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All The Amazing Benefits Of Arugula + The Best Ways To Use This Green Leafy Vegetable

Lindsay Boyers
Certified holistic nutrition consultant By Lindsay Boyers
Certified holistic nutrition consultant
Lindsay Boyers is a nutrition consultant specializing in elimination diets, gut health, and food sensitivities. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
This Underused Leafy Green Is Bursting With Vitamin C, Fiber & Folate

Eat your greens. You've probably heard this advice a million times. But what about bitter greens, like arugula? This leafy vegetable may not get as much airtime as kale and spinach, but it deserves a dedicated spot on your plate (or in your smoothie) all the same.

What is arugula?

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Arugula, also called rocket, rucola, and Italian cress, is a bitter, leafy green that belongs to the Brassica genus of vegetables. More specifically, it's characterized as a cruciferous vegetable—a classification it shares with broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collard greens (among others). 

Unlike kale and spinach, which have a fibrous texture but fairly mild taste, arugula has more of a kick. It's often described as peppery and/or slightly spicy.

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Nutritional value of arugula.

Arugula doesn't just pack a punch in the flavor department; it's a nutritional powerhouse, too. According to Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, dark leafy greens contain a lot of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and prebiotic fiber. Here are some of the standouts:

  • Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone): Helps keep your bones strong and supports blood clotting. "Vitamin K1 has always been known as the 'coagulation' vitamin because it helps keep the body's blood-clotting mechanism functioning in a healthy manner," says cardiologist Joel Kahn, M.D.
  • Vitamin A: Contributes to skin, eye, and reproductive health and supports your immune system.
  • Vitamin C: Supports your immune system, helps maintain healthy blood pressure, and plays a role in brain health.
  • Fiber: Balances blood sugar, keeps you regular, supports gut health, and helps remove toxins and cholesterol from the body.
  • Calcium: Builds and maintains strong bones and keeps your heart, muscles, and nerves functioning properly.
  • Magnesium: Supports heart health, helps normalize blood sugar levels, and plays a big role in mood and calming your nervous system.
  • Potassium: Keeps the muscles, nerves, and heart functioning normally and keeps your digestion running smoothly.
  • Folate: Supports cellular health and is especially important for women who are trying to get pregnant.

Arugula is also loaded with antioxidants, like lutein and beta-carotene, and other beneficial nutrients like glucosinolates, which are the sulfur-containing compounds that give them their characteristic (read: stinky) smell.

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Benefits of arugula.

The vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in arugula come together to give arugula some serious health benefits, too.

1. Supports a healthy gut

The glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables like arugula are metabolized by bacteria in your gut and can ultimately promote or suppress their growth, depending on the species. In other words, the glucosinolates in arugula can help balance your gut microbiome, boosting numbers of good bacteria and starving out bad bacteria.

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2. Keeps your heart healthy

Cruciferous vegetables, and leafy greens, in particular, can help combat oxidative stress and support healthy heart function. They also increase nitric oxide, a natural vasodilator that relaxes your blood vessels and may help lower blood pressure. The fiber in arugula plays a role, too. "Fiber aids in the reduction of total and LDL cholesterol by binding to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and moving it out of circulation," registered dietitian and nutritionist Maya Feller, M.S., R.D., CDN, previously told mbg. "These actions reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes."

3. Contributes to strong bones

Arugula is a good source of vitamin K and calcium, two nutrients that play a synergistic role in bone health. Your body uses vitamin K and calcium to make proteins that provide the structure for your bones. A lack of either nutrient can contribute to low bone mineral density. On the flip side, meeting your daily needs for these nutrients can keep your bones strong.

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4. May slow cognitive decline

Because it's loaded with folate, nitrates, and antioxidants like lutein, arugula can also keep your mind sharp. According to a study published in Neurology in 2018, eating just one cup of leafy greens per day may significantly slow the cognitive decline that's often associated with aging.

5. Helps keep your vision sharp

The lutein in arugula can also protect your eyes and keep your vision sharp, by blocking the harmful effects of UV light and even potentially staving off age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness and vision problems.

As for how to optimize your absorption? Eat a dark, leafy green salad every day and don't be afraid of healthy fats: "We know that lutein is fat-soluble," Simon Hill, nutritionist and founder of Plant Proof, previously told mbg. "So when you're having that salad, some olive oil, avocado, or nuts and seeds on it is going to help you absorb those carotenoids."

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How to use it.

As with any leafy green, the possibilities for arugula are endless. You can keep it simple by making cold dishes, like a salad, a gut-healthy smoothie, or a sandwich with pear and arugula instead of lettuce leaves. If you want to heat things up, you can try this six-ingredient arugula stracciatella soup, a low-carb, nutrient-dense option that's quick and easy to make for a weeknight meal.

You can also stir it into pasta sauces or soup, saute it and serve with a protein like baked chicken or seared steak, and/or sprinkle it on top of a homemade pizza.

Pro tip: Massaging arugula with salad dressing or some olive oil and salt for five to 10 minutes before eating it raw can help cut down on the bitterness. When making a salad, you can also pair it with sweet or salty ingredients, like dried fruit or crumbled bacon, for the same palate-enhancing effect. 

The bottom line. 

If you're not working arugula into your diet, you're missing out. Not only is the bitter green packed with vitamins and minerals, but it's also loaded with antioxidants and sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates that have a ton of health benefits, from balancing your gut microbiome to keeping your mind sharp. From salads and smoothies to soups and homemade pizza, there are plenty of delicious ways to up your intake.

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