ABC’s of Greens: A is for Arugula

Arugula is bitter and a bit spicy. It certainly requires an acquired taste to actually like it, especially compared to the types of food most of us are used to consuming. But it’s been a staple for thousands of years in the Mediterranean, and it’s commonly used in Italian and French cuisine.

Arugula originates from the coastal Mediterranean, and It is suggested that arugula was a recommended bitter herb of Passover. In fact, in 2 Kings 4:39 when a man gathers herbs for a soup during famine, scholars suggest arugula is the actual herb he is intending to gather (based on the original wording of the text.) He actually finds something else (suggested to be certain squash leaves) that render the soup inedible and even poisonous. But Elisha calls for meal (flour), adds it to the pot, and miraculously cures the soup of the danger of causing illness or even death (representing Christ as the Bread of Life and our cure from the death of sin).

Traditionally,- arugula was known for its health properties. Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes bitter foods like arugula to be beneficial for the heart and small intestine. Pliny the Elder (Roman naturalist and scholar) and Dioscorides (ancient Greek Physician) recognized many healing qualities of arugula including healing the gut and vision. Pliny the Elder even recommended putting arugula on the eyes to improve vision.

And modern scientific research proves huge health benefits to arugula. Glucosinolate sulforaphane with gives cruciferous veggies (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, etc.) their pungent flavor is credited as one of the most powerful antioxidants known. Arugula has also been noted for its cancer fighting abilities. And one study found that water extracted from arugula leaves effectively combated one type of Ecoli and one type of Staphylococcus! Finding disease fighting and antimicrobial strength in natural foods is exciting, since the current medical field can only fight diseases with life-long medication, debilitating chemicals, and antibiotics that no longer work on many strands of bacteria.

All these health claims are not surprising considering arugula’s nutritional make up. In just 2 cups (about 40 grams) you get only 10 calories, but  you get 50 percent of your recommended vitamin K! And you get 19 percent (950 IUs) of your recommended vitamin A; 8 percent of recommended amounts of calcium, manganese, and vitamin C; and 4 percent for your daily potassium needs.

And if all of that nutrition in not enough to convince you to add arugula to your diet on a regular basis, consider that Pliny the Elder may have been right about arugula’s benefit to vision. While there are no official recommended amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, professionals recommend at least 10mg daily. These two powerful antioxidants are typically measured together, since they are usually found together. Just 2 cups of raw arugula boasts a whopping 1,422mg of letein and zeaxanthin, far exceeding any suggested daily dose!

These two carotenoids are proven to benefit eye health and are included in eye-health vitamins (but usually only 10mg of lutein and 2mg of zeaxanthin are included). Purchasing fresh organic arugula is cheaper than most eye vitamins, and you get the benefits of all the other nutrients too.

Further studies have shown that that our bodies use 20-30 different carotenoids, but of those, only lutein and zeaxanthin are used by the eye lenses and retina. Just 6 mg a day of lutein and zeaxanthin have shown decreased risk of macular degeneration. And, since research is now showing that macular degeneration is related to systemic inflammation, researchers are recognizing that lutein has benefits beyond just the localized disease of the macula. Furthermore. you probably already know about the risk of blue light damage to the eyes, well looks like lutein and zeaxanthin again come to rescue by absorbing excess blue light!

I’m all for some good nutritional supplements, but we need to consider that discovering and isolating nutrients in foods is new. Vitamins were not discovered until the 1920’s. So we don’t know what nutrients are in fresh raw foods that we are not even aware of yet. If we are getting most of our nutrition from supplements, we may be missing things when never knew we needed! I challenge you to get some arugula this week and start incorporating it into your diet. Add it to smoothies, toss it in a salad, or put it in a raw pesto. Enjoy!




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