Lettuces, the foundation of great garden salads, come in a staggering variety of shapes and sizes. Adding great colour and crunch to the salad bowl, their leaves are best eaten as young and as fresh as possible. I adore the crispy mouth-watering varieties like cos and iceberg.
Growing your own, means you can simply nip the outer leaves off in a flash, whenever you like! You can create that delicious side salad that brightens up any barbecue, whatever the weather! Flavours are more diverse now too, with newer sophisticated mustardy and peppery flavours to help enthuse any jaded taste-buds. A bowl of mixed coloured leaves, some flushed with orange tones with red tinges, stirs up memories in me of sitting out the back, lazy days, the taste of sunshine, cut grass and the warm summer breezes.
Like other greens, lettuces are very low in calories and contain mostly water, with only a trace of fat. Nonetheless lettuces contain many vital phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals depending on the variety. In general the greener the leaf the better the nutritional profile.
Fresh rocket leaves contain good levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful, natural anti-oxidant. Foods rich in vitamin C are important for the immune system to work well and this vitamin scavenges harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
Watercress and spinach contain lutein, which may help maintain healthy eyesight, while watercress and rocket also contain glucosinolates, which scientific studies suggest have powerful anti-cancer effects.
Lettuce is mainly eaten raw in salads, though you can also add them to different soups or even braise them as a side dish. Some food adventurers even mix them with spinach leaves in stir-frys, hoovering up those excess leaves from the garden patch.
If you’re supermarket buying, choose the best in season as lettuces need to be really fresh to taste good. Avoid any that show any signs of wilting or yellowing.
The cucumber is very low in calories and provides only 15 calories per 100 g (about a quarter of a large cucumber). It contains little or no saturated fat. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fibre, which helps the digestive system to work well.
It’s a very good source of potassium, an important intra-cellular electrolyte. Potassium is a heart friendly electrolyte. It helps to reduce blood pressure and heart rates by countering effects of sodium.
Trying to get adequate fibre on a daily basis is a challenge for most of us. Adding a crunchy cool cucumber to your salads is an especially good way to increase your fibre intake because cucumber comes naturally pre-packaged with the extra fluid you need when consuming more fibre. Plus, you get the added bonus of some vitamin C, silica, potassium and magnesium.
One way to tell if you are eating well is to look at your plate! How colourful is your food? Salad and other vegetables with deep, vibrant colours, like spinach leaves, tomatoes, and broccoli, contain phytonutrients, powerful plant compounds that are important to good health.
Hundreds of different phytonutrients exist, including vitamins and minerals, and they protect the body from disease. No single fruit or vegetable can provide every beneficial chemical, so eating a variety of colourful foods is key.
Spend time this summer developing your families favourite salads, great for picnics, lunchboxes and the barbecue. Make at home and they’ll cost less and taste far better than anything you can buy!
BSc., Dip Dietetics., MSc in Health Sciences., Dip Allergy, M.I.N.D.I.
Paula Mee runs a dietetic clinic in Medfit, Blackrock, Co Dublin.
She has worked with educational, pharmaceutical and food organisations in the health and wellness arena since she set up her own consultancy practice in 2004. She provides an extensive range of services in nutrition and marketing communications.
Paula has always been in close contact with consumers throughout her career. She is continually passionate that the consumers voice is heard on many issues. She firmly believes that food that is good for us tastes good too and that it’s just a matter of stocking up on foods which don’t take much preparation, but which deliver far more satisfaction in terms of appetite and keep us going for long periods of time between meals.
Paula was previously the Nutrition Manager for Superquinn. Prior to that she worked as senior nutritionist in the National Dairy Council. Paula was one of the presenters of RTE TV’s Health Squad programme and a regular participant on RTE’s The Afternoon Show. She makes regular appearances on TV and radio programmes advising on nutrition and health issues.