Lettuce : nutrition, shocking 3 medical uses & adverse effects

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(Arugula, butterhead [Bibb], chicory [curly endive], cos [romaine], crisphead [iceberg], endive, leaf lettuce [green, red], raddichio)
See also Greens, Spinach.

Lettuce Nutritional Profile

• Energy value (calories per serving): Low
• Protein: Low
• Fat: Low
• Saturated fat: Low
• Cholesterol: None
• Carbohydrates: High
• Fiber: Moderate to high
• Sodium: Low
• Major vitamin contribution: Vitamin A, vitamin C
• Major mineral contribution: Iron, calcium

How Many Nutrients in This Food

• Lettuces are low-fiber, low-protein, virtually fat-free leafy foods whose primary nutrient contribution is vitamin A from deep yellow carotenes hidden under green chlorophyll. The darkest leaves have the most vitamin A.

• Lettuce also provides the B vitamin folate, vitamin C, plus small amounts of iron, calcium, and copper.

• One-half cup shredded lettuce has less than one gram dietary fiber. Depending on the variety, it has 50 to 370 IU vitamin A (2 to 16 percent of the RDA for a woman, 2 to 12 percent of the RDA for a man), 14 to 39 mcg folate (4 to 10 percent of the RDA), and 2 to 3.5 mg vitamin C (3 to 5 percent of the RDA for a woman, 2 to 4 percent of the RDA for a man).

Comparing the Nutritional Value of Lettuces

~ Looseleaf lettuce has about twice as much calcium as romaine, and nearly four times as much as iceberg.

~ Looseleaf lettuce has about one-third more iron than romaine, nearly three times as much as iceberg, and nearly five times as much as Boston and Bibb.

Comparing the Nutritional Value of Lettuces (Continued)

~ Romaine lettuce has about one-third more vitamin A than iceberg, three times as much as Boston and Bibb, and eight times as much as iceberg.

~ Romaine lettuce has about one-third more vitamin C than looseleaf, three times as much as Boston and Bibb, and six times as much as an iceberg.

Shredded romaine lettuce has more than twice as much folate as an equal serving of shredded iceberg, butterhead, or Boston lettuce; nearly three times as much as loose-leaf lettuce.

How To Serve Nutritious lettuce Food

• Fresh, dark leaves, torn just before serving to preserve vitamin C. Given a choice among all the varieties of lettuce, pick romaine. Overall, it has larger amounts of vitamins and minerals than any other lettuce.

Diets That May Restrict or Exclude Lettuce Food

• Antiflatulence diet
• Low-calcium diet
• Low-carbohydrate diet
• Low-fiber diet

How To Buying This Food

Look for:

Brightly colored heads. Iceberg lettuce should be tightly closed and heavy for its size. Loose leaf lettuces should be crisp. All lettuces should be symmetrically shaped. An asymmetric shape suggests a large hidden stem that is crowding the leaves to one side or
the other.


Lettuce with faded or yellow leaves; lettuce leaves turn yellow as they age and their green chlorophyll fades, revealing the yellow carotenes underneath. Brown or wilted leaves are a sign of aging or poor storage. Either way, the lettuce is no longer at its best.

How To Storing Lettuce Food

• Wrap lettuce in a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. The colder the storage, the longer the lettuce will keep. Most lettuce will stay fresh and crisp for as long at three weeks at 32°F.

• Raise the temperature just six degrees to 38°F (which is about the temperature inside your refrigerator), and the lettuce may wilt in a week.

• Do not discard lettuce simply because the core begins to brown or small brown specks appear on the spines of the leaves. This is a natural oxidation reaction that changes the color but doesn’t affect the nutritional value of the lettuce. Trim the end of the core (or remove the core from iceberg lettuce) to slow the reaction.

• Throw out any lettuce that feels slimy or has bright red, dark brown, or black spots. The slime is the residue of bacterial decomposition; the dark spots may be mold or rot. Do not store unwrapped lettuce near apples, pears, melons, or bananas. These fruits release ethylene gas, a natural ripening agent that will cause the lettuce to develop brown spots.

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How To Preparing This Food

• Wash all lettuce, including lettuce sold in “pre-washed” packages of salad mix, to flush out debris. Never slice, cut, or tear lettuce until you are ready to use it. When lettuce cells are torn, they release ascorbic acid oxidase, an enzyme that destroys vitamin C.

What Happens When You Cook Lettuce Food

• Chlorophyll, the pigment that makes green vegetables green, is sensitive to acids. When you heat lettuce, the chlorophyll in its leaves will react chemically with acids in the vegetable or in the cooking water, forming pheophytin, which is brown.

• Together, the pheophytin and the yellow carotenes in dark green leaves will give the cooked lettuce a bronze hue. (Lighter leaves, with very little carotene, will be olive-drab.) To keep cooked lettuce green, you have to keep the chlorophyll from reacting with acids.

• One way to do this is to cook the lettuce in a large quantity of water (which will dilute the acids), but this will accelerate the loss of vitamin C. A second alternative is to cook the
lettuce with the lid off the pot so that the volatile acids will float off into the air.

• The best way may be to steam the lettuce quickly in very little water, so that it holds onto its vitamin C and cooks before the chlorophyll has time to react with the acids. Heat also makes the water inside the lettuce cells expand. Eventually the cells rupture and the water leaks out, leaving the lettuce limp.

• The spines will remain stiffer because they contain more cellulose, which does not dissolve in water. Cooked lettuce has less vitamin C than fresh lettuce because heat destroys the vitamin.


Medical Uses and/or Benefits Of Lettuce

Lower risk of some birth defects.

Up to two of every 1,000 babies born in the United States each year may have cleft palate or a neural tube (spinal cord) defect due to their mothers’ not having gotten adequate amounts of folate during pregnancy. The current RDA for folate is 180 mcg for a healthy woman and 200 mcg for a healthy man, but the FDA now recommends 400 mcg for a woman who is or may become pregnant.

• Taking a folate supplement before becoming pregnant and continuing through the first two months of pregnancy reduces the risk of cleft palate; taking folate through the entire pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects. One cup shredded romaine lettuce has 78 mg folate.

Possible lower risk of a heart attack.

In the spring of 1998, an analysis of data from the records for more than 80,000 women enrolled in the long running Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard School of Public Health/Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, demonstrated that a diet providing more than 400 mcg folate and 3 mg vitamin B6 daily, either from food or supplements, might reduce a woman’s risk of heart attack by almost 50 percent.

• Although men were not included in the study, the results were assumed to apply to them as well. However, data from a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in December 2006 called this theory into question. Researchers at Tulane University examined the results of 12 controlled studies in which 16,958 patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease were given either folic acid supplements or placebos (“look-alike” pills with no folic acid) for at least six months.

• The scientists, who found no reduction in the risk of further heart disease or overall death rates among those taking folic acid, concluded that further studies will be required to ascertain whether taking folic acid supplements reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Vision protection.

Dark greens are a rich source of the yellow-orange carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. Both carotenoids appear to play a role in protecting the eyes from damaging ultraviolet light, thus reducing the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of vision loss in one-third of all Americans older than 75.

Adverse Effects Associated with Lettuce Food

Food-borne illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1996–2005 the proportion of incidents of food-borne disease linked to leafy greens increased by 60 percent.

• The highest proportion of these illnesses were due to contamination by norovirus (the organism often blamed for outbreaks of gastric illness on cruise ships), followed by salmonella and E. coli. The illnesses were commonly associated with eating raw greens; cooking the greens to a high heat inactivates the disease-causing organisms.

Nitrate poisoning.

Lettuce, like beets, celery, eggplant, radishes, spinach, and collard and turnip greens, contains nitrates that convert naturally into nitrites in your stomach, and then react with the amino acids in proteins to form nitrosamines. Although some nitrosamines are known or suspected carcinogens, this natural chemical conversion presents no known problems for a healthy adult.

• However, when these nitrate-rich vegetables are cooked and left to stand at room temperature, bacterial enzyme action (and perhaps some enzymes in the plants) convert the nitrates to nitrites at a much faster rate than normal. These higher-nitrite foods may be hazardous for infants; several cases of “spinach poisoning” have been reported among children who ate cooked spinach that had been left standing at room temperature.

Lettuce Food/Drug Interactions

• Anticoagulants Some lettuces are rich in vitamin K, the blood-clotting vitamin produced naturally by bacteria in the intestines. Consuming large quantities of this food may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin).

• One cup of shredded Boston or Bibb lettuce contains 56 mcg vitamin K, about 90 percent of the RDA for a healthy adult; one cup of shredded romaine lettuce contains 48 mcg vitamin K, about 80 percent of the RDA for a healthy adult.


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