Arugula, also known as rocket and rucola, is a less recognized cruciferous vegetable that provides many of the same benefits as the notoriously nutritious better-known vegetables in the cruciferous family such as broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.
Arugula leaves are tender and bite-sized with a bit of a tangy flavor.
Along with other leafy greens, arugula contains very high nitrate levels (more than 250 mg/100 g). High intakes of dietary nitrate have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise and enhance athletic performance.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of arugula and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more arugula into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming arugula.
Possible health benefits of arugula
Arugula is a less recognized cruciferous vegetable that provides many of the same benefits as broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like arugula, decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
For the past 30 years, eating a high amount of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cancer; namely lung and colon cancer. Recently, studies have suggested that the sulfur-containing compounds (namely sulforaphane) that give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite are also what give them their cancer-fighting power.
Sulforaphane is now being studied for its ability to delay or impede cancer with early promising results associated with melanoma, esophageal, prostate and pancreatic cancers. Researchers have found that the sulforaphane compound can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful part of cancer treatment in the future.
Easily recognized cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips and cabbage as well as the lesser-known arugula, Broccolini, daikon, kohlrabi and watercress.2
Arugula also contains chlorophyll, which has shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.4
2) Osteoporosis prevention
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption improves bone health by acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.5 Arugula also contributes to your daily need for calcium, providing 64 milligrams in 2 cups.
Leafy greens contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid that has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy or autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.
Of note, most studies have used intravenous alpha-lipoic acid there is uncertainty whether oral supplementation would elicit the same benefits.6
4) Exercise and athletic performance
Dietary nitrate supplementation in the form of beetroot juice has been shown to improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, suggesting that increased dietary nitrate intake has the potential to enhance exercise tolerance during long-term endurance exercise and possibly improve quality of life for those with cardiovascular, respiratory, or metabolic diseases who find the activities of daily living are physically difficult because of lack of oxygenation.
Beetroot juice improved performance by 2.8% (11 seconds) in a 4-km bicycle time trial and by 2.7% (45 seconds) in a 16.1-km time trial. Beetroot is just one of many vegetables that are high in nitrate. Leafy green vegetables like arugula are among the top sources.3
Nutritional profile of arugula
Arugula also contains 1 gram of protein, 0.3 grams of fat, and 1.5 grams of carbohydrate (including 0.6 grams of fiber and 0.8 grams of sugar).
Consuming 2 cups of arugula will provide 20% of vitamin A, over 50% of vitamin K and 8% of your vitamin C, folate and calcium needs for the day.
Arugula ranks among the top 20 foods in regards to ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index).
The ANDI score measures vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.
To earn high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories.
On the next page we look at how you can incorporate more arugula into your diet and the possible health risks of consuming arugula.