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   Aug 22

Top ten healthiest salad leaves Eating salad every day has been found to have huge health benefits. Here’s why

Fancy a nice cup of lettuce water before bed? It’s the new craze on TikTok, with 35 million views of videos with the hashtag #lettucewater. Steep lettuce leaves in a cup of hot water as a bedtime drink, the theory goes, and you’ll have a better night’s sleep.

There’s little scientific evidence to back it up, although lettuce does contain tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to make the sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin. The dietician Bahee Van de Bor, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), says that “no single food has been proven to promote sleep”.

Yet while salad leaves in beverage form might not boost your health, eating more of them certainly will. Van de Bor says that lettuce and other salad leaves are often considered the poor relation to kale, cabbage and broccoli in terms of vitamin content and health benefits. Yet many contain a host of beneficial nutrients and plant compounds. “We should try to eat as wide a variety of salad vegetables as we can,” she says. “By varying the leaves you eat, you can get the full array of nutritional benefits that salad greens have to offer.”

Eating 100-200g of salad leaves a day — a good plateful — has been shown to have profound effects on health. One study of elderly people in the journal Neurology found that those who ate one good serving of leafy greens each day had brains that were the equivalent of 11 years younger than those who never or rarely ate the leafy greens. Another paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology in April showed that eating one plateful of nitrate-rich salad leaves such as romaine and oak leaf lettuce a day resulted in a significant reduction in heart disease.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the lead researcher of the British Gut project, says that eating a variety of salad leaves can help to boost our microbial health. “They will increase your fibre and nutrient intake, which has a positive effect on gut health,” he says. “Just don’t have the same salad every single day, and eat as many different leaves as you can.”

In general, the darker or more colourful the lettuce leaves, the higher the nutrient density, Van de Bor says. Crisp, pale iceberg lettuce, a UK salad favourite for years, is a case in point. It has a high water content and contains relatively little fibre and vitamins compared with many leaves, she says, so is best mixed in with other salad veg for some added crunch.

Oak leaf lettuce

Rich in dietary nitrates, boosts muscle function
Andrew Jones, professor of applied physiology at the University of Exeter, has conducted dozens of studies on the benefits of nitrates in our diet. Dietary nitrates are compounds that are converted by the body to nitrite, which not only relaxes and widens blood vessels, but influences how efficiently our cells use oxygen. With 155mg of nitrate per 100g, oak leaf lettuce contains more beneficial dietary nitrates on a weight-for-weight basis than beetroot (which has about 110mg of nitrate per 100g), often mistakenly regarded as the best source. Eating 100-300g a day of leafy green vegetables, achievable by consuming a couple of platefuls of oak leaf lettuce each day, will provide the amount of nitrate needed for positive effects on blood pressure and heart health, as well as muscle strength.

In May, scientists reported that eating one large serving of nitrate-rich leafy greens, including oak leaf lettuce, boosted muscle function. The study found that those with the highest regular nitrate consumption from salad greens had 11 per cent stronger knee extension muscles than those with the lowest nitrate intake.

Mustard and cress

Contain vitamin C and K, good for immune system
Remember growing mustard and cress on your windowsill as a child? They’re now earning a reputation as some of the most underrated microgreens to add to your salad. They are packed with immune-boosting vitamin C and also contain vitamin K and fibre. Scientists at the University of Kent are developing common garden cress loaded with vitamin B12, found naturally only in foods from animal sources. Cress seedlings were found to absorb the vitamin when it was fed to the plants and then stored it in their leaves, which holds important implications for people on a vegan diet, the researchers said.


Contains vitamin A, important for eye health
Crispy, bright romaine lettuce contains vitamin A, which plays an important role in eye health, cell division and immunity, and B vitamins, iron and calcium for strong bones and teeth. It is a good source of folate and potassium, which are important for heart health, and contains lutein and zeaxanthin, both important for eye health and the prevention of macular degeneration.

“These key nutrients for healthy eyes can’t be made in the body, so we need to consume them in the diet, and salad greens are a great addition,” says the dietician Helen Bond of the British Diatetic Association.

Lamb’s lettuce

Contains a variety of 35 compounds, good for all-round health
Spanish scientists recently reported that lamb’s lettuce, which is a common ingredient in mixed salad bags, is packed with 35 plant compounds. They said it was “a good option as a salad ingredient due to its phenolic, beta-carotene, chlorophyll and vitamin C content”. The name is believed to come from the leaves’ resemblance to a lamb’s tongue.


Contains vitamins and flavonoids, good for gut health
This bitter leaf — which is sometimes also called endive — contains vitamin K, potassium and folate along with a flavonoid called kaempferol in the leaves, which has been shown in preliminary studies to be a potent cancer-fighting compound. Endive leaves are also a prebiotic food, meaning they feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut, enabling them to flourish.


Contains vitamins, nitrates and erucin, a cancer-fighting compound
One of the richest providers of dietary nitrate, rocket can provide as much as 480mg nitrate per 100g. A growing body of evidence suggests that eating more nitrate-rich vegetables, rocket included, helps to improve blood flow, and maintain immune function and cardiovascular health. A study in the journal Plos One showed rocket, also known as arugula, to be particularly rich in a cancer-fighting compound called erucin.


Contains important antioxidants, helps reduce DNA damage
Watercress is packed with vitamin K and beta-carotene, so it’s no wonder that a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed watercress top in a list of fruit and vegetables ranked for their nutrient content. It’s also a rich source of PEITC (phenylethyl isothiocyanate), which studies have shown to be important in cancer protection. One study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that eating 85g of uncooked watercress daily helped to reduce DNA damage linked to cancer by 17 per cent.

Watercress may even aid your workouts, according to researchers at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Ulster. They showed that eating 85g of antioxidant-rich watercress two hours before a tough workout can protect against the natural stress put on the body by intense exercise.


Contains iron and helps to regulate blood pressure
Spinach contains fibre, vitamin K, nitrates and phosphorous, needed for strong bones and teeth. “It also contains non-haem iron, a plant version of iron,” Bond says. “Consume it with some peppers, rich in vitamin C, to help absorption.”

Research has found that consuming one bowl of spinach soup daily for seven days had a positive impact on regulating blood pressure, and two years ago it was reported by scientists from Freie Universität Berlin that an extract of a hormone called ecdysterone found in spinach boosted strength gains in athletes over 10 weeks.

Compounds called thylakoids that are present in the membranes of spinach leaves may even help to suppress your appetite. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden found in a study that the thylakoids in a spinach drink helped to decrease hunger by up to 95 per cent compared to a placebo.

Beetroot leaves

Contains potassium — protects against inflammation
The leaves of the root vegetable contain fibre, immune-boosting vitamin C, iron and potassium.

One study by a Brazilian team of scientists showed how regularly eating beet leaves for eight weeks protected against low-grade inflammation that disrupts normal functioning of cells, tissue and organs, and can raise the risk of liver damage.


Packed with vitamin K, aids blood clotting and strong bones
Part of the chicory family, this leaf is packed with vitamin K, important for blood clotting, strong bones and keeping blood vessels healthy, as well as anthocyanins, pigmented antioxidants that help to boost intestinal health and repair cells damaged by oxidative stress. Make sure you eat the red part of the leaves, which have been shown to have the highest concentration of antioxidants.

Source: Sunday Times

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