Probably the leafiest and greenest of the leafy greens, lettuce is ‘The King’ when it comes to packing a punch of antioxidants and vitamins, which is why it is the second most popular vegetable in the US.
But there is more to it that one must know. And hence this leafy, but not lengthy, post. Keep reading.
Table Of Contents
- What Is Lettuce?
- What Is The History Of Lettuce?
- What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Lettuce?
- What Are The Benefits Of Lettuce?
- What Are The Different Types Of Lettuce?
- Romaine Lettuce Vs. Iceberg Lettuce
- How Do We Select And Store Lettuce?
- Any Tips On Usage?
- Any Popular Recipes Using Lettuce?
- Any Interesting Facts About Lettuce?
- Any Side Effects Of Lettuce We Should Know?
What Is Lettuce?
Scientifically called Lactuva sativa, lettuce is an annual plant that belongs to the family Asteraceae. This vegetable is often used in salads and other kinds of foods like sandwiches, soups, and wraps. It can also be grilled.
Lettuce is easily cultivated, and it requires low temperatures to prevent the plant from flowering quickly. It is a rich source of vitamins K and A.
Though lettuce looks like cabbage, one difference between the two is the water content – cabbage has less water and is also tougher than lettuce. Lettuce is crunchier.
The history of this leafy veggie is quite interesting.
What Is The History Of Lettuce?
It was originally cultivated in ancient Egypt for the extraction of oil from its seeds. There is evidence of the plant appearing as early as 2680 BC.
It also appears in various medieval writings from 1098 to 1179 and is specifically mentioned as a medicinal herb. Lettuce traveled from Europe to the Americas with Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century. And books published in the mid 18th and early 19th centuries spoke of the various kinds of lettuce found today (we will discuss them too).
No matter how much we know about lettuce, it is incomplete without knowing the nutrients it contains (and the benefits they offer).
What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Lettuce?
|Cholesterol 0 mg||0%|
|Total fat 0.2 g||0%|
|Saturated fat 0 g||0%|
|Polyunsaturated fat 0.1 g|
|Monounsaturated fat 0 g|
|Amount Per 1 leaf inner (5 g)|
|Sodium 28 mg||1%|
|Potassium 194 mg||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 2.9 g||0%|
|Dietary fiber 1.3 g||5%|
|Sugar 0.8 g|
|Protein 1.4 g||2%|
|Vitamin A||148%||Vitamin C||15%|
|Vitamin B-6||5%||Vitamin B-12||0%|
One cup of lettuce (36 grams) contains just 5 calories and 10 grams of sodium. It doesn’t contain cholesterol or any kind of fat. Other important nutrients include:
- 5 grams of fiber (2% of the daily value)
- 5 micrograms of vitamin K (78% of the daily value)
- 2665 IU of vitamin A (53% of the daily value)
- 5 milligrams of vitamin C (11% of the daily value)
- 7 micrograms of folate (3% of the daily value)
- 3 milligrams of iron (2% of the daily value)
- 1 milligrams of manganese (5% of the daily value)
The vitamin A in lettuce is in the form of provitamin A carotenoid, which the body converts into retinol to offer the benefits.
Now, let’s see what these nutrients are important for – the benefits.
What Are The Benefits Of Lettuce?
Lettuce is particularly rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and other nutrients like vitamins A and K and potassium. This leafy green veggie helps fight inflammation and other related diseases like diabetes and cancer.
The benefits only get better if you use the Romaine variety of lettuce – as not all lettuce is created equal. Also, the darker the lettuce, the more nutrient-dense it is.
1. Fights Inflammation
Certain proteins in lettuce (or Romaine lettuce), like lipoxygenase, help control inflammation.
This has been proven in one Iranian study. According to the study, lettuce has been used in folk medicine to relieve inflammation and osteodynia (pain in the bones) (1).
According to Arthritis Foundation, vegetables (like lettuce) that are rich in vitamin K can dramatically lower inflammation (2). You can usually include two cups of raw leafy greens in your diet on a regular basis. Other vitamin K-rich veggies include kale, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage.
And the darker the lettuce, the more antioxidants it has – which further contribute to its anti-inflammatory properties.
As per another report, lettuce is one of those pain-safe foods (3). This means the veggie never contributes to arthritis or related painful conditions.
2. Aids Weight Loss
One major reason lettuce can be an ideal weight loss food is calories – one serving of lettuce contains just 5 calories. Moreover, lettuce helps bridge the micronutrient gap that is otherwise hard to achieve on a low-calorie diet.
Lettuce is also low in energy density. This is especially true with Romaine lettuce, which is 95% water and offers 1 gram of fiber per cup. Fiber keeps you full and discourages binging. We recommend you to opt for darker varieties like Romaine lettuce as it is the highest in nutrient content. Or you can also try a mix.
Lettuce is also extremely low in fat and hence makes a weight loss meal all the more meaningful. Adding one large leaf of Romaine lettuce to your lunch can be a good idea (4).
3. Promotes Brain Health
Extreme cases of brain harm can lead to the death of neuronal cells, leading to severe brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. The lettuce extracts, as per numerous studies, had controlled this neuronal cell death due to its role in GSD or glucose/serum deprivation.
As per another study, lettuce is also rich in dietary nitrate. This compound is converted to nitric oxide in the body, which is a cellular signaling molecule that promotes endothelial function. The reduction of endothelial function contributes to cognitive decline and other neurological disorders related to aging (5). Intake of lettuce stops this.
4. Boosts Heart Health
Romaine lettuce is a good source of folate, which is a B vitamin that converts homocysteine. Unconverted homocysteine can damage the blood vessels and lead to the accumulation of plaque, thereby damaging the heart. Lettuce is also a rich source of vitamins A and C, both of which help oxidize cholesterol and strengthen the arteries. These two nutrients also improve blood flow and prevent heart attacks.
Including two servings of romaine lettuce in your diet daily can keep your heart healthy.
Lettuce also contains potassium that lowers blood pressure and prevents heart disease. Lettuce consumption can also increase HDL (the good cholesterol) and reduce the levels of its bad brother, LDL (6).
Lettuce intake is also associated with improved cholesterol metabolism as per another study. It also increases the antioxidant status in the body. All of this means that regular consumption of lettuce can protect one from cardiovascular disease (7).
5. Help Fight Cancer
Lettuce consumption has been linked to a lowered risk of stomach cancer, especially in parts of Japan where the vegetable is taken regularly (8).
One report by the World Cancer Research Fund suggests that non-starchy veggies like lettuce can protect against several types of cancers – like those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach (9).
Another study was conducted in Japan on smokers suffering from lung cancer – and the findings revealed that intake of lettuce could offer protective effects (10).
6. Cuts Diabetes Risk
Studies have shown that greens, especially those like lettuce, reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. This can be attributed to the low glycemic index (the effect of a particular food on your blood sugar levels) of lettuce, which means it doesn’t cause much of a rise in blood sugar levels.
Also, one cup of lettuce contains just about 5 calories and 2 grams of carbs. This fact also makes it a healthy addition to a diabetes-friendly diet. Reports recommend romaine lettuce over any other variety as it contains essential micronutrients (which is why it is darker).
Lettuce also contains lactucaxanthin, an anti-diabetic carotenoid that lowers blood glucose levels and can be a potential treatment for diabetes (11).
7. Promotes Vision Health
Lettuce (especially Romaine lettuce) contains zeaxanthin, a super antioxidant that boosts vision health like no other. It is found to prevent age-related macular degeneration (12).
As per a report by the American Association of Opthalmology, dark greens like lettuce contain both lutein and zeaxanthin – one deadly combination to prevent serious vision diseases (13). One study had shown that women on a high-lutein diet were 23% less likely to develop cataracts as they aged.
Romaine lettuce is also a good replacement for spinach (another veggie good for the eyes) (14). Several other studies have shown the importance of lutein and zeaxanthin in boosting eye health and preventing cataracts and other eye diseases. In fact, those two seem to be the most powerful nutrients when we talk about eye health (15).
8. Promotes Digestive Health
The fiber in lettuce promotes digestion and wards off other digestive ailments like constipation and bloating. It also can relieve stomach pain.
Lettuce is known to help the stomach process different types of food. It also improves intestinal health.
9. Helps Treat Insomnia
This has got do with lactur carium, a substance in lettuce that sedates the nervous system and promotes sleep (16). You can Add lettuce to your late night salad in case you have a difficulty dropping off at night.
Lettuce also contains another substance called lactucin, which induces sleep and relaxation. This veggie was used even in the medieval times to relieve insomnia (17).
10. Enhances Bone Health
Vitamins K, A, and C are important in collagen production – which is the first step in bone formation. And lettuce is rich in all three of them. Vitamin K helps build cartilage and the connective tissues. Vitamin A helps in the development of new bone cells, the deficiency of which can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures (18). Vitamin C fights bone depletion, which is one of the aging factors.
We need to refer to vitamin K again since lettuce is replete with it and also as it is not known to many as a bone savior. Insufficient vitamin K can lead to osteopenia (reduced bone mass) and an increased fracture risk, and supplementation of this vitamin reduces bone turnover and enhances bone strength (19).
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, vitamin K is also important for proper bone mineralization (20).
11. Boosts Immunity
Though there isn’t a lot of research in this aspect, the presence of vitamins A and C in lettuce make it a good food for the immune system. Lettuce also has antimicrobial properties.
12. Good For Pregnancy
Much of the benefits of lettuce for pregnancy spring from its folate content. This nutrient can reduce the risk of birth defects. And the vitamin K in the veggie can reduce the incidence of hemorrhaging – which is another benefit during childbirth. And the fiber in lettuce can prevent constipation, which is one issue pregnant women usually face.
Half a cup of romaine lettuce contains about 64 micrograms of folate (21).
13. Improves Muscle Strength And Metabolism
The potassium in lettuce enhances muscle strength as well. Low potassium levels have been linked to muscle weakness. One Swedish study had found that eating greens, especially lettuce, can boost muscle strength. Now we understand, Popeye!
Lettuce is also known to improve metabolism and even act as a source of energy. However, there is not enough information on this.
14. Improves Skin And Hair Health
The vitamin A in lettuce revitalizes the skin, and this increases cell turnover. The potassium in lettuce improves circulation, thereby supplying oxygen and other nutrients to the skin. And the vitamin C in the green veggie can protect the skin from UV radiation. It also delays the signs of aging. The fiber in lettuce is also good to detox your system, and this naturally translates to glowing skin.
Simply washing your face with lettuce extract or juice in the morning can improve your skin health.
The vitamin K in lettuce has various benefits for the hair as well. It boosts hair strength and can prevent hair fall. And again, the potassium the veggie contains might prevent premature graying of hair. You can wash your hair with lettuce juice before shampooing as usual. This boosts hair health.
And yes, the omega-3 fatty acids in lettuce greatly benefit your skin and hair.
15. Fights Anemia
Lettuce contains modest amounts of folate, an important nutrient to combat anemia. Folate also helps fight what is called megaloblastic anemia, which is another type of anemia where the blood cells are very large and underdeveloped (22).
Romaine lettuce can also aid the treatment of vitamin B12 deficiency anemia (23).
16. Keeps You Hydrated
Lettuce (especially iceberg lettuce) is 95% water (24). So, there you go – this veggie can keep you hydrated just like water.
That’s that with the benefits. And like we said, romaine lettuce is the most nutritious of all. But lettuce is of different types.
What Are The Different Types Of Lettuce?
Butterhead, which has loose leaves and a buttery texture. This variety is widely cultivated in Europe
Celtuce, also called the Chinese variety. It possesses strong-flavored leaves that are long and tapering.
Crisphead, which forms tight and dense heads and resembles a cabbage. This is also called the iceberg lettuce, given its high water content. Another form of crisphead is butter lettuce or butterhead, which resembles a cabbage. Boston lettuce is another form of butter lettuce.
Looseleaf, which has flavorful leaves that are tender and delicate. A couple of variants include the green oak leaf and the red oak leaf.
Romaine lettuce, which has a long head of sturdy leaves. This is the most nutritious and the most popular type of lettuce used in the USA. Romaine lettuce is also called cos.
Summer crisp, which forms moderately dense heads that have a crunchy texture. This is an intermediate between the crisphead and looseleaf type.
Lamb lettuce, which has long spoon-shaped dark leaves and a tangy flavor.
As we saw, romaine has the highest nutritional value. And iceberg is said to have the lowest. And these two types of lettuce are quite common. Which begs for the need to know a little more about their differences.
Romaine Lettuce Vs. Iceberg Lettuce
One difference is their appearance, and we already saw that. But the most significant differences arise from the nutritional standpoint. Let’s look at them in detail.
- Vitamin K
Most forms of lettuce contain vitamin K – that’s a given. But romaine lettuce contains 48 micrograms of vitamin K (and it is much darker) while the iceberg variant contains just about 17 micrograms.
- Vitamin A
One cup of romaine lettuce contains over 10 times the vitamin A available in its iceberg cousin. The former contains over 4,094 IU while the latter just has 361 IU. Now that’s some difference!
- Other Nutrients
Romaine lettuce contains slightly higher amounts of fiber and protein as well.
- Water Content
This is where iceberg lettuce enjoys an upper hand (although only slightly). Iceberg lettuce has 2 ounces of water per serving while the romaine variety has 1.5 ounces.
You saw the varieties. But what if you want to buy any? And what about the storage?
How Do We Select And Store Lettuce?
Proper selection plays a vital role in ensuring that you are buying fresh vegetables.
- Always prefer whole heads of lettuce over loose lettuce leaves as they are fresher and more nutritious.
- Ensure that the leaves are crisp, tender and brightly colored. Lettuce can be best enjoyed if it is fresh and crisp.
- Dark green veggies are great sources of vitamin C, folate, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, iron and dietary fiber.
- Therefore, try to look for dark colored leaves.
- Lettuce is delicious as long as it is fresh.
- While shopping for lettuce, you should avoid bunches that are limp, wilting, brownish or have rust, spots or holes on them. You might find romaine lettuce that is slightly brownish along the edges of the outer leaves. This does not matter as long as the rest of the head is fresh and green.
- You can buy your lettuce from your nearest farmer’s market or supermarket store.
Lettuce is a delicate vegetable, and proper storage is crucial for maintaining its freshness. Storing lettuce is quite an uphill task as its leaves are prone to bruising if roughly handled. Moreover, greens do not last for long. Hence, you should give up the idea of stocking lettuce for future use.
- Iceberg and romaine lettuce can be stored for up to 10 days and red and green leaf lettuces for about 4 days.
- The best way to store lettuce is to keep it unwashed in an airtight container or plastic bag and store it in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
- Make sure to keep it away from ethylene gas producing fruits such as apples, bananas or pears as they accelerate the deterioration of lettuce by increasing brown spots on the leaves and causing spoilage.
- Bunches of lettuce should be checked for insects and the leaves having roots should be placed in a glass of water with a bag over the leaves and stored in the refrigerator.
- The most difficult part about storing lettuce is maintaining the moisture level. Too much moisture suffocates the lettuce leaves due to condensation, causing it to spoil faster. More moisture also results in more production of ethylene gas, which speeds up decay and spoilage. Some moisture, though, is necessary to ensure that the leaves stay crisp and do not dry out. Lettuce should be kept moist by wrapping it in a slightly damp paper towel or zip top bag. This enables it to absorb excess water without dehydrating the leaves. The crisper section of the refrigerator is the best spot for storing lettuce due to controlled and consistent humidity.
How else can you use lettuce?
Any Tips On Usage?
The dark, richly colored varieties of lettuce such as dark green, red or purple ones are the richest in nutritional value, indicated by the presence of vitamin A and other antioxidants such as carotenoids and lutein, which is why it is considered as one of the world’s most popular vegetables.
Lettuce is mostly eaten raw, so before serving, remove any brown, slimy, wilted or decayed leaves. The leaves should be washed thoroughly and dried to remove any dirt or insects. Lettuce is most commonly used in salads by regular eaters. Given below are certain tips for preparing lettuce before serving it in the form of salad.
- Wash the leaves in cold water. Avoid washing them in running water as it might damage them. Gently pat the leaves to dry them.
- Place the bunch on the chopping board and pound the core hard. This will loosen the leaves and make them easier to remove.
- Holding the core firmly in one hand and the lettuce in another, twist the core to separate the leaves from it.
- Place the leaves in a salad spinner to dry. Tear them instead of cutting with a knife so that they do not get bruised.
- Any dressing to the salad should be added just before serving it so that the leaves remain crisp.
- Ensure you add a fat medium to lettuce, like a dressing of olive oil. This fat liberates the fat-soluble nutrients to be used by the body.
Apart from being added to salads, lettuce can also be cooked and made into dishes that can serve as a delightful treat. Being crisp, mild, soft, and buttery, lettuce can suit all tastes and form a part of many dishes, making them more interesting.
- This wonderful vegetable can be braised, steamed, sautéed, and even grilled to create something that is pleasing to the taste buds besides being nutritious. Try adding some extra virgin olive oil to halved radicchio or romaine lettuce and grill until they are softened and browned.
- Lettuce can be easily used along with other vegetables in burgers, sandwiches, and wraps.
- You can try using an entire head of lettuce in a smoothie. It is advisable to add the fruits and blend them first and then add lettuce leaves to the smoothie. You can make a smoothie using fruits like bananas, strawberries or mangoes in combination with an entire head of romaine lettuce.
What fun would it be if we don’t know how to prepare some amazing stuff with lettuce? And here, we have some amazing stuff!
Any Popular Recipes Using Lettuce?
1. Green Raspberry Smoothie
What You Need
- 1 cup of lettuce leaves
- ½ cup each of frozen raspberries and blueberries
- 1 ripe banana
- ½ cup of milk
- 2 tablespoons of oats
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- Combine all ingredients in a blender. Add a cup of ice and blend until the mixture is smooth.
- Serve immediately.
2. Lettuce Caesar Salad
What You Need
- 1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
- 6 cloves of peeled garlic
- ¾ cup of mayonnaise
- 5 minced anchovy fillets
- 6 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- 4 cups of old-day bread
- Ground black pepper and salt, to taste
- Mince three cloves of garlic. Combine them in a bowl with mayonnaise, anchovies, two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and lemon juice.
- Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Mince the remaining three cloves of garlic and add to the hot oil. Cook and stir until they turn brown, and then remove the garlic from the pan. Add the bread cubes to the hot oil. Cook until they are lightly browned on both sides. Remove the bread cubes and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the lettuce in a large bowl. Toss the remaining Parmesan cheese and seasoned bread cubes with the dressing.
You can also use these ingredients to make lettuce wraps, which will make for a healthy evening snack.
How about something light and fun?
Any Interesting Facts About Lettuce?
- Lettuce is one vegetable that is pretty much immune to any kind of preservation.
- Iceberg lettuce takes about 85 days from sowing to maturity.
- Lettuce is the second most popular fresh vegetable in the United States, only behind potatoes.
- Thomas Jefferson had 19 varieties of lettuce growing in his garden in Monticello.
- China is the world’s largest producer of lettuce.
Lettuce could be green and great and glamorous. But it does have a side we must know.
Any Side Effects Of Lettuce We Should Know?
- Excess Vitamin K
Excess of vitamin K can cause problems in people on blood thinning medications like warfarin. Excess of lettuce can decrease the effectiveness of warfarin. So, if you are on blood thinning medication, talk to your doctor before consuming lettuce.
- Issues During Pregnancy And Breastfeeding
Lettuce is safe in normal amounts. But we don’t know what will happen with overuse. Hence, avoid excess intake.
- Issues With Prostate And Vision (Wild Lettuce)
Wild lettuce is another variety of lettuce, but it is very less commonly consumed. It must not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding (it can lead to complications; more research is warranted). It also can lead to an enlarged prostate and narrow-angle glaucoma. So, avoid consuming it.
Leafier, greener, and we guess even healthier – that’s lettuce for you. Add it to your diet. That’ll be one decision you will be happy about.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
What is Devil’s lettuce?
Weed and marijuana are also called Devil’s lettuce in some places.
What about rocket lettuce?
It is a leafy green and edible plant that is also called arugula.
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