Lettuce: Living for the Nutrients
Living on the Wild Side!
Here are some clues and advice on selecting lettuce that contains the most nutrients. Color is the first and easiest trait to see. The more intense the color, the more nutrients. Look for the red, purple and dark greens colors first. Dark green varieties are loaded in phytonutrients, Lutein. Lutein is an antioxidant and has been shown to protect eyes, and calm inflammations. The second trait to search for is the arrangement of the leaves. Find open, loose leaves to get more bionutrients. "In an interesting study published in the Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research in 2011, researchers from the University of Gaziosmanpasa in Turkey investigated how the arrangement of indivividual leaves on a lettuce plant influences the phytochemical content and antioxidant capacity of the plant. They looked at both red and green lettuce cultivars, and only studied plants that had been grown under the same environmental conditions. The researchers found that the outer leaves, which get the most sun, contained more phenolic compounds and had stronger antioxidant properties, as measured by total antioxidant capacity (TAC), than the inner leaves. This phenomenon was observed both in the green and red varieties.
The Love-Hate Relationship Between Lettuce Leaves and the Sun
But why do open-leaf varieties and the outer leaves of lettuce plants contain more antioxidants than lettuce leaves that are sheltered from the sun? As with so many other questions related to maximizing the nutritional value of our meals, we find an answer in Jo Robinson's award-winning book, Eating on the Wild Side. In this New York Times bestseller, Robinson explains that salad greens have a "love-hate relationship" with the sun: they need sunlight to grow, but the sun's UV rays can also destroy them. To protect themselves from the UV rays, they have to manufacture their own sunscreen—antioxidants that block the harmful effects effect of the sun's UV rays. And, the higher the exposure to UV light, the more antioxidants are produced by the leaves.