With exotic leafy greens like bok choy or curly kale winning much attention for their health benefits, a pregnant woman might overlook the nutritive power of lowly lettuce. Eating more lettuce-based salads can increase your intake of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. When selecting and preparing lettuce, take a few pointers into consideration to maximize the potential health benefit.
Eating a big lettuce-rich salad can deliver many vitamins and minerals important to pregnancy. Leaf lettuces other than iceberg offer vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, chloride, iron and potassium, as well as a trace amounts of protein. All lettuces contains some vitamin K, folic acid and dietary fiber. For maximum health, eat the entire lettuce leaf; the green leafy part provides the vitamins and minerals, while the spine and ribs contribute dietary fiber.
The folic acid found in lettuce can reduce the incidence of birth defects, according to the New York State Department of Health and MedLine Plus. The vitamin K found in lettuce reduces the incidence of hemorrhaging, a particular benefit directly following childbirth. As vitamin K passes through the placenta, a mother's intake of the nutrient can directly benefit the child. Chloride aids the mother's digestive system and normalizes bodily fluids. Fiber also aids digestion and can relieve pregnant women experiencing constipation, a relatively frequent complaint during pregnancy.
Types of Lettuce
All lettuces do not carry the same health benefits. Choose romaine instead of iceberg if your options are limited. If you have access to a broader range of lettuce varieties, keep to a simple rule of thumb: the darker, the better. A pale-leafed lettuce, such as iceberg, has low to negligible levels of most nutrients. Vitamin K is found in the chlorophyll that gives dark, leafy greens their emerald hue, making color such a clear indicator of nutrition. By opting for darker lettuces, you'll get the most folic acid, the nutrient linked to minimizing risks of birth defects. A 1-cup serving of romaine lettuce has the same level of folic acid as 1/4 head of iceberg lettuce, according to the New York State Department of Health.
Risks, Tips and Alternatives
While the health benefits of dark lettuces are unimpeachable, eating unwashed greens of any kind can expose pregnant mothers to serious health risks. During pregnancy, ensure that any lettuce you eat is thoroughly washed. Rinse individual leaves separately to remove any pesticides or contagions. Purchasing organic lettuce or produce from a reputable local grower you trust is a good additional safeguard. The March of Dimes cautions against eating lettuce from salad bars or institutional dining halls when pregnant. The relative ease of washing lettuce in comparison to sprouts makes it an ideal alternative during pregnancy, with many of the same health benefits. On the other hand, if you prefer to avoid raw vegetables completely, cabbage and asparagus contain comparable or superior levels of folic acid, compared with lettuce.
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- "Baby Center"; 10 fast foods a pregnant woman could love (and five to avoid); February 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin K
- MedlinePlus: Chloride in Diet
- New York State Department of Health: Folic Acid: The Vitamin that Helps Prevent Birth Defects
- MedlinePlus: Folic Acid
- "BabyZone"; What Not to Eat During Pregnancy; Stephanie Watson; May 2010
- "Colorado State Extension"; Preventing E. coli From Garden to Plate; J.G. Davis, et al.; April 2005
- "British Medical Journal"; Lettuce for Mothers; January 1965
- University of Illinois Extension: Lettuce