Q: "My question concerns the food value of lettuce. I really like the varieties we can grow and buy these days, but I have heard lettuce dismissed as having no food value. When I was pregnant many years ago, a doctor at a health clinic in London told me to eat plenty of lettuce as it was rich in Vitamin K but I know views on eating and the values of certain foods have changed since then. What is your view?"
A: Dietitian Amanda Johnson responds:
"It's true that lettuce has a high water content (around 95%). But it can still make a useful contribution to our diet and it shouldn't be dismissed as having no food value, particularly if it is eaten frequently and in large portions (eg piled on a sandwich or as the basis of a salad). Certainly, lettuce would count towards our recommended intake of at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day.
In terms of nutrition, it's true that lettuce contains vitamin K and fibre; it is also a source of vitamin C, folate and vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). In addition, lettuce provides a range of antioxidant phytochemicals which are known to be good for us, eg flavonols, and (in the red varieties of lettuce such as lollo rosso) anthocyanins. Lettuce can be a particularly useful filler if you are watching your weight as it can provide bulk without too many kilojoules.
My advice would be if you enjoy eating lettuce, then carry on eating it. No one fruit or vegetable provides all the nutrients we need, that's why dietitians recommend having a wide variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables each day.
Adding other vegetables and fruits to lettuce to pad out your salad makes for appetising eye appeal, as well as a delicious taste. Try adding tomatoes, grated carrot, cucumber, onion, beetroot, watercress, celery, kiwifruit, strawberries or oranges. As well as being a tasty and colourful accompaniment to a meal, this will provide a wide range of nutrients and antioxidants.
There are lots of different varieties of lettuce available in NZ, with different textures and colours; any variety of lettuce can form a great basis for a salad or sandwich."