Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Offers Wonderful Health Benefits
With its tender, burgundy-red leaves, red oak leaf lettuce can add color and texture to any salad. Aside from its visual appeal, this loose-leaf lettuce cultivar also offers a whole slew of health benefits. Red oak leaf lettuce has been shown to lower cholesterol absorption, provide exceptionally high amounts of flavonoids and other antioxidants, and deliver plenty of pro-vitamin A which is crucial for good eye health. Below, we delve into the nutritional properties and health effects of red oak leaf lettuce in detail.
An Antioxidant Superstar
Red oak leaf lettuce has been shown to possess exceptionally strong antioxidant properties. A group of scientists from Spain found that the red-leafed lettuce varieties (red oak leaf and lollo rosso) had the highest antioxidant activity among the tested cultivars. The red-leafed varieties also had the highest total phenolic content, which may explain the extraordinary antioxidant properties of these varieties. This study covered five varieties of lettuce (iceberg, romaine, continental, red oak leaf, and lollo rosso) and one variety of escarole (frissé). The findings of this study were published in the June 2008 issue of Food Chemistry.
A study published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture looked into the phenolic profiles of various lettuce cultivars. The researchers found that dicaffeoyl tartaric acid was the dominating phenolic compound in lettuce overall, and that the red oak leaf cultivar contained twofold more dicaffeoyl tartaric acid than the tested green cultivars. In addition, other studies have shown red-pigmented varieties to contain significant levels of flavonoids such as anthocyanins. These phenolic compounds have received a lot of attention from the medical community due to their wide-ranging health-protecting activity. Thanks to their antioxidant effects and other health-boosting qualities, flavonoids have shown potential in:
- Protecting veins from rupture or leakage
- Boosting the healing powers of vitamin C (aka ascorbic acid)
- Protecting the body against excessive inflammation
- Reducing the risk of frequent colds and infections (making them a crucial part of flu prevention diets)
- Reducing the risk of chronic disease (at least when consumed in the form of food rather than as supplements)
Benefits for People with High Cholesterol Levels?
Not only does red oak leaf lettuce contain zero fat and zero cholesterol, it may also help bring down LDL cholesterol levels. A team of French scientists discovered that rats that were fed a diet containing 20% red oak leaf lettuce for three weeks saw an improvement in their HDL cholesterol levels (good) in relation to their LDL cholesterol levels (bad). The researchers also recorded a marked decrease in the rats' liver cholesterol levels (-41%) as well as a significant drop in the absorption of dietary cholesterol (-37%). These compelling results were published in the August 2004 edition of the journal Clinical Nutrition.
Pro-Vitamin A for Healthy Vision
If all the nutritional and health benefits of red oak leaf lettuce described above are not enough to convince you to toss some oakleaf lettuce into your next salad, here's some more food for thought: The deep-colored leaves of this tasty salad green are also rich in carotenoids which your body can convert into vitamin A (provided that you don't carry a gene that prevents the conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A). In addition to its strong antioxidant properties, vitamin A has eye health protecting qualities, and research has linked vitamin A deficiency to impaired night and color vision.
Maximizing the Health Benefits of Red Oak Leaf Lettuce
By now you probably agree that red oak leaf is indeed good for you. But how can we maximize the nutritional benefits of oak leaf lettuce? Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of oakleaf lettuce:
- Don't toss the outer leaves into the compost bin, just rinse them thoroughly to remove all grit. Research shows that the outer leaves beat the inner leaves in terms of phytonutrient content and antioxidant properties.
- Eat your lettuce as soon as possible – lettuce begins to lose its nutritional value immediately after harvest.
- The flavonoids in red oak leaf boost the effects of vitamin C, so include foods that are rich in vitamin C (such as citrus fruit) in your salads to reap some extra health benefits.
- Use an oil-based salad dressing to make the fat-soluble carotenoids in red leaf lettuce more available to your body.
- Don't store lettuce near fruits that produce ethylene gases (like apples) as it can speed up spoilage.
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