What are the health benefits of arugula? This leafy green is an immune-boosting vegetable that packs a nutritional punch, especially considering its tiny number of calories.
When it comes to your health, as a high-antioxidant food arugula can help improve almost every system in the body. For example, studies have tied compounds found in it to improved heart health and lowered inflammation, thanks to its phytonutrients that reduce oxidative stress.
What Is Arugula?
What is arugula exactly, and what goes in an arugula salad? Arugula (which has the scientific plant name Eruca sativa) is also sometimes called Italian cress, rucola and salad rocket.
A leafy green and a member of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, which includes a variety of plants (like Brussels sprouts and broccoli), research shows “rocket” has protective properties.
Is arugula a lettuce? Yes, and arugula salad is just what the name implies: a salad made with arugula (most often baby arugula) and typically other ingredients, like tomatoes, cheese, etc.
The arugula plant is known to be an excellent source of anticancer phytochemicals that fight free radical damage and slow the aging process. Many of arugula’s benefits are due to its generous portions of vital nutrients — such as vitamin K and folate.
In addition, it’s a good source of eye-healthy beta-carotene in the form of carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin.
Are rocket and arugula the same thing? Yes, arugula is called rocket or roquette in Europe and Australia.
The arugula plant has a long history of use in many different cuisines and was even mentioned in several religious texts, including the Bible. It’s also referred to in Jewish texts, such as the Mishna and Talmud, that date back to the first through fifth centuries A.D.
An interesting fact about this leafy green you might not be aware of? It was believed to be a natural aphrodisiac food by the ancient Egyptians and Romans.
Famous authors even wrote about arugula nutrition benefits, stating that this veggie had the ability to “excite the sexual desire of drowsy people.”
Thousands of years ago, Romans found that those who ate it more frequently often experienced better health and were more sexually energized, perhaps because this vegetable helps improve circulation, blocks toxic environmental effects that can lower libido and has stimulating, energizing qualities.
Top 10 Benefits
Below are some of the top arugula benefits:
1. Helps Fight Cancer
Eating a healthy diet filled with cruciferous/brassica vegetables, sometimes called “carcinogen killers,” is a key dietary recommendation for cancer prevention, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Isothiocyanates have been shown in studies to have anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative activities.
Arugula contains large quantities of specific sulfur-containing isothiocyanates, like sulforaphane and erucin, the same phytonutrients found in veggies like kohlrabi and Chinese cabbage. These are what give most cruciferous vegetables their signature sulfur smell.
They are also believed to be responsible for their cancer-fighting activity.
Many studies find a strong relationship between higher consumption of raw vegetables containing these special compounds and a lowered risk for cancer.
Isothiocyanates neutralize free radicals and dangerous carcinogens that can lead to DNA damage and cell mutation. They also inhibit cell proliferation and stop cancerous tumor growth.
Studies show that cruciferous leafy greens especially can help prevent cancer within the gastrointestinal tract, such as colon and bladder cancer, along with breast, lung, esophageal and prostate cancers.
Research shows that these same compounds, when isolated from arugula seeds, have neuroprotective effects that may counteract production of pro-inflammatory cytokines capable of damaging the brain.
2. Protects Eye Health
What is arugula beneficial for when it comes to eye health? It can help protect your eyes from age-related disorders because it’s a great source of protective carotenoid antioxidants.
These special compounds have been extensively researched in relation to their ability to prevent macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of blindness in older adults.
Arugula may help prevent macular degeneration because it’s high in carotenoids like beta-carotene, leutin and zeaxanthin. These are known to protect the retina, cornea and other delicate parts of the eyes from UV damage and other effects.
3. Can Improve Heart Health
Arugula is capable of improving the health of blood vessels by acting as an anti-inflammatory food that lowers levels of cholesterol and homocysteine. This is one reason why cruciferous vegetable intake is known to lower the risk for heart disease and overall mortality.
A diet high in low-calorie, high-nutrient vegetables is also linked with better blood pressure, improved circulation, and a lower risk for having a heart attack or stroke.
Vegetables provide not only important inflammation-lowering antioxidants, but also crucial nutrients like potassium and magnesium that help control heart rhythms and dietary fiber. This removes cholesterol and toxins from the body.
4. Helps Maintain Strong Bones
Vitamin K is essential for bone health and also for helping with blood clot formation.
In fact, some experts feel that vitamin K builds bones better than calcium to a certain extent. It’s thought to be a key player in developing a strong skeletal system.
This is why studies show that people who consume more vitamin K have added protection against bone fractures and osteoporosis.
In addition, the erucin in arugula “may attenuate osteoclastic bone resorption by inhibiting multinucleation of mononuclear pre-osteoclasts and by suppressing mRNA expression of DC-STAMP in bone marrow cells without influencing mineralization by osteoblasts,” thus protecting bone health.
5. Aids in Weight Maintenance
Does arugula help you lose weight? Like other leafy vegetables, such as mustard greens, it can be useful for promoting a healthy weight because it’s a nutrient-dense, low-calorie food.
In fact, it has less than 20 calories per cup but loads of antioxidants.
Because people tend to eat more than one cup of leafy greens at a time, arugula is essentially a superfood for weight loss and a great way to obtain plenty of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients while still sticking to a low-calorie diet overall.
Leafy green vegetables provide detoxifying nutrients and dietary fiber, which help fill you up, prevent deficiencies and provide ongoing energy.
6. May Improve Digestion
Like other leafy green vegetables, arugula is an alkaline food that helps restore the body’s optimal pH level. An optimal pH level is crucial for digestive health in addition to a supporting a strong immune system.
Additionally, arugula is a hydrating food that helps nourish the digestive tract. Regularly eating leafy greens is one way to help prevent constipation and improve the health of the gut lining, colon, intestines and other digestive organs.
7. Helps Prevent Diabetes
Although people tend to only eat arugula leaves and not the seeds of the plant, clinical research confirms that plant extracts taken from the seeds help fight blood sugar fluctuations. A diet high in green vegetables is thought to be a type of natural diabetes treatment since it improves insulin responsiveness.
Arugula extract, or oil taken from the Eruca sativa seeds, has been shown to help improve insulin response, reduce hyperglycemia, and lower high cholesterol and triglycerides in animal research.
Even eating arugula leaves in place of other foods can have blood-sugar and inflammation-lowering effects — since it’s virtually free of sugar and carbs, yet a good way to fill up and add more volume to your plate.
Arugula leaf extract has also been found to exert antidiabetic effects in cultured skeletal muscle, adipocytes and liver cells, while plant-based diets can also help with diabetes management and prevention.
8. Can Reduce Skin Inflammation and Infections
Arugula extract is considered effective in preventing or treating skin disorders, according to traditional Middle Eastern medicine practices.
What is the plant known for when it comes to skin health? For many years, practitioners believed that this vegetable’s oils could prevent inflammatory skin diseases and be a natural treatment of eczema or psoriasis.
Eating the raw leaves can also provide defense against UV skin damage and slow signs of aging skin, since its antioxidants fight cell proliferation and protect skin’s elasticity, immunity and appearance.
9. Supplies Important Vitamins and Minerals
Arugula contains folate, a very important B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects in unborn babies and reduces the buildup of a harmful blood chemical called homocysteine.
This means that less calcium is inhibited, and your body can actually absorb and use more.
10. May Act as a Natural Aphrodisiac
Although there haven’t been many studies done investigating the effects of arugula consumption on enhancing libido or fertility, we know that its natural aphrodisiac qualities might come from its ability to lower inflammation and supply trace minerals and antioxidants that can improve circulation.
It seems like the ancient Romans were on to something when they prescribed arugula for a boost in sexual arousal.
As you can see from the benefits described above, many studies show that frequently eating brassica vegetables can provide protection against chronic diseases. Cruciferous veggies are associated with a lower risk for obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and heart disease.
What’s even better about arugula nutrition is that you can easily double up your intake by having more than one cup at a time.
A half-cup serving of raw arugula (about 10 grams) contains approximately:
- Calories: 2.5
- Total Carbohydrates: 0.4 g
- Fiber: 0.2 g
- Sugar: 0.2 g
- Total Fat: 0.1 g
- Saturated Fat: 0.01 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.03 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Protein: 0.3 g
- Sodium: 2.7 mg (0.1% DV)
- Vitamin K: 10.9 mcg (9% DV)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
In addition, this leafy green contains some vitamin C, folate, vitamin C, calcium iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and choline.
Uses in Traditional Medicine
The arugula plant is native to the Mediterranean region, where it’s been eaten for centuries. Records show that it has been widely consumed in parts of Italy and around the Middle East since the first century A.D.
At the time, part of a typical Roman meal was to serve a healing salad made with arugula, romaine lettuce, chicory, mallow and lavender.
Many centuries ago, benefits of arugula nutrition were already appreciated, especially when people ate the seeds in addition to the raw leaves. It was actually thought of as a medicinal plant just as much as a food.
In traditional medicinal practices across the Mediterranean, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, the seeds were used for flavoring oils and had widespread benefits — from working as a natural infertility treatment to improving skin problems and digestion.
In India, the leaves of the plant weren’t even eaten, but the oil was commonly pressed from them to produce taramira, a medicinal and cosmetic tincture blend.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, an important aspect of nutritional therapy — which is often seen as essential for treating common pathologies based on qi deficiency or blood deficiency — is eating fresh vegetables, especially green and cruciferous veggies.
Cruciferous vegetables are viewed as important for liver function and digestion. They are said to help to nourish the spleen and stomach, aiding in absorption of nutrients, and to support the liver in removing waste from the body.
They are also recommended to improve lung function and aid in balance of qi and yin, helping reduce conditions like phlegm, dryness, wind heat, wind cold and toxic heat.
Arugula vs. Kale vs. Spinach
- Kale is one of the healthiest foods available, with exceptional nutritional value per calorie. Compared to kale, arugula has more calcium but less vitamin K, and vitamin C.
- Is arugula better than spinach? While both greens have a lot to offer, spinach nutrition is one of the best vegetable sources of calcium (although collard greens have even more), potassium, magnesium, vitamin K and folate.
- In order to obtain a variety of antioxidants and plenty and nutrients, it’s a good idea to eat different greens throughout the week or to mix several types together.
How to Use (Recipes)
How do you make the best arugula salad? Due to their appealing taste, baby arugula leaves are the kind most often used in salads, sometimes mixed with other greens in a mesclun mix.
You can find the fresh, baby leaves (also sometimes called young arugula) at almost all grocery stores and at farmers markets in the spring and summer months.
Older leaves are also edible and used around the world too, although they’re less available in the U.S. They have a slightly more bitter taste and are usually cooked.
Look for greens that aren’t wilted or spotted in color. Since it tends to be a delicate vegetable, try consuming it within a few days of buying it.
After buying this vegetable, keep the leaves dry and wrapped up inside a damp paper towel in the refrigerator.
What does arugula salad taste like? It has a signature, somewhat strong, “peppery” flavor.
Many people find that this provides a natural cooling effect on the body, which is indicative of many foods harvested in spring — as this leafy green vegetable is.
Here are tips for cooking with this veggie:
- Arugula tastes great either raw or cooked, so there are loads of ways to add some to recipes you already enjoy. The greens can even be finely chopped and used in place of other herbs, like parsley or cilantro.
- You can try adding wilted or sauteed arugula to pastas, side dishes made with whole grains, sandwiches, wraps and soups. Its flavor goes well with goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, which is why it’s sometimes blended into dips or spreads similar to pesto.
- If you have some favorite recipes that use watercress or spinach, you can substitute this leafy green instead for a similar peppery taste and texture.
- To make arugula pesto, simply use arugula instead of basil leaves.
Tips for Growing Arugula:
- According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this veggie is a “fast-growing, cool-season salad green.”
- Arugula seeds grow best in full sun when planted in soil that is well-drained and has a neutral pH level.
- Plant seeds in late-summer for a fall or early-winter harvest. Leave about one inch between rows of seeds, and plant about 1/4 inch down into the soil.
- You can continue to keeping sowing new seeds every two to three weeks for a continuous harvest.
- Harvest leaves when they are about two to three inches long, pulling up the whole plant or cutting individual leaves if you prefer.
What are some arugula recipes from around the world that might inspire you?
In Italy, raw arugula is commonly added to pizzas or for making the pasta dish cavatiéddi, which calls for wilted arugula along with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. It’s also used to infuse olive oil combined with garlic to make a heart-healthy condiment for cold meats and fish.
In other parts of the world, like Slovenia, it’s boiled with potatoes, used in soup or served with cheese.
Try using it in these healthy recipes:
Below are some more basic salad recipes to try:
- Use a balsamic arugula salad dressing, such as the one in this Balsamic Peaches and Goat Cheese Salad Recipe, to make the flavor of baby arugula pop
- Arugula salad with strawberries, slivered almonds and goat cheese
- Arugula salad with chopped pears or apples, pecans or walnuts, and gorgonzola
- Candied Pecan Butternut Squash Salad
- Watermelon Feta Salad
- Harvest Mason Jar Salad
Risks and Side Effects
Arugula isn’t known to be a common allergen or to cause side effects or reactions in many people. And because it’s such a low-calorie, low-sugar vegetable, it’s virtually impossible to overeat these greens.
Although it’s a cruciferous vegetable, it’s low in chemical compounds that can potentially interfere with thyroid function (as some veggies can when eaten in high quantities), so there seems to be very little risk in eating it no matter what your current level of health is.
- Arugula (Eruca sativa) is a leafy green and a member of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, which also includes veggies like kale and Swiss chard.
- It is a good source of nutrients, including vitamin K, folate and antioxidants, such as the carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. It’s a very low-calorie food.
- Arugula health benefits include potentially fighting cancer, protecting the eyes and skin, maintaining strong bones, supporting weight loss, improving digestion, preventing diabetes, and protecting the skin. Throughout history, it was also known to be a natural aphrodisiac.
- This leafy green vegetable has a peppery taste and can be eaten either raw or cooked, so there are loads of ways to add some to recipes you already enjoy.