Lettuce, scientifically known as Lactuca sativa, is a member of the Asteraceae (Compositae) family, the same family as sunflower and daisy. The name lettuce is derived from the Latin word “Lactuca”, which means milk. It’s due to the plant’s milky latex that exudes from its stalks when it is cut.
Native to the Mediterranean region, lettuce is one of the most common salad vegetables and is now grown worldwide. Lettuce can be consumed in the form of salads or as an ingredient of sandwiches. It can be also used for the wrapping of food.
There are several types of lettuce: Romaine lettuce, Iceberg lettuce, Butterhead, and Leaf lettuce. All varieties of lettuce are known to be good sources of vitamin A, B, C, and K along with fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Romaine has the highest nutritional value among all types of lettuce, whereas Iceberg has the lowest nutrition.
Health Benefits of Lettuce
1. Fights Cancer
Lettuce contains antioxidants, which have shown to eliminate free radicals which contribute to the growth of cancer cells. It also contain folic acid, a type of B vitamin which can fight off breast cancer and lung cancer.
2. Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Romaine Lettuce is a great source of vitamin C which has been shown to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels. Vitamin C prevents cholesterol from becoming sticky and adhering to the walls of your blood vessels. Thus, if you have heart disease, you should include one to two servings of romaine lettuce in your daily diet to keep your heart healthy.
3. Maintain a Good Eyesight
Lettuce contains beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, all of which are essential nutrients for eye health. Beta-carotene is converted into the type of vitamin A that’s needed for normal vision. Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants that may protect your retina and prevent age-related macular degeneration. One cup of shredded green leaf lettuce has 88 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. Therefore, eating lettuce leaves can help keep your eyes healthy.
4. Strengthen the Bones
Lettuce contains vitamin K, which can help strengthen bones by increasing bone mass and help in absorbing calcium like vitamin D, another important nutrient for maintaining bone health.
5. Weight Loss
Lettuce is extremely low in calories and high in fiber content, which improves your digestion, and thus contributing to weight loss.
6. Promotes Sleep
Lettuce contains a substance called Lactucarium that helps promote sleep by relaxing the nervous system. To take advantage of this effect, you can make a tea with lettuce leaves. Just simmer 3-4 lettuce leaves in one cup of water for 15 minutes and drink it before you go to bed. Be sure to include the lettuce stems because they contain the highest levels of lactucarium.
7. Prevents Birth Defects
The folic acid found in lettuce can help prevent several birth defects and promote a safe pregnancy. For pregnant women, a deficiency in folate can lead to neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
8. Improves Fertility
In addition to preventing birth defects, adequate folic acid intake can also improve fertility rate and increases the sperm count. Studies found that men who consumed high levels of folic acid on a daily basis were shown to lower their risk of sperm abnormalities by up to 30 percent. Although these findings seem controversial, lettuce is often recommended to help men suffering from premature ejaculation.
9. Prevents Anemia
Lettuce is rich in iron which are crucial in maintaining a proper amount of healthy red blood cells in the body and preventing anemia.
When buying lettuce, look for heads with crisp, bright green leaves and avoid bunches with wilted, rust or any brown spots. If planning to use raw, choose smaller-leaved heads as they tend to be more tender.
Lettuces with darker green leaves tend to be more nutritious than those with pale green or whiter leaves. So, it is better to pick dark colored lettuce such as Romaine over pale colored ones such as Iceberg lettuce.