Arugula is a lesser known cruciferous vegetable that provides many of the same benefits as other vegetables of the same family, which include broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts.

Arugula leaves, also known as rocket or roquette, are tender and bite-sized with a tangy flavor. Along with other leafy greens, arugula contains high levels of beneficial nitrates and polyphenols.

A 2014 review study found that high intakes of nitrate may lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise, and enhance athletic performance.

This article provides an in-depth look at the possible health benefits of arugula, a nutritional breakdown, how to add it to the diet, and possible health risks linked with eating arugula.

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Eating arugula may help reduce cancer risk.

Eating fruits and vegetables of all kinds reduces the risk of many adverse health conditions due to their high levels of antioxidants, fiber, and phytochemicals.

Research has specifically linked arugula and other cruciferous vegetables with the following health benefits:

1. Reduced cancer risk

While an overall healthful, vegetable-rich diet reduces a person's cancer risk, studies have shown that certain groups of vegetables can have specific anticancer benefits.

A 2017 meta-analysis linked eating more cruciferous vegetables with reduced total cancer risk, along with a reduction in all-cause mortality.

Cruciferous vegetables are a source of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing substances. Glucosinolates may be responsible for the plants' bitter taste and their cancer-fighting power. The body breaks down glucosinolates into a range of beneficial compounds, including sulforaphane.

Researchers have found that sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), which is involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make foods that contain sulforaphane a potentially significant part of cancer treatment in the future.

Reports have linked diets high in cruciferous vegetables with a reduced risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and more. However, the research is limited, and scientists need more high-quality evidence before confirming these benefits.

Easily recognized cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and turnips. Less well known types include arugula, bok choy, and watercress.

2. Osteoporosis prevention

Arugula is high in several key nutrients for bone health, including calcium and vitamin K.

The Office of Dietary Statistics state that vitamin K is involved in bone metabolism and that a deficiency can increase the risk of bone fracture. Leafy green vegetables are one of the primary dietary sources of vitamin K.

One cup of arugula provides 21.8 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, which goes towards the adult Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) daily value (DV) recommendation of 80 mcg for adults.

Adequate vitamin K consumption improves bone health by playing an essential role in bone mineralization and helps to improve how the body absorbs and excretes calcium, which is another crucial nutrient for bone health.

Arugula also contributes to a person's daily need for calcium, providing 32 milligrams (mg) per cup, going towards the DV of 1,000 mg for adults.

3. Diabetes

Several review studies have found that eating vegetables reduces a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A review study from 2016 reports that leafy green vegetables are especially beneficial.

One test tube study showed that arugula extract had antidiabetic effects in mouse skeletal muscle cells. They produced this effect by stimulating glucose uptake in the cells.

Plus, arugula and other cruciferous vegetables are a good source of fiber, which helps to regulate blood glucose and may reduce insulin resistance. High fiber foods make people feel fuller for longer, meaning they can help tackle overeating.

4. Heart health

Vegetable intake, specifically cruciferous vegetables, has protective effects on the heart.

A 2017 meta-analysis reports that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables, salads, and green leafy vegetables have links with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reported that consuming a diet high in cruciferous vegetables could reduce atherosclerosis in older women. Atherosclerosis is a common condition where plaque builds up in the arteries, increasing a person's risk of cardiovascular problems.

The heart protective effects of these vegetables may be due to their high concentration of beneficial plant compounds, including polyphenols and organosulfur compounds.

According to the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) nutrient database, a cup of arugula weighing about 20 grams (g) contains approximately 5 calories.

A cup of arugula also contains:

  • 0.516 g of protein
  • 0.132 g of fat

According to an adult's daily nutritional goals, set out in the FDA's daily values (DV), a cup of arugula will provide:

  • 27.7% of vitamin K
  • 3.2% of calcium
  • 2.5% of vitamin C

Arugula also contains some iron, folate, magnesium, potassium, and provitamin A.

People commonly add fresh arugula to salads, but it also works well incorporated into pasta, casseroles, and sauces, just like other leafy greens.

It tends to sauté faster than its tougher cousins kale and collard greens. Because of its tenderness, and it lends more flavor to a dish than spinach or Swiss chard.

Due to its peppery flavor, people often mix arugula with other milder greens, such as watercress and romaine. In Italy, it is common to top pizza with arugula after baking.

Arugula is easy to grow and perfect for a windowsill garden. When store-bought or picked fresh, people should store arugula in the refrigerator and use it within a few days of purchase.

Here are some tips for incorporating more arugula into the daily routine:

  • Add a handful of fresh arugula to an omelet or scramble.
  • Throw a handful of arugula and blend into a fresh juice or smoothie.
  • Sauté arugula in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Eat as a side dish or top a baked potato.
  • Add arugula leaves to a wrap, sandwich, or flatbread.

When choosing foods for preventing disease and achieving good health, it is important to remember that the overall diet and eating patterns are the most important factors. It is better to eat a diet rich in a variety of nutrient-dense foods than to concentrate on individual foods.

People who are taking blood-thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), should avoid suddenly beginning to eat more or fewer foods containing vitamin K, as this vitamin plays a vital role in blood clotting.

If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. Ingesting very high levels of nitrite can be harmful.

Keep in mind that consuming large doses of nitrate-rich foods may interact with certain medications, such as organic nitrate, nitroglycerine, or nitrite drugs that treat angina, such as tadalafil and vardenafil.

Arugula is a peppery leafy green that provides many of the same health benefits as other cruciferous vegetables. It has a high nutrient content and makes an excellent and healthful addition to most diets.

A varied diet rich in leafy greens can help prevent health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer.