2009-08-12 / Health

BCM expert offers the skinny on lettuce

HOUSTON - A Baylor College of Medicine (www.bcm.edu) expert offers up the skinny on lettuce - eat lots of it, but try to choose the most nutritious variety and watch what you put on it.

"Salad is a wonderful way to fill up without consuming a lot of calories," said Dr. Rebecca Reeves, (http://www.bcm.edu/ news/broadcastcenter/expert. cfm?expertid=79) assistant professor of medicine at BCM and a registered dietitian. "It's a good idea to eat a salad before your meal because the fiber helps fill you up and that can modify how hungry you are."

In some ways, all lettuce is much the same. Iceberg, romaine, loose leaf and butter lettuce all contain a lot of water and a comparable amount of calories - about 5 calories per half-cup shredded lettuce. But when preparing a salad, it's best to select darker lettuce because it contains more nutrients.

Dark green lettuce is a good source of vitamin A as well as some antioxidants. Incorporating plenty of fruits and veggies, including lettuce, that are darker yellow, orange and green in color is an important part of the diet, Reeves said.

An even better choice for salads is spinach. It's higher in fiber and also contains iron, potassium and vitamins A and C.

"Spinach is more nutritionally adequate than dark green lettuce," Reeves said. "If you want to eat something even a little better for you than green leafy lettuce, go for spinach or combine them - just throw some in your salad."

The easiest way to ruin the benefits of lettuce though is to load it up with high-calorie additions. Topping salad with creamy salad dressing, nuts, avocado, cheese and croutons will neutralize that caloric advantage of lettuce and spinach, Reeves said.

She advises:

-Using a low-fat or fatfree dressing or a small amount of oil plus vinegar or balsamic vinegar

-Ordering dressing on the side

-Dipping a biteful of salad into dressing rather than pouring it over the top

-Avoiding high-calorie toppings

-Using fresh squeezed lemon juice rather than dressing

"Be especially careful about what you add to a salad. Load up on bell peppers, onions, carrots and other vegetables that are low-calorie," Reeves said. "If you can do that, then I say eat salad, and eat a lot of it."

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