Arugula Has Major Health Benefits — Here's How to Eat More (Besides Making Salad)

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While arugula is often eaten fresh, cooking the nutritious green can help bring out its sweetness.
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Arugula is a leafy green with a peppery, earthy taste that is an explosion of flavor, which makes it easy to understand why the Brits call it "rocket." Arugula's spicy mustard-like qualities add distinct energy to any dish, which has endeared it to legions of aficionados.

This lively green is often thought to be a zestier lettuce or salad green. However, arugula is actually a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the health-enhancing Brassica family, which also includes kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Arugula has small flat leaves and long stems. While it's delicious raw, its flavors can be enhanced and sweetened by a quick sauté or steam. Plus, it's a low-calorie option that's chock-full of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, packing a powerful punch of benefits.

Arugula Nutrition Facts

One cup of raw arugula is equal to a single serving. One cup of raw arugula contains:

  • Calories: 5
    Total fat: 0.1 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 5.4 mg
  • Total carbs: 0.7 g
  • Dietary fiber: 0.3 g
  • Sugar: 0.4 g
  • Added sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 0.5 g

Arugula Macros

  • Total fat: One cup of raw arugula has 0.1 grams of total fat, which includes 0 milligrams of unsaturated fat, 0 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
  • Carbohydrates: One cup of raw arugula has 0.7 grams of carbs, which includes 0.3 grams of fiber and 0.4 grams of natural sugars.
  • Protein: One cup of raw arugula has 0.5 grams of protein.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients

  • Vitamin K: 18% of your Daily Value (DV)
  • One cup of raw arugula is not a good serving of vitamin A (3% DV), vitamin C (3% DV), vitamin E (1% DV), calcium (2% DV), potassium (2% DV), iron (2% DV), folate (5% DV), manganese (3% DV), copper (2% DV), magnesium (2% DV), phosphorous (1% DV) and zinc (1% DV).

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Health Benefits of Arugula

Like many leafy greens, arugula has a rich and varied nutrient profile. Arugula contains some fiber as well as a wide range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

1. Arugula Is Linked to a Reduced Risk of Cancer

Cruciferous vegetables, like arugula, contain a group of anti-cancer compounds known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals.

Glucosinolates break down when cooked and eaten to form biologically active compounds that have been linked to preventing the development of cancer, the National Cancer Institute states. Epidemiological evidence has tied higher intake of cruciferous vegetables with a reduced incidence of cancer, according to an article in the December 2014 (BBA) - Reviews on Cancer journal.

Arugula also contains high amounts of erucin, which may be responsible for many anticancer activities, according to research published in the June 2014 edition of PLOS One.

What's more, arugula boasts antioxidants, which help protect our cells from oxidative damage. Studies suggest that eating two to three servings of dark leafy greens such as arugula every week is linked to a decreased risk of breast, skin and stomach cancer, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

2. Arugula Is Tied to Good Heart Health

Green leafy vegetables, including arugula, have long been touted as health-promoting foods.

In fact, leafy green vegetables are associated with a decreased incidence of heart disease and can help support heart health, according to a January 2016 meta-analysis published in JRSM Cardiovascular Disease.

And research shows that a diet rich in fruit and veggies, notably cruciferous vegetables (hello, arugula), is inversely associated with atherosclerosis, according to an April 2018 article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

3. Arugula Can Help Maintain Bone Health

Our bones bear the brunt of our weight on a daily basis, but did you know that bone is a living tissue that continuously breaks down and rebuilds throughout life?

We typically reach our peak bone mass by the time we hit age 30, according to Harvard Health Publishing, after which it may remain fairly steady (depending on diet and lifestyle) for another 20 years. After that, women generally experience bone loss more quickly because menopause sets in while men may start to experience more bone loss in their late 50s.

That being said, vitamin K is essential for good bone health. And clocking in with more than 25 percent of a woman's daily needs and 18 percent for men per one-cup serving, arugula is packed with this bone-building nutrient.

Not getting enough vitamin K is associated with an increased risk of osteoarthritis and fractures in older adults, a study published in the June 2014 issue of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found. Meanwhile, getting enough K can help reduce bone turnover (aka breakdown) and improve bone strength, according to an April 2012 article published in the Open Orthopedics Journal.

Arugula Health Risks

Food Allergies

Arugula is generally regarded as safe for most people to consume and is not known to be associated with any food allergies to date.

However, leafy greens, including arugula, contain low amounts of oxalate. It is recommended that those with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid overconsuming oxalate-containing foods, according to Harvard Health Publishing, so speak to your doctor about adding arugula to your diet if you have calcium oxalate stones.

Drug Interactions

Vitamin K can interact with a few medications and certain medications can also have an adverse effect on vitamin K levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Vitamin K is vital for blood clotting, so high amounts of this nutrient dilutes the effects of prescription blood thinners, such as warfarin. But people taking blood thinners should not cut out vitamin K completely since it is an integral part of healthy eating, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Instead, be consistent about the amount of vitamin K you eat daily to keep a constant level because sudden changes (increased or decreased levels) can disrupt the medication's coagulating power.

People on antibiotics or bile acid sequestrants to reduce cholesterol may experience decreased vitamin K status. Be sure to discuss any medication and food interactions with your health professional.

Arugula Recipes

Arugula Preparation and Useful Tips

Topping your pizza with some arugula offers a peppery kick that pairs well with the cheese.
Image Credit: istetiana/Moment/GettyImages

Arugula can be found year-round, but it hits peak season June through December. Similarly to many leafy greens, arugula is highly perishable. Follow these tips to keep your arugula fresh and vibrant:

  • Buy leaves that are dark green; avoid wilted greens and those with yellow spots and brown edges.
  • To maintain freshness, wrap roots in damp paper towels and then place the entire bunch into a plastic bag and into a crisper drawer. You can also place the roots in a glass of water (like you would flowers) and then cover greens with a plastic bag and refrigerate.
  • To maintain crispness without leaving the roots, rinse and spin-dry in a salad spinner. Then, wipe spinner bowl dry and store arugula in the bowl or wrap arugula in clean paper towels and place into a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
  • Store arugula separate from bananas, apples and pears, which give off ethylene gas as they ripen, causing the arugula to spoil quicker.

Arugula is a delicious part of many meals when eaten raw. However, it can range in intensity depending on when, where and how it is grown. The best way to determine how peppery the bite is by tasting it! When cooked, arugula's flavor sweetens and may become less potent.

Arugula can be used a myriad of ways. Here are some quick serving ideas to get you started:

  • Mix raw arugula with milder greens to make a well-balanced salad. It goes particularly well when combined with Boston or Bibb lettuce, which is soft and buttery.
  • Pair it with rich ingredients like avocado or parmesan cheese and citrus fruit such as orange or grapefruit.
  • Make arugula pesto by blending together raw arugula with garlic, nuts, parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Toss the pesto with pasta or grains, add it to meat, poultry and fish or serve it as a dip with crostini and vegetables.
  • Add a handful of raw arugula on top of pizza or into a sandwich or wrap.
  • Spice up your smoothie or soup by adding arugula to the mix.
  • Sauté arugula with onion and garlic in olive oil and serve as a side dish or add it to cooked pasta or a whole grain like farro.

Alternatives to Arugula

If you're not a fan of arugula or just want a break from its peppery bite, try watercress, spinach or dandelion greens.

Watercress belongs to the same Brassica family but offers a less-spicy flavor profile. Similar to arugula, spinach is nutrient-dense and can be served raw or cooked.

Spinach has a much milder taste than arugula and is often a more budget-friendly option. Dandelion greens are another swap-out option, offering a similar earthy bitter flavor without the peppery kick.

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