Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is known since time immemorial for its refreshing, purifying and sedative properties. It derives its name from the milky juice (“latex”) leaking out from the stems after they are cut.
Today, lettuce is one of the most common leaf vegetables and a basic ingredient of many salads. It is characterized by large, tender leaves, usually light green in color, but sometimes red or purple depending on the variety.
Both the leaves and the stems can be used, either lightly cooked or more frequently raw. Due to its high water content, lettuce is one of my favorite ingredients for a delicious, refreshing healthy juice.
Types of Lettuce:
- Iceberg/crisphead: Greener leaves on the outside and whiter on the inside. This type is most popular for its crisp texture, juicy and mild taste. A good source of choline.
- Romaine lettuce: Has deep green and long leaves. It has a crisp texture and a deeper taste than the other varieties. A good source of vitamins A, C, B1 and B2, and folate.
- Butterhead: This type of lettuce has large leaves that are arranged “loosely” and are easily separated from its stem. It has a softer texture with a sweet flavor compared to its other cousins.
- Loose-leaf: As the name implies, this variety has loose leaves that are broad and curly. It has a delicate taste and slightly crispy texture.
Nutritional Benefits of Lettuce
As in most vegetables, the darker the leaves, the greater the nutrient content and a good source of chlorophyll.
Lettuce has very low calorie content and is composed primarily of water, about 90-95%. It does also contain fiber, minerals—potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium; antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and E, vitamin K, folate as well as many vitamins of the B complex.
The milky latex, found mainly in the stems and leaf nodes of lettuce, contain a mixture of active principles which have been used for centuries for its medicinal virtues. It has extraordinary “sedative” and “painkilling” properties similar to those of opium.
Health Benefits of Lettuce
Although the milky latex is mostly found in the wild varieties of lettuce, commercial lettuce does contain it as well. However, the healthy properties of lettuce are immense due to its many nutrients and antioxidants found in the leaves.
Anti-anemic: Lettuce contains a relatively high amount of chlorophyll and iron, which are essential for the synthesis of hemoglobin in blood red cells.
Antioxidant: Lettuce is rich in antioxidants, especially beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. These substances help cleanse the body from toxins, prevent the damage caused by free-radicals, prevent premature aging and lower the risk of chronic diseases and cancer.
Bone health: There is evidence that lettuce has a protective effect on bone health, due to its high content in vitamin K which is required for the synthesis of osteocalcin, a bone protein which helps strengthen bone tissue. This bone protective action is particularly effective in preventing osteoporosis-related fractures in post-menopausal women and older adults. Lettuce is a good source of calcium and phosphorous, as well, which play a key role in bone structure and health.
Constipation: Thanks to its high fiber content, lettuce and its juice can help stimulate the function and motility of the intestinal tract, relieve constipation and cleanse the colon.
Cough: Lettuce juice contains anti-cough agents, which can help relieve irritable cough, as well as the symptoms of asthma and bronchitis.
Hydration: Lettuce juice is an excellent source of hydration at the cellular level. They are refreshing, thirst-quenching and help rehydrates our cells and releasing toxins and harmful fats from our congested cells.
Purifying: The purifying effect of lettuce is the result of the combined actions of antioxidants (which help neutralize harmful substances accumulate in the body), potassium (which promotes diuresis, thereby helping eliminate toxins from the body) and fiber (which helps cleanse the colon).
Sedation: Lettuce latex has been used for centuries by physicians as a substitute for opium, due to its natural sedative and painkilling properties. Today its medicinal use is limited to treat sleep disorders, nervous excitability, anxiety and restlessness, especially in children and elderly persons. Drink a glass of lettuce and celery juice an hour before bedtime to have a restful night’s sleep. Also helpful whenever you feel anxious or nervous, to keep yourself calm and relaxed.
Sexual health: This is still a subject of debate. It is known that the opium-like substances found in lettuce latex can be used to cool sexual appetite. However, some researches have observed that lettuce milk also contains pro-sexual substances, that can help fight impotence when taken in large doses. Whether this is true or not, one thing is sure: drinking a lettuce juice can’t do much harm in this sense!
Lettuce can be used raw or cooked—although raw, fresh lettuce is by far more refreshing, nutritious and versatile than cooked lettuce.
You can use raw lettuce leaves in salads, sandwiches, as wraps, and in a variety of other dishes. For cooking, lightly cook lettuce to preserve its hydration values.
Lettuce juice is best extracted using a gear juicer to get the most nutrition out of it. It blends very well with carrot, tomato, celery, fennel and artichoke.
Lettuce is a very safe vegetable and has no adverse reaction reported so far.
There is only one condition in which large quantities of lettuce are contra-indicated: For patients undergoing anti-coagulant therapy with vitamin K antagonists (such as warfarin). The high amount of vitamin K, may interfere with the therapy, possibly leading to blood clots formation (thrombosis) and related complications. So be aware if you’re on such medication.