Jessica's Nutritious Living: Lettuce, Vegetables and Farro

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BY JESSICA SIEGEL, MPH, RD

(Editor’s Note: This column is filled with nutritious food tips and accompanying recipes written exclusively for My Daily Find by Jessica Siegel, Gelson’s Staff Dietitian. )

More than just “roughage,” lettuce is an excellent vegetable to include regularly in your diet; in fact, most people do, as it is the second most popular vegetable consumed in the United States. July is the perfect time to explore an abundant array of lettuces, since big salads make for perfect meals in hot weather.

There are over 40 types of salad greens, each with varying amounts of nutrition, but they all contain good quantities of vitamins A, C and K, folate, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Vitamin A, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein help protect our eyes from cataracts and age-related macular degeneration and enhance vision. Folate is an under-consumed nutrient for many, but it is important for lowering artery-clogging homocysteine levels in the blood and for preventing neural tube defects in developing fetuses. Vitamins A and C, folate and beta-carotene are all important for the formation of healthy tissue and skin, and therefore help protect our immune systems. Leafy greens are an excellent source of bone-building vitamin K, a nutrient which is also important for normal blood clotting function.

A serving of raw lettuce is one cup, and has between five and ten calories. Small leaves and baby lettuces tend to be more nutritious because when larger leaves are torn or cut they can lose vitamin C and other water-soluble nutrients. Deeply colored leaves also tend to be more nutritious than pale leaves. Arugula and watercress offer the most nutrition and, because they are actually members of the cruciferous vegetable family (along with cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower), they contain indoles that can help protect against cancer.

Greens are abundant all year long and are sold in heads, loose in bulk, and in boxes or bags. The difference among them is really just a matter of convenience. Whichever you buy, make sure the leaves are crisp, free of brown edges or spots, and are moist but not wet. At home, store your lettuce in the crisper, inside plastic bags with a few holes in them. All greens (even bagged varieties) need to be washed just before you use them to remove any grit and sand. A salad spinner is your best bet for properly washing and drying leaves. Make sure your lettuce is dry, since dressing will not stick to wet leaves.

Pairing lettuce with the right ingredients and salad dressing is the key to taking your greens from drab to fab in no time. It’s fun to get creative with different additions; I always try to make my salads as colorful as possible. Some of my favorite additions are tomatoes, shredded carrots, beans, fruit, fresh corn, feta cheese, nuts, avocado, shredded cabbage, cucumber, finely cut onion, cooked grains and hard-boiled eggs. Dress and toss your salads just before you eat them, preferably with a combination of extra virgin first cold pressed olive oil and some vinegar or lemon juice. It is important that you use dressings that contain fat, since many of the nutrients in lettuce and other salad ingredients are only absorbed in the presence of fat. This month, try my recipe for Summer Vegetable and Farro Medley.

Jessica Siegel, MPH, RD is the Staff Dietitian for Gelson’s Markets.  She is the author of Nutrition Notes, a monthly newsletter about nutrition, wellness, food and cooking, as well as several healthful recipes, all of which are available in stores and online at www.gelsons.com.  Jessica has also converted thousands of Gelson’s shoppers into better eaters over the years with Recipes from Jessica’s Kitchen, her delightful line of healthful and wholesome prepared foods, available in all of Gelson’s Service Delis.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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