are sulfur containing substances that have cancer fighting power.
Because arugula is high in calcium and vitamin K, these are key nutrients for adequate bone health. Providing 32 milligrams per cup, arugula also contributes to a person’s daily need for calcium, 1,000 mg for adults.
Lowers Risk of Diabetes
There have been studies showing that arugula extract had antidiabetic effects in mouse skeletal muscle cells. They produced this effect by stimulating glucose uptake in the cells. Also, arugula, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, are good sources of fiber, which is known for blood glucose regulation and insulin resistance reduction. High fiber foods make us feel full for longer periods of time, thus preventing overeating.
Helps With Heart Health
Cruciferous vegetable intake is known for having a protective effect on the heart.
Studies report that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables, salads and green leafy vegetables are linked with a reduced risk for heart disease. The heart protective effects of these vegetables may be due to their high concentration of beneficial plant compounds, including polyphenols and organosulfur compounds.
Arugula is rich in chlorophyll, which can help to prevent liver and DNA damage from aflatoxins, a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as corn, peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts. They are associated to a higher risk for liver cancer. To get the most chlorophyll in arugula, it’s best to eat it raw, like in salads.
Metabolism and Muscle Mass
Arugula is one of a few foods that are high in sirtuins. Sirtuins are a group of proteins that regulate several functions in the body. This type of protein has been shown to regulate metabolism, increase muscle mass and help burn fat in a variety of studies done on fruit flies and mice. Sirtuin-rich foods have become popular in recent years because of a fad diet called the sirtfood diet.
How to Serve and Prepare Arugula
Arugula is ideal to serve with other milder greens for a salad with a nicely sharp, spicy edge. One of my favorite ways to eat arugula is as a simple salad with olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper and salt tossed with a chunk of fresh shredded Parmesan cheese.
Arugula is also used in pasta sauces and to top pizzas hot from the oven with sharp cheese like Parmesan or soft cheese like burrata. The leaves can also be stirred into soups, folded in grain dishes like farro and kamut, made into a flavorful pesto or wilted to serve as a bed for roasted or grilled meat, fish and poultry.
Prepare arugula with care to avoid bruising its delicate leaves. If needed, trim the thick stalk ends. Arugula bunches can trap soil and grit, so wash them well before serving. Immerse the leaves in cold water and then lift them out and let the grit settle at the bottom. Repeat this step as necessary. Dry thoroughly in a salad spinner or gently shake the leaves in a kitchen towel.
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