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Arugula, nutrition, benefits and risks

What are the benefits of Arugula?

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First published: 25.Nov.2023

Overview: Is Arugula a Superfood?

Arugula (Rocket in the UK) is a leafy vegetable, member of the cruciferous plants and therefore a "cousin" of broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower.

It is a healthy ingredient with a distinct peppery flavor that you can add to salads, toppings for pizzas and sandwiches; it is ideal for tortillas, omelettes and pasta and soups.
Arugula is a low calorie food packed with fiber, vitamin K, and bioactive phytochemicals that provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and chemoprotective effects.

In this article will review its properties, bioactive components, how to add it to your diet, and its benefits (cancer prevention, heart protection, bone health, and more), as well as its potential risks and side effects.

In this Article (Index)

arugula leaves on a white chopping board
Arugula a healthy ingredient for your meals. Source

What is Arugula?

Arugula or Eruca sativa is a leafy salad crop that grew in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean sea.

The Latin name for the plant is eruca, and it means "caterpillar", its diminutive in Italian is rucola and ruchetta, leading to the French roquette, and English rocket; the Southern Italian version of rucola is arugula, and as such was adopted in America.

Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, and like the other members of this group that includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, watercress, and wasabi (read more about cruciferous veggies), it has some interesting health benefits.

Historic Medical Uses

Greek pharmacologist, botanist and physician Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40–90 AD) is known as "the father of pharmacognosy." He wrote about aloe in his medical encyclopedia De materia medica (1) describing its properties as follows: "Eaten raw in any great amount this encourages the pursuit of sexual pleasure [aphrodisiac], and the seed has a similar effect - also being diuretic, digestive and good for the bowels. They use the seed in making saucesso that it may last longer... Wild ezymum grows as well especially in Iberia towards the west, the seed of which the men there use instead of mustard... The Romans call it eruca, the Egyptians, ethrekicen, and the Africans, asuric".

Pliny the Elder (c.23-79 AD) (2) also mentions arugula's medical properties, that range from an antidote for scorpion venom to a freckle remover. He states that "So agreeable is its flavour as a savouring for food, that the Greeks have given it the name of "euzomon."... As to the properties of rocket as an aphrodisiac, we have mentioned them already. Three leaves of wild rocket plucked with the left hand, beaten up in hydromel, and then taken in drink, are productive of a similar effect." The Greek word euzomon means "good for sauces".

Nutrition Facts

The USDA provides the following nutrition facts for 100 g of arugula (this is roughly 5 cups of raw leaves) (4):













Total Fat






Fiber (total)



Sugars (total)



Calcium (Ca)



Iron (Fe)



Magnesium (Mg)



Phosphorus (P)



Potassium (K)



Sodium (Na)



Zinc (Zn)



Copper (Cu)



Manganese (Mn)



Selenium (Se)

0.3 μg


Vitamin C



Vitamin B1



Vitamin B2



Vitamin B3



Vitamin B5



Vitamin B6



Folate (total)









Vitamin A



Vitamin E



Vitamin K



Arugula does not contain vitamin B12, lycopene, vitamin D2 or D3 or trans fatty acids.

Adding Arugula to your Diet

Arugula's dark green leaves with a distinct peppery taste can be used in many dishes besides the usual salad. Below are some tips on adding arugula to your balanced diet:

  • Salads: combine it with tomatoes, feta cheese, olives and dress it with fragrant olive oil for a Mediterranean Salad. Mix it with other greens like lettuce, or spinach; add nuts and pumpkin seeds for a crunchy feeling. Try arugula as a base, add mozzarella or blue cheese and slightly grilled peaches (or mango!) Try arugula, figs and goat cheese.
  • Pesto: replace basil with arugula and use a food processor to blend it with pine nuts, olive oil, parmesan cheese and a dash of lemon juice, you can add garlic if you fancy. Pesto goes well with pasta, or spread on toast or a slice of bread to add extra flavor to a sandwich.
  • Pizza topping: arugula adds a touch of fresh peppery taste to your pizza. Sprinkle leaves (remove the stems) on top of the cheese and cook for a couple of minutes before taking it out of the oven. Drizzle olive oil to enhance its flavor.
  • Sandwiches, quesadillas and wraps: arugula can replace lettuce, and combines well with grilled eggplant, zucchini (for vegans) or chicken, salmon or grilled cheese.
  • Spice up many dishes!: stir some fresh leaves into your pasta, add parmesan and olive oil. Chop and add it to your scrambled eggs, omelet or soup. ITt can be sauteed, blanched with boiling water (for one minute), blended fresh or cooked into a creamy sauce.
  • Smoothies: blend it into your smoothie it will add some spice to it.
arugula leaves topping two slices of toast with cream cheese spread and pepper
Arugula as a topping for toast

Chose fresh, firm, dark green leaves, skip the wilted ones. Store it immediately in your refrigerator without washing it -it will last longer. If it is packed in a plastic bag, make some small holes in it so that it can "breathe". You can place it in a sealed plastic container with a paper towel to soak up any extra humidity. Change the paper towel daily.

Chemicals and bioactive compounds in arugula

Most plants including arugula have developed chemicals to fend off pests and animals that eat them. Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable and like other members of this group that includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, watercress, and wasabi (read more about cruciferous veggies) it is packed with sulfur-containing chemical compounds known as glucosinolates (GSLs) that give it its bitter spicy flavor and strong aroma (3).
It also includes other potent bioactive compounds. Below we look into each of them:


Glucosinolates or GSLs are sulphur and nitrogen containing bioactive compound that are not toxic and is found in plant tissues, when the tissues are broken by insects eating them, GSLs combin with an enzyme called myrosinase that breaks it down into isothiocyanates (ITCs) or mustard oils, and various other compounds that are toxic to plant-eating insects. In humans, ITCs like sulforaphane and other byproducts like indole-3-carbinol have been studied for theirpotential anticarcinogenic activity and other health benefits (3).


Arugula contains several flavonols, products that protect plants from UV-radiation damage. Among the major flavonols found in arugula, are quercetin which provides strong and prolonged anti-inflammatory effects, kaempferol which blocks the formation of fatty tissue, and isorhamnetin glycosides, that have antitumoral effects.


Produced when GSLs are chewed or crushed, these ITCs found in arugula, like sulforaphane (SF) and erucin have anti-inflammatory effects as well as chemopreventive and anticancer activity. Furthermore eating arugula could help prevent cancer: "the presence of significant amounts of SF in rocket, means that such mechanisms could also be applicable to its ingestion " (3).

Risks and side effects

Vitamin K and Wafarin

A portion of 100 g of arugula contains 109 mcg of Vitamin K, approximately the full recommended daily allowance for adult man (120 mcg) and women (90 mcg). This means that people who use blood-thinners (e.g. wafarin) should check with their health provider before making any big changes in their diet and incoporating argula, as Vitamin K plays an important part in blood coagulation.

Nitrates and Nitrites, the risks of nitrogen compounds

Cancer Risk due to nitrosamines

Nitrogen, a gas that makes up roughly 78% of the atmosphere, plays a crucial role in our lives, it is a key component of aminoacids, proteins, ARN and DNA. Plants obtain their nitrogen from bacteria that fix it in the soil as nitrite (NO2-) and nitrate (NO3-) ions and they build protein and nucleic acids with them.

Plants store excess nitrate in vacuoles, organelles inside their cells. In the case of green leaves, the concentration of nitrate varies with the photosynthetic cycles: in the case of arugula, leaves grown in winter or cloudy days have higher concentrations of nitrate than those that grow in summer and sunny days.

One health concern is that nitrate can react with a type of amines known as secondary amines and form compounds known as nitrosamines that have mutagenic and carcinogenic effects on laboratory animals.

The effect of dietary nitrosamines on humans is still uncertain and many studies have rejected a correlation between nitrate in food and cancer. (5).

The EFSA assessed the risk of nitrosamines in food (2023) (7) and found nitrosamines in cured meat products, processed fish, beer and other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, cheese, soy sauce, oils, and processed vegetables. Cooking produces and increases the levels of nitrosamines. The study also found that "vegetarians" had a lower exposure than all other population groups. It also reported that it found no occurrence data in the literature regarding nitrosamines in fruit, vegetables, starchy roots, tubers and grains.

Daily Intake Recommendations

The World Health Organization (WHO) set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of nitrate in 3.7 mg⁄kg of body weight per day and of nitrite in 0.07 mg⁄kg; meaning that a person weighing 200 lb. (90 kg) can eat roughly 333 mg of nitrate, equivalent to around 50 g of arugula (9).
The European Commission Regulation (EC) N° 1258 ⁄ 2011 defined thresholds for arugula as follows: nitrate content below 6000 mg kg⁄kg of product in summer-grown leaves and 7000 mg⁄kg for winter-grown arugula.

A point to consider is that the antioxidant flavonoids and vitamin C found in vegetables and fruit inhibit nitrosamine formation, while heme iron found in red meat promotes nitrosamine production (8).

The benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, owing to their content of flavonoids and other nutrients may therefore mitigate the potential harmful effects of gastric formation of N-nitroso compounds. Keller et al., (2020) (8)

Take-home point

The health benefits of eating leafy vegetables like arugula far outweigh the risks.

Other risks

Nitrate-rich foods may interact with medicine used to treat heart conditions so check with your healthcare provider before any dietary changes.

Nitrite and nitrate can react with hemoglobin in the blood to form a compound that is unable to carry oxygen in the blood causing a syndrome known as methaemoglobinaemia or "blue baby syndrome." It is dangerous for babies up to 3 months old, but can also affect children and adults.(5).

Arugula Health Benefits

Bone Health

Two cups (50 g) of arugula contain roughly 80 mg of calcium that is about 8% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an adult. It is a natural way to incorporate calcium to your diet and protect your teeth, bones (and muscles) in good shape. Those two cups contain roughly 50% of the RDA for vitamin K, that plays a key role in bone growth and in combination with calcium "[has] been linked to bone mineral density " (10).

Cancer prevention

The chemicals and bioactive compounds in arugula like sulforaphane (SF) and erucin have chemopreventive and anticancer activity (11).

Cruciferous Veggies and Cancer Prevention

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) (11) confirms that phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables (arugula is a member of this group) "have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach."

The NCI reported that animal studies and tests involving cell cultures have identifed possible paths by which these plant-chemicals may help prevent cancer:

  • Antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.
  • They have DNA-protecting effect.
  • They inactivate carcinogenic compounds.
  • They kill tumoral cells (apoptosis).
  • They prevent cancer cell migration (stopping metastasis) and inhibit the formation on blood vessels that nourish the tumors.

What are cruciferous vegetables?

Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica genus of plants. And their name "Cruciferae" comes from Latin and it means "cross-bearing" due to the cross-shaped flowers, with four petals.

There are many vegetables belonging to the cruciferous group:

  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Rapeseeds
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Turnips
  • Watercress
  • Wasabi

Arugula as an aid in digestion and intestinal issues


Like most members of the Brassicaceae family argula has a high content of dietary fiber, mostly insoluble fiber, the kind that is not digested by the bacteria in your gut.

Leafy vegetables with high content of fiber and water act as bulking agents and can contribute to reduce the risk of constipation.

A study conducted in 2015 (13) concluded that "Water consumption from food was significantly higher in those with no constipation suggesting that consumption of water in food may be a significant factor in ensuring adequate water needs".

Food with a high content of water includes fruit and vegetables, like arugula.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's disease

Diets with a high fiber content may be beneficial for people suffering from Crohn’s disease. And those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome can incorporate arugula into their diet, as it is included in the low fermentable carbohydrates foods in the vegetables group.

Arugula is rich in folate (100 g covers 24% of the RDA), and this may help prevent digestive problems: "folate deficiency may produce gastrointestinal alterations ... and its bioavailability is mainly dependent from the correct function of our gastrointestinal tract" (14).

Heart Disease

The presence of nutrients and phytochemicals such as flavonols (Quercetin and Kaemfperol), high dietary fiber, carotenoids, vitamin K, potassium and magnesium, and bioactive plant chemicals such as nitrate and organosulfur compounds "are associated with benefits on cardiovascular health" (15).

Further down we will mention Nitrates & Nitrites Positive Health Effects, but here we must point out that leafy green and cruciferous vegetables are anti-inflammatory, and have antioxidant properties.
The organosulfur compounds like Glucosinolates, may prevent the aggregation of blood cells called platelets, that can clog blood vessels; this complements nitric oxide's effects that increase localized blood flow and prevent platelet adhesion to the walls of blood vessels (15).

Positive Effects of Arugula's Nitrogen compounds

Roughly 80% of dietary nitrates are obtained from vegetables and the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that the benefits provided by eating vegetables outweigh the disadvantages (5):

  • Some nitrosamines and nitric oxide (NO) have antimicrobial properties against Salmonella and Yersinia.
  • Nitric oxide compounds"have vasodilating and tissue-protective properties as well as modulator activities on platelet, gastrointestinal motility and microcirculation...Finally, nitrate and nitrites as well as NO compounds are important in the regulation of vascular tone and blood pressure in both health and disease states."

Arugula leaves increase nitrate and nitrite levesl in blood plasma and help reduce blood pressure significantly (3).

A study that analized healthy diets found that the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet exceeds the World Health Organization’s Acceptable Daily Intake for nitrate by 550% for a 60-kg adult yet provides blood pressure lowering effects, the team concluded that "these data call into question the rationale for recommendations to limit nitrate and nitrite consumption from plant foods... The strength of the evidence linking the consumption of nitrate- and nitrite-containing plant foods to beneficial health effects supports the consideration of these compounds as nutrients" (6).

Closing Comments

Arugula is a healthy food that provides many antioxidants, and nutrients with low calories and plenty of fiber.

It can be added to many dishes as a topping, and to salads, fresh. It has health promoting phytochemicals that have benefits for your heart, cancer prevention, bone health and digestive wellness.

References and Further Reading

(1) Pedanius Discorides. Arugula. De Materia Medica.

(2) Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855

(3) Bell L, Wagstaff C., (2019). Rocket science: A review of phytochemical & health-related research in Eruca & Diplotaxis species. Food Chem X. 2019 Mar 30;1:100002. doi: 10.1016/j.fochx.2018.100002

(4) United States Department of Agriculture. Nutrition Arugula. Accessed 27 Nov. 2023

(5) Cavaiuolo M, Ferrante A. , (2014). Nitrates and glucosinolates as strong determinants of the nutritional quality in rocket leafy salads. Nutrients. 2014 Apr 14;6(4):1519-38. doi: 10.3390/nu6041519. PMID: 24736897

(6) Norman G Hord, Yaoping Tang, Nathan S Bryan, (2009). Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 90:1 p1-10, ISSN 0002-9165,

(7) EFSA CONTAM Panel (EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain), Schrenk, D, Bignami, M, Bodin, L, Chipman, JK, del Mazo, J, Hogstrand, C, Hoogenboom, L, Leblanc, J-C, Nebbia, CS, Nielsen, E, Ntzani, E, Petersen, A, Sand, S, Schwerdtle, T, Vleminckx, C, Wallace, H, Romualdo, B, Fortes, C, Hecht, S, Iammarino, M, Mosbach-Schulz, O, Riolo, F, Christodoulidou, A and Grasl-Kraupp, B, (2023). Scientific Opinion on the risk assessment of N-nitrosamines in food. EFSA Journal 2023; 21(3):7884, 278 pp.

(8) Keller, Rosa M., Beaver, Laura, Prater, M. Catherine; Hord, Norman G., (2020). Dietary Nitrate and Nitrite Concentrations in Food Patterns and Dietary Supplements. Nutrition Today 55(5):p 218-226, 9/10 2020. DOI: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000253

(9) Brkic D, Bosnir J, Bevardi M, Boskovic AG, Milos S, Lasic D, Krivohlavek A, Racz A, Cuic AM, Trstenjak NU, (2017). Nitrate in leafy green vegetables and estimated intake. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2017 Mar 1;14(3):31-41. doi: 10.21010/ajtcam.v14i3.4. PMID: 28480414

(10) Hu, L., Ji, J., Li, D. et al., (2021). The combined effect of vitamin K and calcium on bone mineral density in humans: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Orthop Surg Res 16, 592 (2021).

(11) Azarenko O, Jordan MA, Wilson L., (2014). Erucin, the major isothiocyanate in arugula (Eruca sativa), inhibits proliferation of MCF7 tumor cells by suppressing microtubule dynamics. PLoS One. 2014 Jun 20;9(6):e100599. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100599. PMID: 24950293

(12) National Cancer Institute, (2011). Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. Reviewed: June 7, 2012, accessed Nov. 26, 2023

(13) Tsindos, P. S., Itsiopoulos, C. and Kouris-Blazos, A., (2015). Investigation into water consumption and its influence on depression, memory problems and constipation in older persons, Journal of aging research & clinical practice, vol. 4:3 137-143, DOI: 10.14283/jarcp.2015.65

(14) Ponziani FR, Cazzato IA, Danese S, Fagiuoli S, Gionchetti P, Annicchiarico BE, D'Aversa F, Gasbarrini A., (2012). Folate in gastrointestinal health and disease. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2012 Mar;16(3):376-85. PMID: 22530356

(15) Blekkenhorst LC, Sim M, Bondonno CP, Bondonno NP, Ward NC, Prince RL, Devine A, Lewis JR, Hodgson JM., (2018). Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Specific Vegetable Types: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2018 May 11;10(5):595. doi: 10.3390/nu10050595. PMID: 29751617

About this Article

Arugula, nutrition, benefits and Risks, A. Whittall

©2023, 25 Nov. 2023. Update scheduled for 25 Nov. 2025.

Tags: arugula, cancer, heart, Crohn's disease, IBD, antioxidants, fiber, constipation, diet, nitrates and nitrites, food.

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