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Watercress vs. Spinach — Nutrition Comparison and Health Impact

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Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan by Arpi Gasparyan | Last updated on July 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by Igor Bussel Article author photo Igor Bussel
Spinach raw
vs
Watercress

Summary

Spinach contains four times more dietary fiber than watercress.

Spinach contains 21.5 times more folate, five times more zinc, and 15 times more iron. It is also richer in most of the B complex vitamins, vitamins A, E, and K, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper. Notably, watercress is five times richer in vitamin B5, as well as vitamins C and B1, calcium, and phosphorus.

Spinach has been known worldwide for centuries; therefore, its health effects are well studied.

Introduction

Leafy green vegetables or leafy greens, salad greens, or simply greens are well known for their beneficial health impact on our bodies. Besides introducing the main nutritional differences between spinach and watercress, this article will also provide information about their impact on host health.

Classification

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) belongs to the Spinacia genus, Chenopodioideae subfamily, and Amaranthaceae family. Most species in this family are annual or perennial herbs or subshrubs.

Watercress or yellowcress (Nasturtium officinale) belongs to the Nasturtium genus and the Brassicaceae family. Brassicaceae or Cruciferae is commonly known as the mustard, the crucifer, or the cabbage family. Most plants in this family are herbaceous plants, and some are shrubs.

Appearance

Spinach has simple, ovate to triangular leaves that vary in size.

Watercress is regarded as a weed in some regions and an aquatic vegetable or herb in others. It has pinnately compound leaves.

Taste and Use

Spinach is mainly said to be originated from ancient Persia and was known as a Persian vegetable. It is used both raw, in salads and burgers, and sauteed as a side dish.

Watercress was first cultivated in the United Kingdom. It is best eaten raw as it loses a proportion of its health benefits when cooked. However, it’s still a useful ingredient in cooked dishes, such as soups, stews, and stir-fries.

Raw spinach has a mild, slightly sweet taste and is more acidic and robust when cooked. Watercress has a pungent, spicy, and peppery taste.

Varieties

Spinach is divided into three main types: savoy, semi-savoy and flat-leafed. Savoy spinach has very wrinkled leaves that grow pretty low and take the cold better than the other types of spinach. Its popular varieties are Bloomsdale and Regiment.

Semi-savoy spinach grows more upright than savoy spinach; therefore, it stands up a bit straight. Its leaves are much less wrinkled, which makes washing them easier. It is also disease and bolt-resistant. Indian summer, Tyee, Catalina belong to this type.

The smooth-leafed spinach has a smooth surface that makes it pretty easy to clean. This spinach is usually sold canned or frozen; nonetheless, it can be sold fresh too. Space spinach and Red Carnival belong to the flat-leafed spinach.

There are also alternative spinach varieties such as New Zealand and Malabar spinach.

In addition to traditional watercress, there are similar plant species that have a bit different flavor and texture. Garden Cress (Lepidium sativum) has a spicier flavor, like horseradish. Upland Cress (Barbarea verna) has thinner stems and a more delicate flavor, while Korean Watercress is more bitter and crunchy.

Nutrition

The nutritional values are presented for raw spinach and raw watercress.

Macronutrients and Calories

Spinach and watercress have very similar nutritional contents. Spinach contains a little bit more protein and carbohydrates.

Both spinach and watercress consist of 94% water, spinach being only a little denser in nutrients.

The average serving size of spinach and watercress is one cup, equal to 30g for spinach and 34g for watercress.

Calories

Both spinach and watercress are low-calorie foods.

A 100g serving of spinach provides 23 calories, and watercress provides only half of that.

Protein and Fats

Leafy vegetables are not generally rich in macronutrients, yet spinach is slightly richer in proteins.

Both vegetables contain some amounts of all essential amino acids, making their protein quality high.

Spinach and watercress are very low in fats, spinach being only slightly higher in fats.

The predominant fats are polyunsaturated fats, which are considered to be healthy.

There is no cholesterol in these vegetables.

Carbohydrates

As said before, they are not particularly rich in carbs; however, spinach contains three times more total carbs and four times more dietary fiber: spinach contains 3.63g of carbs (from which 2.2g is fiber), whereas watercress contains 1.29g (from which 0.5g is fiber).

Vitamins

Vitamin content difference in these vegetables is vast. Spinach contains 21.5 times more folate or vitamin B9, three times more vitamins A and B3, whereas watercress has almost five times more vitamin B5.

Watercress has more vitamins B1 and C, while spinach has higher levels of vitamins B2, B3, B6, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

Both spinach and watercress are absent in vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
:
Contains more Vitamin A +193.9%
Contains more Vitamin E +103%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +57.5%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +262%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +51.2%
Contains more Folate +2055.6%
Contains more Vitamin K +93.2%
Contains more Vitamin C +53%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +15.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +376.9%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 563% 41% 0% 94% 20% 44% 14% 4% 45% 146% 0% 1208%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 192% 20% 0% 144% 23% 28% 4% 19% 30% 7% 0% 625%
Contains more Vitamin A +193.9%
Contains more Vitamin E +103%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +57.5%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +262%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +51.2%
Contains more Folate +2055.6%
Contains more Vitamin K +93.2%
Contains more Vitamin C +53%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +15.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +376.9%

Minerals

Spinach is richer not only in vitamins but in minerals as well.

Spinach has 15 times more iron, five times more zinc, and nearly four times more magnesium than watercress.

Spinach is also richer in potassium, copper and contains higher levels of sodium.

Watercress contains more calcium and phosphorus.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Contains more Iron +1255%
Contains more Magnesium +276.2%
Contains more Potassium +69.1%
Contains more Zinc +381.8%
Contains more Copper +68.8%
Contains more Manganese +267.6%
Contains more Selenium +11.1%
Contains more Calcium +21.2%
Contains more Phosphorus +22.4%
Contains less Sodium -48.1%
Equal in Selenium - 0.9
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 30% 102% 57% 22% 50% 11% 15% 44% 117% 6%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 36% 8% 15% 26% 30% 6% 3% 26% 32% 5%
Contains more Iron +1255%
Contains more Magnesium +276.2%
Contains more Potassium +69.1%
Contains more Zinc +381.8%
Contains more Copper +68.8%
Contains more Manganese +267.6%
Contains more Selenium +11.1%
Contains more Calcium +21.2%
Contains more Phosphorus +22.4%
Contains less Sodium -48.1%
Equal in Selenium - 0.9

Nitrates

Leafy green foods are a rich source of inorganic nitrate. Nitrates stimulate the production of nitric oxide that regulates muscle blood flow and participates in mitochondrial respiration.

Spinach is over two times richer in nitrates compared to watercress (1).

Depending on the season, the nitrate content differs. According to studies, the nitrate content of leafy greens is higher in autumn (2).

Glycemic Index

Spinach and watercress are non-starchy dark green leafy vegetables with low glycemic index values (3).

Dark green leafy vegetables are considered to be superfoods or powerhouse foods. Due to having a low glycemic index, they are good for patients with diabetes. (4).

Acidity

Spinach's pH value can be anywhere from 5.38 to 7.18.

Watercress has a pH value ranging between 5.88 to 6.18 (5).

The pH values can change depending on the greens’ growing conditions and processing methods.

The PRAL (potential renal acid load) value is another way of looking at the acidity of the foods based on how much acid is produced in the organism from the given food.

The PRAL value of spinach is -11.8, while the PRAL value of watercress is -5.7. The more negative PRAL value of spinach shows that it’s more base-producing.

Weight Loss & Diets

A 100g serving of spinach provides 23 calories, while watercress provides 11 calories, making it a better choice for low-calorie diets. Between these two, watercress is also a better choice for low-carb and low-fat diets.

Both greens are low in carbs, fats, and calories, making them a great choice for weight loss diets, such as keto, Atkins, and Mediterranean diets.

Non-starchy greens are also part of the “Cruise” and “Consolidation” phases of the Dukan Diet.

Leafy green vegetables are consumed during the anti-inflammatory diet. They are high in natural antioxidants, polyphenols, carotenoids, and vitamins, which protect cells from free-radical damage and reduce inflammation (6).

Structures found in plants named thylakoids are shown to reduce appetite and help in the weight loss journey. The mechanisms behind these effects are thylakoids increasing and reducing levels of some hormones related to the appetite and desire to eat and preventing a drop in blood sugar after meals, helping you feel full for longer (7).

Health Impact

Both spinach and watercress are rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, nitrates, fiber, and other compounds, mainly showing favorable impacts on health.

Health Benefits

Cardiovascular Health

Many studies have reported inverse associations of leafy green vegetables with cardiovascular disease outcomes. Increasing the intake of leafy greens may provide significant cardiovascular health benefits due to the number of nutrients and phytochemicals they contain (8).

Inorganic dietary nitrate from the greens is converted to nitrite and NO in vivo. The NO leads to the widening of blood vessels and lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressures, thus fighting against hypertension. NO also has protective effects on the heart by attenuating cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis (9).

Diabetes

Several studies have shown that increasing the daily intake of leafy vegetables could significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes due to its high concentrations of β carotene and vitamin C, both of which confer antioxidant properties (10).

The low glycemic index and high magnesium level are also effective in preventing and treating type 2 diabetes. High magnesium lowers glucose intolerance and insulin resistance (11).

There is limited data on the influence of vegetable consumption on obesity and metabolic health. Consumption of greens is associated with positive metabolic outcomes, including reduced visceral and liver fat (12).

Cancer

Prospective and retrospective studies suggest that carotenoids may reduce the risk of certain cancers. The low intake of carotenoids is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (13).

Xanthophyll carotenoids were found to reduce cell viability through apoptosis (cell death) induction in the human prostate cancer cells (14).

Dietary fiber also has its role here. It helps to keep the microbiome (community of microbes living in the digestive tract) healthy, and a healthy microbiome has been linked with a lower risk of cancer (15).

Vitamins as well partake in lowering the risks of cancer; for example, people with low folate levels have a higher risk of breast, pancreatic, and colon cancer (15).

Bone health

More than half of the women in menopausal transition or postmenopausal age have the risk of osteoporosis, which can be diagnosed after sudden and unexpected bone fractures.

Due to their high magnesium, calcium, and vitamin K levels, leafy greens help prevent the disease by maintaining normal storage levels of those minerals (16, 17).

Ocular health

Carotenoids from green vegetables, mainly lutein and zeaxanthin, play a major role in eye health. They show antioxidant effects and absorb near-to-UV blue light (18).

Consumption of leafy greens lowers the chances of eye diseases, such as night blindness and age-related macular degeneration, and reduces the chances of eye cancer.

Downsides and Risks

Kidney Stones

Spinach is one of the highest oxalate-containing foods: 755mg in 1/2 cup (15g). Similarly, watercress also has a high oxalate content, but its level is not dangerously high.

High oxalate is the primary cause of kidney stone formation, and people with kidney stones or at high risk of kidney stones should exclude spinach from their diets and lower the level of consumed watercress (19, 20, 21).

Vitamin K and Drugs

A relatively high amount of vitamin K can be found in leafy greens. Vitamin K participates in coagulation (blood clotting), while Warfarin (Coumadin) does the exact opposite - it makes your blood clot more slowly. Therefore, some researchers suggest if you take warfarin, to make sure that consumed vitamin K is about the same every day. There’s a risk of bleeding (if you consume less) or making blood clots (if you consume more) (22).

Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: July 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by Igor Bussel

Infographic

Spinach raw vs Watercress infographic
Infographic link

Macronutrient Comparison

Macronutrient breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Protein +24.3%
Contains more Fats +290%
Contains more Carbs +181.4%
Contains more Other +43.3%
Equal in Water - 95.11
3% 4% 91% 2%
Protein: 2.86 g
Fats: 0.39 g
Carbs: 3.63 g
Water: 91.4 g
Other: 1.72 g
2% 95%
Protein: 2.3 g
Fats: 0.1 g
Carbs: 1.29 g
Water: 95.11 g
Other: 1.2 g
Contains more Protein +24.3%
Contains more Fats +290%
Contains more Carbs +181.4%
Contains more Other +43.3%
Equal in Water - 95.11

Fat Type Comparison

Fat type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +25%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +371.4%
Contains less Saturated Fat -57.1%
26% 4% 69%
Saturated Fat: 0.063 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.165 g
39% 11% 50%
Saturated Fat: 0.027 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.008 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.035 g
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +25%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +371.4%
Contains less Saturated Fat -57.1%

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the rightmost column. It displays the amounts side by side, giving a clearer understanding of the difference.
Spinach raw Watercress
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in minerals ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in Glycemic Index Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Spinach raw Watercress Opinion
Net carbs 1.43g 0.79g Spinach raw
Protein 2.86g 2.3g Spinach raw
Fats 0.39g 0.1g Spinach raw
Carbs 3.63g 1.29g Spinach raw
Calories 23kcal 11kcal Spinach raw
Fructose 0.15g Spinach raw
Sugar 0.42g 0.2g Watercress
Fiber 2.2g 0.5g Spinach raw
Calcium 99mg 120mg Watercress
Iron 2.71mg 0.2mg Spinach raw
Magnesium 79mg 21mg Spinach raw
Phosphorus 49mg 60mg Watercress
Potassium 558mg 330mg Spinach raw
Sodium 79mg 41mg Watercress
Zinc 0.53mg 0.11mg Spinach raw
Copper 0.13mg 0.077mg Spinach raw
Manganese 0.897mg 0.244mg Spinach raw
Selenium 1µg 0.9µg Spinach raw
Vitamin A 9377IU 3191IU Spinach raw
Vitamin A RAE 469µg 160µg Spinach raw
Vitamin E 2.03mg 1mg Spinach raw
Vitamin C 28.1mg 43mg Watercress
Vitamin B1 0.078mg 0.09mg Watercress
Vitamin B2 0.189mg 0.12mg Spinach raw
Vitamin B3 0.724mg 0.2mg Spinach raw
Vitamin B5 0.065mg 0.31mg Watercress
Vitamin B6 0.195mg 0.129mg Spinach raw
Folate 194µg 9µg Spinach raw
Vitamin K 482.9µg 250µg Spinach raw
Tryptophan 0.039mg 0.03mg Spinach raw
Threonine 0.122mg 0.133mg Watercress
Isoleucine 0.147mg 0.093mg Spinach raw
Leucine 0.223mg 0.166mg Spinach raw
Lysine 0.174mg 0.134mg Spinach raw
Methionine 0.053mg 0.02mg Spinach raw
Phenylalanine 0.129mg 0.114mg Spinach raw
Valine 0.161mg 0.137mg Spinach raw
Histidine 0.064mg 0.04mg Spinach raw
Saturated Fat 0.063g 0.027g Watercress
Monounsaturated Fat 0.01g 0.008g Spinach raw
Polyunsaturated fat 0.165g 0.035g Spinach raw

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Spinach raw Watercress
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low Glycemic Index diet Equal

Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score

The summary scores indicate the extent to which this food can fulfill your daily vitamin and mineral requirements if you consume 3 servings, consisting of 100 grams of each (an approximation of 3 serving sizes).
Vitamins Daily Need Coverage Score
181%
Spinach raw
91%
Watercress
Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
45%
Spinach raw
18%
Watercress

Comparison summary

Which food is lower in Sugar?
Watercress
Watercress is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.22g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Watercress
Watercress contains less Sodium (difference - 38mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Watercress
Watercress is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.036g)
Which food is cheaper?
Watercress
Watercress is cheaper (difference - $0.2)
Which food is richer in minerals?
Spinach raw
Spinach raw is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Spinach raw
Spinach raw is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
?
The foods have equal glycemic indexes (32)

References

All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Spinach raw - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168462/nutrients
  2. Watercress - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170068/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.