Not All Lettuce is Created Equal
I was at my local grocery store this weekend shopping for all of my eye-healthy fruits and veggies when a very nice older gentleman asked me to help him pick out some lettuce. It was as if he magically knew that I love to educate anyone willing to listen about healthy food options.
This gentleman was standing in front of the many, many lettuce options at the store, and was clearly confused and overwhelmed with what exactly he should buy. It made me wonder how many other people go to the grocery store and feel this way...possibly even choosing to skip the confusion altogether and forego the salad.
My new grocery store friend explained to me that his doctor told him to ‘eat more salad’. Though I know what his doctor was getting at, all I could think was, “Wow, what a HUGE generalization!” You see, the goal here matters. It wasn’t my business to ask this gentleman what ailment he was trying to overcome, but that certainly would have helped me, help him.
Specific macular degeneration needs
As for those of us with macular degeneration, we focus on eating specific eye-healthy nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin. For me personally, antioxidants are also a focus for me when it comes to my diet. Bye-bye free radicals, don’t let the door hit ya!
I only spent about ten minutes with my new grocery store friend, but I think I was able to help him out!
Here’s what I told him:
Not all lettuce is the same
When choosing the lettuce for your salad you generally take two things into consideration. One, what color green is it? And two, do I like the way that it tastes? This is when he gave me ‘the look.’ Oops! Clearly, he didn’t yet know what he liked the taste of. But, I told him this is more than okay because he’s going to come back for more lettuce each week and he can keep trying new ones.
I quickly grabbed a bag of iceberg lettuce, explaining to him that the white in color (which is why it’s called iceberg) means that it doesn’t have very many nutrients in it. That isn’t to say one shouldn’t eat iceberg lettuce if that’s what they love...since we tend to add healthy veggies in with the lettuce as well. It just means that if we are going for nutritional value, the darker green the better.
In case you’re also wondering about what type of lettuce to buy for your salads:
Arugula (also known as ‘rocket’) is very dark green, kind of spiky in shape and tastes a little peppery or bitter (to me). I especially love arugula in a sweet salad (strawberries, candied pecans and a sweet, light dressing). Arugula is jam-packed full of lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as antioxidants.
As stated earlier in this article, iceberg lettuce is not the most nutritious of your choices. Do not let this discourage you from eating salads with this type of lettuce though. There are other nutritional benefits to iceberg lettuce, just not as much lutein and zeaxanthin for those of us trying to eat these specific eye-healthy nutrients.
This type of lettuce is another powerhouse for lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as antioxidants. Kale is known as being one of the most nutrient-packed foods on the planet. Whoa! If you're one to not 'love' eating kale (like me), try adding some into a salad, mixed with your favorite type of lettuce! Kale is very dark green and 'ruffly' at the ends.
Romaine lettuce does have lutein, zeaxanthin, and antioxidants. However, not as much as arugula, kale, and spinach. Romaine is very high in other nutrients, actually has the most ‘other’ nutrients of all the lettuces! Since romaine is lighter in color, it has less fiber, lutein, and zeaxanthin, but is high in minerals like calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. Romaine is a little bit lighter green and shaped more like iceberg when chopped (just slightly curlier around the edges).
Spinach has tons of lutein, zeaxanthin, and antioxidants! It is also really versatile, as it can be cooked or easily blended into smoothies and tastes great! Spinach is round at the tip, sports a thin ‘tail’-like stem, and is very dark green.
Change it up!
I love, love, love a good salad! I eat one almost every day of my life for lunch. Not only do I enjoy eating salads, but I also gain a huge sense of control over my eye health when I know that I’m eating all the right nutrients to help preserve my vision. However, I quickly become tired of eating the same old salads every single day...so changing up my lettuce (and veggies, dressing, and proteins in my salads) is a MUST. Otherwise, I’ll stop eating salads and that just isn’t an option for me at this stage in my life.
Worth mentioning: All lettuce has many more nutrients than just lutein and zeaxanthin. I am focusing on these eye-healthy nutrients for this article. Also, The darker the leaf of the lettuce, the more lutein, zeaxanthin, and antioxidants. Bonus, the darker the leaf, the more fiber it has as well! Fiber helps our bodies get rid of waste!
As for storing lettuce, it is important to wash it (even if it says that it’s been pre-washed). Lettuce can make people sick if not washed and stored properly. Once rinsed with water thoroughly, lettuce will start to ‘go bad’ within a few days. To prevent this, I always put it in a sealed zipper baggie along with paper towels to absorb the excess water. I even sometimes change out the paper towels mid-week to help keep salad crisp and fresh.
I even pack little salads each Sunday for easy-to-grab work week lunches (I always include a paper towel in the bottom to help it stay fresh all week).
I am so happy that the gentleman at the store felt comfortable enough to ask me for help. I also hope that anyone in our macular degeneration community seeking help will feel comfortable enough to ask as well. Please reach out if you have any questions about your lettuce choices (or any other questions), I’m here to help (and love to!).
Eat more salad! *wink*
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