8 Impressive Benefits of Lettuce

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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Yes, it’s a salad staple. But did you know that the health benefits of lettuce abound? They include helping lower cholesterol levels, protecting neurons, moderating sleep, controlling anxiety, reducing inflammation, and providing a constant supply of antioxidants.

What is Lettuce?

Lettuce, scientifically known as Lactuca sativa, was first cultivated by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. The Egyptians used the seeds to produce oil and also utilized the leaves of this useful vegetable. The plant also had cultural and religious significance in ancient Egypt, as it was considered to be sacred. Later, the Greeks and Romans also cultivated this crop.

It was in the period between the 16th and 18th centuries that different types of lettuce were developed. This was due to the discovery that a particular sub-species could cross-pollinate with other sub-species. During medieval times in Europe, lettuce was considered to possess medicinal qualities, which were mentioned in several medieval texts. One can find instances of the plant being prescribed as a medicine for several diseases in the Unani medicine system as well. It was prescribed for bilious eructation, disturbed blood pressure, loss of appetite, insomnia, and was used as a tonic for the intestines and digestive system, and as a method to stop sexual urges.

The dried latex of lettuce was prescribed for inducing sleep and was used as nasal drops, a sedative, an anti-spasmodic, and an anodyne. During medieval times and into the beginning of modern times, lettuce spread from Europe to North America. During the 19th century, it spread to other parts of the world as well, particularly to Asia, South America, Africa, and Australia. Today, lettuce can be found in almost all parts of the world, from the Americas to Siberia.

Watch Video: 8 Wonderful Reasons To Eat Lettuce

Lettuce Nutrition Facts

Lettuce contains  a high water content, as well as small aounts of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and sugars. The minerals and vitamins found in it include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc along with B-vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, A, E, and vitamin K.

Nutrition Facts

Lettuce, green leaf, raw
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]94.98
Energy [kcal]15
Protein [g]1.36
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.15
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]2.87
Fiber, total dietary [g]1.3
Sugars, total [g]0.78
Calcium, Ca [mg]36
Iron, Fe [mg]0.86
Magnesium, Mg [mg]13
Phosphorus, P [mg]29
Potassium, K [mg]194
Sodium, Na [mg]28
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.18
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]9.2
Thiamin [mg]0.07
Riboflavin [mg]0.08
Niacin [mg]0.38
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.09
Folate, DFE [µg]38
Vitamin B-12 [µg]0
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]370
Vitamin A, IU [IU]7405
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.22
Vitamin D (D2 + D3) [µg]0
Vitamin D [IU]0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]126.3
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.02
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.08
Fatty acids, total trans [g]0
Cholesterol [mg]0
Caffeine [mg]0
Sources include : USDA

Health Benefits of Lettuce

For thousands of years, this leaf has been cultivated as more than a vegetable. It was also thought to possess medicinal properties by ancient people. The health benefits that have been confirmed by modern scientific research include the following.

Anti-inflammatory Agent

Lettuce possesses anti-inflammatory properties that help in controlling inflammation. In experimental models, lettuce extracts have shown significant controlling power over inflammation induced by biocatalysts like lipoxygenase and carrageenan. More research is needed in this arena to bolster these results.

Protects Neuronal Cells

Neurons are brain cells that form physical connections to make up memory. The death of neurons in particular connections or circuits can result in the loss of memory. In some extreme cases, significant neuronal death can result in the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

According to an animal study the lettuce extract exhibit antioxidant effects, reduce oxidative stress and may help provide neuro protective benefits. However, more research is needed to confirm the reach of these positive implications.

Closeup of fresh green lettuce leaves on a wooden table

Lowers Cholesterol Levels

Lettuce can be beneficial in lowering high cholesterol levels that often lead to cardiovascular diseases and other dangerous conditions. High LDL cholesterol levels are harmful and can cause heart attack and stroke. A study was conducted on rodents to test the impact of lettuce consumption on fat and cholesterol. The results indicated a significant reduction of cholesterol levels as compared to mice that weren’t fed lettuce. Lipid peroxidation was observed in most cases, which was concluded to be responsible for this form of cholesterol control. These results suggest that lettuce could be contributory as a method to reduce the risk factors of CVD.

Induces Sleep

One of the major traditional uses of lettuce in Unani medicine was as a sleep inducer. Research into the extracts of lettuce resulted in the isolation of a depressant chemical. This chemical, when administered in experimental animals, showed significant sedative effects. A 2013 research report, suggests that the main component(s) responsible for this effect in lettuce is most likely to be the non-polar agent(s),which are found in the n-butanol fraction (NBF)of this plant. Decreased heart rate and ventricular contractions were also observed. This particular chemical acts by blocking the excitatory signal processes of muscular and neural tissues.

Antioxidant Agent

Published in the journal Ancient Science of Life Journal, one study stated that lettuce possesses antioxidants with significant free radical-scavenging capabilities. Antioxidants are a wide range of biochemicals mostly found in our diet; they are also very necessary for human health and disease prevention. Antioxidants act as barriers to free radicals, which are produced during cellular metabolism. These free radicals can attack healthy tissues, cells, and the DNA inside them. They can often cause healthy cells to mutate into cancer cells. The result is the development of various diseases. Antioxidants, on the other hand, counteract these free radicals and neutralize them before the free radical attacks take place.

Antimicrobial Agent

The latex of lettuce possesses antimicrobial properties. When coming into the contact with latex from lettuce, research has shown that Candida albicans and a number of other yeasts were completely deformed. Biochemicals that are considered to possess these antimicrobial properties are the terpenes and cardenolides, as well as enzymes like glucanases. Studies such as these have positive implications for the antimicrobial abilities of this vegetable.

Controls Anxiety

The neurological properties of lettuce, as mentioned earlier, have long been suggested during ancient times and the Middle Ages in medical treaties, such as the Unani system. A 2012 research paper published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease has led to the conclusion that lettuce possesses anxiolytic (antianxiety) properties. When lab animals were given lettuce extracts, their locomotive activity was reduced, suggesting implications in human populations.

Anti-Cancer Potential

Lettuce leaf extracts may help prevent certain types of cancer. According to a research published in the Oncology Reports, the water extract of the lettuce Lactuca sativa–, and not the ethyl acetate extract–, inhibited the growth of leukaemia cells and breast cancer cells. This emphasizes that lettuce has anti-cancer potential. The experiments also suggested that the weight ratio of human lettuce consumption required to kill 50 percent of leukemia cells would be 3 kg (over six pounds). Thats a lot of lettuce!

Health benefits of lettuce - infographic

Simple Lettuce Recipes

A few recipes are given below that can be easily tried at home.

Vegetable Salad: Cut a tomato, cucumber, radish, carrot, red pepper, yellow pepper, and lettuce leaves. Add the cut vegetables to a bowl. Season with salt, pepper, a dash of olive oil, and lime juice.

Corn Lettuce Salad: Boil one cup of corn and let it cool. Cut some lettuce, onion, and tomato, and put it in a bowl. Add the boiled corn to this mixture. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lime juice. You can add other vegetables like boiled baby potatoes, mushroom, or peas, or even throw in some boiled chicken or fish.

Word of Caution: A study report published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, has shown that even lettuce can produce allergies, and the allergen proteins have been identified. Food allergies are the abnormal response of the immune system to certain types of food that the body recognizes as harmful. Food allergies that result in anaphylaxis are the worst kind and according to the Center for Disease Control, they are on the rise. People who already suffer from food allergies are generally at risk when trying new foods. So, a word of caution is advised while eating lettuce for the first time. Try skin prick testing before eating it, just to be sure.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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