Some of the health benefits of lettuce include lowering cholesterol levels, cancer control, protection of neurons, sleep induction, anxiety control, lowering inflammation, and providing a supply of antioxidants.
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 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 bilius eructation, disturbed blood pressure, loss of appetite, insomnia, 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 anodyne. During the 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 all the way to Siberia.
Nutritional Value of Lettuce
Lettuce contains moisture, energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and sugars. The minerals and vitamins found in lettuce include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc along with vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B-6, C, A, E, and vitamin K.
For thousands of years, lettuce has been cultivated as more than a vegetable. It was also thought to possess medicinal properties by ancient people. Some of the health benefits that have been confirmed by modern scientific research include the following.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties: 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.
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. The extracts from lettuce showed considerable control of neuron cell death due to its role in glucose/serum deprivation (GSD). The research has also mentioned that lettuce has the potential to be used in neuro-protection as a common remedy for neurodegenerative diseases.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels: Lettuce can be beneficial in lowering cholesterol levels that often lead to cardiovascular disease and other dangerous conditions. High cholesterol levels, particularly LDL or bad cholesterol levels, are harmful and can cause heart attacks and strokes. A study was conducted on mice to test the impact of lettuce consumption on fat and cholesterol. The results indicated a significant reduction of cholesterol levels compared to mice that weren’t fed lettuce. Lipid peroxidation was observed in most cases, which was concluded to be responsible for important this form of cholesterol control.
Induces Sleep: One of the major traditional uses of lettuce in Unani medicine was its use 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. 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 Properties: Studies have shown that lettuce possesses antioxidants with significant free radical-scavenging capabilities. Antioxidants are a wide range of bio-chemicals that are mostly found in our diet; they are also very necessary for human health. Antioxidants act as barriers to free radicals, which are produced during cellular metabolism. These free radicals 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 Properties: The latex of lettuce possesses antimicrobial properties. Candida albicans and a number of other yeasts were completely deformed upon coming into contact with the latex from lettuce. Biochemicals that are considered to possess these antimicrobial properties are the terpens and cardenolids, as well as enzymes like glucanases.
Controls Anxiety: The neurological properties of lettuce have long been suggested and exploited during ancient times and the Middle Ages in medical treaties such as the Unani system. Detailed research in recent times has led to the conclusion that lettuce possesses anxiolytic properties. When lab animals were given lettuce extracts, their locomotive activity was reduced, suggesting considerable anxiolysis.
Anti-Cancer Properties: Lettuce leaf extracts can control certain type of cancer. Research on human cancer cells, particularly leukemia cells and breast cancer cells, were controlled to a significant extent after being treated with lettuce extracts. The experiments also suggested that the weight ratio of human lettuce consumption required to kill 50% of leukemia cells would be 3 kg.
Simple Lettuce Recipes
A few lettuce recipes are given below that can be easily tried at home.
Vegetable Salad: Cut your tomato, cucumber, radish, carrots, 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.
Side Effects of Lettuce
Food allergies are the abnormal response of the immune system to certain types of food that the body recognizes as harmful. In most cases, the reasons for food allergies are unknown. Food allergies that result in anaphylaxis are the worst kind and according to the Centre for Disease Control, they are on the rise.
Studies have shown that even lettuce can produce allergies and the allergen proteins have been identified. 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. However, aside from the unlikely event of having a food allergy to lettuce, it is a healthy and beneficial food!