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Watercress vs Spinach - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan by Arpi Gasparyan | Last updated on July 09, 2021
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Watercress
vs
Spinach

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, and yet spinach contains three times more carbs compared to watercress.

Spinach has two times more sugar and four times more dietary fiber than watercress.

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" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
:
Contains more Vitamin C +53%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +15.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +376.9%
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%
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%
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%
Contains more Vitamin C +53%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +15.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +376.9%
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%

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" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Contains more Calcium +21.2%
Contains more Phosphorus +22.4%
Contains less Sodium -48.1%
Contains more Iron +1255%
Contains more Magnesium +276.2%
Contains more Potassium +69.1%
Contains more Zinc +381.8%
Contains more Copper +68.8%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 36% 8% 15% 26% 30% 6% 3% 26%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 30% 102% 57% 22% 50% 11% 15% 44%
Contains more Calcium +21.2%
Contains more Phosphorus +22.4%
Contains less Sodium -48.1%
Contains more Iron +1255%
Contains more Magnesium +276.2%
Contains more Potassium +69.1%
Contains more Zinc +381.8%
Contains more Copper +68.8%

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 pH value can be anywhere from 5.38 making it acidic, to 7.18 making it alkaline or basic.

Watercress is acidic, with 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.

Spinach has the PRAL value of -11.8, while watercress has only -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

Health Benefits

As we already know, both spinach and watercress are rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, nitrates, fiber, and other compounds which play their roles inside the organism, mainly showing favorable impacts on health.

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

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) (19).

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33058989/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5412236/
  3. https://healthonline.washington.edu/sites/default/files/record_pdfs/Glycemic-Index.pdf
  4. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/eating-well/diabetes-superfoods
  5. pH values of foods and food products
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
  7. Green Leafy Vegetables for Weight Loss: The Role of Thylakoids in Suppressing Appetite
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986475/
  9. https://academic.oup.com/cardiovascres/article/89/3/525/324945#89212093
  10. https://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c4229
  11. https://www.zoelho.be/ZoelhoFR/Publish/Magn_diabetes.pdf
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212267214001075
  13. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/119/1/116/4739004
  14. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/12/3303/4686314
  15. Food and Cancer Risk
  16. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284434003
  17. http://bones.ame.nd.edu/factsheet1.pdf
  18. https://fitingredients.de/material_html/luteinesterI_2007.pdf
  19. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-Consumer/
Article author photo Arpi Gasparyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: July 09, 2021

Infographic

Watercress vs Spinach infographic
Infographic link

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Watercress Spinach
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 Watercress Spinach Opinion
Net carbs 0.79g 1.43g Spinach
Protein 2.3g 2.86g Spinach
Fats 0.1g 0.39g Spinach
Carbs 1.29g 3.63g Spinach
Calories 11kcal 23kcal Spinach
Starch g g
Fructose g 0.15g Spinach
Sugar 0.2g 0.42g Watercress
Fiber 0.5g 2.2g Spinach
Calcium 120mg 99mg Watercress
Iron 0.2mg 2.71mg Spinach
Magnesium 21mg 79mg Spinach
Phosphorus 60mg 49mg Watercress
Potassium 330mg 558mg Spinach
Sodium 41mg 79mg Watercress
Zinc 0.11mg 0.53mg Spinach
Copper 0.077mg 0.13mg Spinach
Vitamin A 3191IU 9377IU Spinach
Vitamin E 1mg 2.03mg Spinach
Vitamin D 0IU 0IU
Vitamin D 0µg 0µg
Vitamin C 43mg 28.1mg Watercress
Vitamin B1 0.09mg 0.078mg Watercress
Vitamin B2 0.12mg 0.189mg Spinach
Vitamin B3 0.2mg 0.724mg Spinach
Vitamin B5 0.31mg 0.065mg Watercress
Vitamin B6 0.129mg 0.195mg Spinach
Folate 9µg 194µg Spinach
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin K 250µg 482.9µg Spinach
Tryptophan 0.03mg 0.039mg Spinach
Threonine 0.133mg 0.122mg Watercress
Isoleucine 0.093mg 0.147mg Spinach
Leucine 0.166mg 0.223mg Spinach
Lysine 0.134mg 0.174mg Spinach
Methionine 0.02mg 0.053mg Spinach
Phenylalanine 0.114mg 0.129mg Spinach
Valine 0.137mg 0.161mg Spinach
Histidine 0.04mg 0.064mg Spinach
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
Trans Fat 0g 0g
Saturated Fat 0.027g 0.063g Watercress
Monounsaturated Fat 0.008g 0.01g Spinach
Polyunsaturated fat 0.035g 0.165g Spinach

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Watercress Spinach
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low glycemic index diet Equal

People also compare

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
91
Watercress
181
Spinach
Mineral Summary Score
18
Watercress
41
Spinach

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
14%
Watercress
17%
Spinach
Carbohydrates
1%
Watercress
4%
Spinach
Fats
0%
Watercress
2%
Spinach

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
Spinach is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Spinach
Spinach 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

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

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