GROW: Lettuce

I think lettuce is very underrated, particularly good, crisp, crunchy, juicy, fresh lettuce. It’s not uncommon to find slightly sad, wilted, or limp lettuce in salads and sandwiches these days, dressed up in the hopes that we wont notice whats hiding beneath and holding up all our nuts, seeds, protein, vegetables and sauce. I’ll even admit to it myself actually, hiding saggy lettuce underneath a diversionary flavour sensation, not intentionally, usually because I didn’t get to it in time. Hmm, it’s not like I forgot there was lettuce in my fridge, but my attempts at making a fresh salad everyday can be thwarted by invitations to lunch or dinner, or there’s been the lure of additional ingredients which have overridden that of my humble lettuce, or my tastebuds have had other ideas all together. Like cake! HA! Yep, last weekmy Mum and I actually went out and had cake for lunch. It felt so decadent and rebellious but ‘lunch time’ was our only free time and we wanted to catch up over cake. So cake for lunch it was!

But back to the lettuce… I have tried growing lettuce from seed in the past and have personally found it notoriously difficult. I haven’t given up but right now isn’t the time to be tending to the tiniest of seeds. So I was over the moon to find a seedling pack of ten baby lettuce at the local garden centre last week and am happily experimenting with garden bed vs foam box potting of these beauties.

Initially I thought that box planting would be the easiest most viable option as I could move it around to find the best position, could have it in close proximity to the kitchen, and I had a box and potting mix ready and waiting (garden bed still had to be turned)! I did get a bit cheeky and put 4 little lettuce in the foam box. They ideally should apparently be placed 20cm apart (which they are not) so consequently I may have a little competition on my hands! A few days later I prepared the garden bed though, pulled weeds and dug through some delicious fresh homemade compost to plant the remaining six lettuce in the soil.

Surprisingly, VERY surprisingly, it is recommended that lettuce be planted in full sun. Full sun? Mine get afternoon sun and unless they have been watered in the morning, every morning, they wither, droop and lay prostrate baking on the earth. Maybe they need full sun when they’re not living in Queensland?!

In any case given this thirst for water, which makes up such a huge part of lettuce’s structure (~95g/100g) it is easy to see why you would only want to be consuming organic lettuce. Imagine all that water laden with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides getting soaked up into your gorgeous green leaves, not to mention the high surface to weight ratio which means that just about every part of the plant gets exposed to toxins. Yuck!

For such a humble salad vegetable lettuce sure packs a heck of a nutritional punch. Try to go for red, green and darker varieties over good old iceberg. When it comes to nutritional value Romaine/Cos lettuce is the heavyweight of the bunch, whereas Iceberg, he’s still sitting on the sidelines.

Did you know that:

  • Lettuce contains moisture, energy, protein, fat carbohydrates, fibre, sugars, minerals including calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc and vitamins including vitamins A, C, E, K and thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folate (B9) and vitamin B6.
  • Low in calories and containing both fibre and cellulose, lettuce is great for digestion, weight loss and cholesterol reduction. Of those calories up to 20% come in as protein, much of it complete, but that can be increased by combining other dietary source of protein.
  • High in beta-carotene and provitamin A, 100g of fresh raw lettuce provides well over the recommended daily amount of this antioxidant vitamin. This supports healthy mucous membranes and skin, is essential for vision and can protect the body from cancers. Romaine/Cos contains more than TEN TIMES the vitamin A of iceberg!!
  • Vitamin C is another powerful antioxidant that helps the body to develop natural resistance to infections and there is up to FOUR TIMES as much vitamin C in romaine/cos lettuce as there is in iceberg lettuce!!
  • Folate is a critical co-factor in enzyme metabolism required for healthy DNA synthesis, playing a vital role in the prevention of neural tube defects. The levels are at least DOUBLE for romaine/coz vs iceberg.
  • Vitamin K has an established role in Alzheimer’s disease by limiting neuronal damage in the brain, and has a potential role in bone metabolism, helping to increase bone mass.
  • Mineral wise, romaine/cos lettuce contains more calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc, as well as less sodium that that of iceberg.
  • Various studies have also shown that lettuce (and/or extracts of) can exert anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, cholesterol-lowering, anti-microbial, anxiolitic (reduces anxiety), anti-cancer, and sleep inducing effects. Lettuce is also naturally alkalising.

The easiest ways to consume lettuce are in salads, juices, or smoothies and if you are not purchasing organic varieties or growing your own make sure you wash your lettuce well before use.

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