Lettuce – the Natural Diuretic, Sedative and Beauty Ingredient

Lettuce close up

LettuceRedGIf there was a poll for most boring vegetable surely lettuce would win a place near the top.

With this in mind, Vegging Out has taken a pledge to give this humble and largely overlooked salad vegetable a new lease of life.

The lettuce make-over began in my last post where I explored different ways to eat lettuce with 10 Tasty Lettuce Recipes. My hope is for us all to banish those cold and uninspiring lettuce and tomato salads in favour of something a little more adventurous.

So . . . what else is there to say about lettuce?!

Lettuce Opium

One of the most interesting things about lettuce can be found in its stem.

Break the base of your lettuce stems and you should see a milky fluid appear. When dried, this fluid, best seen in the wild Lactuca virosa species of lettuce, is called ‘lactucarium’. Lactucarium is also known as ‘lettuce opium’ because it has a sedative quality.

Lactucarium was popular in the 19th century, but it was discovered and used way before that. The Romans and Egyptians took advantage of the lettuce’s opium-like properties by eating it at the end of a meal to put them to sleep.

Lettuce – the Natural Diuretic

Lettuce is a good choice for those suffering from water retention and bloating because it is highly diuretic.

Diuretics help the body to eliminate sodium and water, which is why they are often prescribed by doctors to lower the blood pressure of those with hypertension. However, diuretics can also rob the body of essential minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

The good thing about lettuce is that it couples its diuretic properties with a good dose of minerals, including manganese, chromium, potassium, iron, phosphorus and calcium.

The best way to use lettuce as a diuretic is to juice half to a whole head and drink on its own or mixed with other vegetable or fruit juices such as spinach, carrot, garlic or apple (that’s not a recipe by the way!). It’s easier to juice a hard-headed variety such as iceberg.

Lettuce – for Natural Beauty

Lettuce contains nutrients that are important for maintaining healthy skin. Here’s a few ways you can use it in your beauty routine:

Nutrients in Lettuce

According to the World’s Healthiest Foods, lettuce contains excellent quantities of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, manganese, chromium as well as very good quantities of potassium, molybdenum, fibre, vitamin B1, iron, vitamin B2, phosphorus, and good quantities of calcium, tryptophan, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6.

Discover 10 Tasty Lettuce Recipes here.

[Photo by skylarprimm from Flickr.]



Tomatoes and Lycopene


When it comes to ‘superfoods’, tomatoes are among the most accessible. They are easy to find in the shops and not prohibitively expensive like other superfoods such as pomegranates, blueberries or goji berries. They are even easy to grow – if you’ve got the space.

So why are tomatoes so special?

What Nutrients Are in Tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Potassium and Manganese, and a good source of Vitamin E, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper.

As well as this, tomatoes are currently the best known natural source of the phytonutrient lycopene.

Lycopene – a Protective Antioxidant

Lycopene is a natural pigment that gives the tomato its red colour. It is also one of our most powerful antioxidants.

Antioxidants have a protective effect on our cells and are often described as being ‘anti-aging’. Lycopene in particular has been noted for its ability to protect DNA and prevent disease, and it continues to be the subject of studies on heart disease and cancer.

In response to positive results from these studies, supplementation companies have released a number of lycopene supplements on to the market. However, many of these studies also support tomatoes in preference to supplements. It appears that the combination of nutrients in tomatoes is the key to lycopene’s health-promoting properties.

Tomato Purée vs Tomatoes – Which is Nutritionally the Best?

Unlike most fruits and vegetables, where nutritional content decreases with cooking, processing tomatoes increases the concentration of bioavailable lycopene.

Lycopene in tomato purée is four times more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes. Other products, which contain higher concentrations of lycopene than raw tomatoes include pasteurised tomato juice, tomato soup and tomato sauce.

Because of its greater concentration of lycopene, tomato purée – also known by its Italian name passata di pomodoro – is often used in scientific tests. It consists of tomatoes that have been cooked briefly and strained to give a thick liquid. The ingredients of tomato purée should be 100 per cent tomatoes and nothing else – and if you can find an organic purée all the better.

TOMATO TIP: Use tomato purée in place of sugar-laden
tomato ketchup at meal times.

The Best Way to Absorb Lycopene From Your Food

To get the most out of our food, our body needs to be able to absorb the nutrients. To get the most out of tomatoes:

  • Choose processed tomatoes (purée, paste, soup or sauces) or crush and cook them yourself.
  • Check the labels on any tomato products you buy and opt for those displaying only natural ingredients.
  • Serve tomatoes with olive oil. As lycopene is fat-soluble, this increases absorption during digestion.

10 Tasty Tomato Recipes

Recent Tomato Research:

• Tomato Lycopene and Bone Health

In a study published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, a higher intake of lycopene was found to be associated with a lower risk of hip fracture, suggesting a protective role in bone health.

• Tomato Lycopene and Sun Protection

Lycopene is thought to neutralise the harmful effects of UV light. In 2008, the British Society for Investigative Dermatology presented research on the use of tomato lycopene as a sun-protection aid.

In their study, a group of people who received 55 grams (five tablespoons) of tomato paste with 10g of olive oil a day for 12 weeks showed 33 per cent more protection against sunburn.

As good as this sounds, tomato eaters should not consider giving up their sun cream as this increase in protection is equivalent to a sun protection factor of only 1.3. However, the longer your diet includes good quantities of lycopene, the greater the effect.

• Tomato Lycopene and Skin Aging

Increasing levels of lycopene in your diet could also have a positive effect on the skin aging process, keeping you looking younger for longer – and who wouldn’t want that!

The British Society for Investigative Dermatology found lycopene to boost levels of pro-collagen – which gives skin its structure and elasticity – and reduce damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin.

• Tomatoes and Men’s Health – Prostate and Fertility

Research suggests that men who suffer from infertility often have low lycopene levels. Lycopene is believed to help in the production of agile sperm by fighting off free radicals, which can damage their cells and DNA. As well as lycopene, tomatoes contain good levels of vitamin C, potassium and folic acid, all of which are needed for male fertility.

In a study conducted by Portsmouth University, healthy men who ate 400g of tomato soup every day for two weeks increased their lycopene levels by between 7 and 12%.

Regular consumption of tomatoes is also thought to boost prostate health –  important for sperm production – and lower the risk of prostate cancer.

• Tomatoes and Asthma

Tomatoes were found to soothe inflammation in the airways of asthma sufferers in a trial at Australia’s Hunter Medical Research Institute. Scientists saw improvements in lung health after test subjects consumed a lycopene-rich diet with three glasses of tomato juice (the equivalent of 1.5kg of fresh tomatoes) a day over a period of time.

10 Tasty Tomato Recipes


All Things Radish – History, Growing and Nutrition

radish seeds germinated

Thirteen days after planting, my radish seeds have germinated, despite the threat of being dug up by the cats and dogs of the neighbourhood.

My seedlings have pairs of lush green heart-shaped leaves, which look a bit like mustard (from ‘mustard and cress’ fame) and there’s a good reason for this. The radish plant is closely related to mustard and they both belong to the brassica family of vegetables, which includes cabbage, turnips and broccoli.

The Radish in History

Radishes were first grown in China thousands of years ago, then in Egypt where ancient writings have shown they were cultivated before the building of the pyramids.

In Ancient Greece the radish was so revered that gold replicas were made and offered to the god Apollo, who it seems was a very busy god responsible for a number of facets of life, including medicine and healing.

The radish found its way to England in the mid 16th century and into Shakespeare’s Henry IV shortly after – ‘. . . when a’ was naked, he was, for all the world, like a forked radish, with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife.’ (King Henry IV. Part II. Act iii. Sc. 2.)

Planting Radishes

After I planted my seeds I found some very precise radish planting instructions from the Texan Department of Horticultural Sciences. Their method would require more land than I have got, but then I found the Cambridge Science and Plants for Schools website, which really does prove that you can grow radishes in the smallest space. They have step-by-step instructions on growing radishes in film canisters (although by picture 5, it looks like the canister has grown to the size of a baked bean can).
Radish seedlings pulled

Radish Seedlings and Sprouts

Radish seeds don’t have to be planted, they can be grown in a sprouter and eaten just as you would eat mustard and cress or any other sprouted bean or seed.

As some of my seedlings have come up bunched together in what would be a good sprouting stage, I pull a few out and decide to give them a taste test.

They have a warming, peppery taste with a subtle flavour of (surprise, surprise) radish! I think they would be great for perking up cheese or egg sandwiches, or as a topping for salads and soups.

Radish Nutrients

So what nutrients does this humble salad veg have . . .

Radishes are a very good source of fibre, vitamin C, folic acid and potassium, and a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. Other nutrients, including iron, are also found, but in lesser quantities.

Radishes are also mildly anti-inflammatory, which is another good thing. A diet containing anti-inflammatory foods can help to control inflammation in the body, which is an underlying factor of so many allergies and illnesses.

In a few weeks’ time (fingers crossed), my radishes will be fully grown and I can’t wait to see what they taste like fresh from the soil. I had better go and water them now . . .

Discover 10 Tasty Radish Recipes.


Broccoli – the Nutrient Powerhouse

BroccoliWhat Nutrients Are In Broccoli?

Broccoli is a nutritional heavyweight. It packs a punch of 19 nutrients. Eat one serving (one cup) and you will be downing excellent quantities of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid and fibre.

Add to that, very good quantities of manganese, tryptophan, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin B2, phosphorus, magnesium, protein and Omega 3. And good quantities of vitamin B5, iron, calcium, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, zinc and vitamin E. Wow!

Food vs Supplements

Now, if you look at this list and compare it with the average list of nutrients in a multivitamin tablet, it’s a good illustration of why, if you eat the right foods, there’s no need to supplement. And you’ll probably find that buying broccoli is a whole lot cheaper.

Quantity of nutrients is of course an issue. One cup of broccoli (according to The World’s Healthiest Foods) provides 205% of your daily needs of vitamin C, 194% of vitamin K and 45% of vitamin A. The rest of the nutrients range from between 23 and 3% of daily need. But, of course, you are not going to eat the broccoli on its own so any other natural foods you eat with it adds to your cache of nutrients.

Ways to Cook Broccoli to Boost Nutrients

Another thing to bear in mind is how you cook/eat your broccoli. You will get the most benefit from eating it raw and lose the least nutrients from steaming. If you choose to boil it, leave it in the water for only a couple of minutes so it’s still firm and a nice bright green – if you cut the pieces quite small, they cook really quickly. Broccoli can be lovely in stir fries, but again, cut the pieces small and fry for only a few minutes, preferably in olive oil.

A simple way to add extra vitamins, omega oils and phytochemicals to your broccoli – and great taste – is to serve it with your choice of chopped red chilli, raw garlic, almonds, coconut flakes, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds.


For 10 Tasty Broccoli Recipes click here.

You can get the lowdown on the quantity of nutrients in broccoli at The World’s Healthiest Foods.


What to Do with Pak Choi

dec13 Veg boxThis week’s box has: • Potatoes • Turnips • Raw beetroot
• Carrots • Cabbage • Parsnips • Pak choi

The beetroot will definitely get juiced, the parsnips will be made into one of the recipes in my 10 Tasty Parsnip Recipes post and I quite fancy the Honey Creamed Turnips here.

pak choi

What is Pak Choi?

This week’s ‘first’ is the pak choi – also known as bok choy and Chinese cabbage. According to Wikipedia, pak choi is related to the cabbage and belongs to the same vegetable species as the turnip – which I would never have guessed.

All of pak choi is edible, I just cut off and discard the very bottom of the stems. The leaves can be eaten raw in salad or are quick to wilt by steaming, sauteing or stir frying.

The stalks hold their water well, which makes them refreshing to eat. They take a little longer than the leaves to cook, so put them in the pan first.

Pak Choi Recipe Ideas

Today I had half of my pak choi in a stir fry with tofu and any other random thing I could find, including a courgette, half a chilli and some brazil nuts.

If you are looking for a more adventurous recipe, here are some ideas:

What Nutrients Are in Pak Choi?

Pak choi is a very good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin (B2), vitamin B6, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and manganese, and a good source of fibre, protein, thiamin (B1), niacin (B3) and phosphorus.


The Turnip – Making a Credit-Crunching Comeback


Baldrick’s Favourite Food

I am a huge fan of Blackadder, so I know that if Baldrick was given a million pounds he would get ‘a great big turnip in the country’. So what does Baldrick see in this humble veg?

A Short History of Turnips

First imported to Britain in 1750 by politician Charles Townshend, turnips have a mild taste and can be eaten cooked or raw. They filled our grandparents’ bellies as a wartime staple and have generally been used to bulk out mashed potatoes and stews. But since the 1940s, they had fallen out of favour – until now.

Turnips Today

According to an article in the Telegraph, Tesco have seen a 75% rise in turnip sales over the last year. Why? At the moment, turnips are a cheaper alternative to many other vegetables and as the ‘credit crunch’ bites, more people are buying them to make their money stretch further.

So other than boiling, mashing or roasting them plain, what can you do with turnips? Here are some ideas.

5 Turnip Recipes

Turnip Nutrition

Nutritionally, the turnip is a very good source of fibre, vitamin C and manganese, and a good source of vitamin B6, folic acid, calcium, potassium and copper (from www.nutritiondata.com).


Spinach Nutrients and Quick Roasted Veg

SpinachThis week’s veggies are: • Red potatoes • 2 courgettes • Cabbage
• Carrots • Kale • Swede and for the first time, • Spinach.

Spinach Nutrients

I lovvvve spinach. According to The World’s Healthiest Food website, spinach is an excellent source of: vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, folic acid, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium and tryptophan.

It also contains good levels of: vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin E, copper, phosphorus, zinc, omega 3 and selenium.

For 10 tasty spinach recipes, click here.

Quick Roasted Veg

I thought it was about time I braved the swede again instead of giving it away, so this time I tried it roasted.

I preheated the oven to 200 degrees then took two potatoes, a parsnip and the swede, and cut them all up into small cubes. Because the vegetables are cut into small pieces, they take less time to cook and get crispy.

After throwing the veggies into a roasting tin, I brushed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with a little salt and left them to their own devices in the oven. Twenty minutes later (give or take) they were done.

Roasted Veg Tastes Sweeter

These veg looked pretty much the same when roasted so I couldn’t always tell it was swede I was putting in my mouth. And when I did notice, my bottle of Lingham’s Ginger, Garlic, Chilli Sauce was there to help disguise the taste!

Because roasting brings the natural sweetness out of vegetables, I found the swede much easier to eat this way. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I liked it – heaven forfend – but I didn’t hate it this way.

Potato Varieties and Nutrition

Week 47OK, so this week we have: • Potatoes • Cabbage • 7 small raw beetroot
• 3 carrots • 2 parsnips • 1 courgette • 1 red pepper

Potato Varieties

The label on the bag of potatoes tells me that these are locally grown white potatoes called ‘Madeleine’. While I was searching for information on this variety (couldn’t find anything), I discovered a handy chart on the Potato Council website for matching potato varieties to a range of cooking methods.

Click here to find the best varieties for boiling, mashing and roasting, and for salads, jacket potatoes, chips, potato wedges and dauphinoise.

What Nutrients are in Potatoes?

The Potato Council nutrition page shows that potatoes are a good source of: • Vitamin C • Vitamin B1 • Vitamin B6 • Folic acid • Iron and • Potassium.

What’s more, they have higher levels of these nutrients than both rice and pasta, and contain less calories if you are eating them boiled.

2008 is the International Year of the Potato

From the Potato Council website I also discover that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato. Click here for the official IYP website where you are sure to find everything you wanted to know about potatoes but were afraid to ask!

There’s still time to catch a few of the scheduled IYP events, including the Potato Exhibition in Rome (6 Dec–9 Jan 09), the Potato Festival in Russia (10–11 Dec) and the World Potato Congress in New Zealand (22–25 march 09).

Pick-your-own Kitchen Windowsill Salad

One of the surprises in this week’s box is the Living Salads Organic Oriental Mix – otherwise known as my kitchen windowsill salad.

Just Add Water

Growing in a plastic tray filled with compost are four-week old leaves of pak choi, tatsoi mustard and rocket. All I have to do is lightly water it and it could live up to 10 days – although I’m sure I will use it all before then.

Pak choi and tatsoi are Asian greens, which belong to the brassica family, and rocket is thought to originate from southern Europe.

Each has a slight mustard or peppery taste and adds a nice zing to an average plate of pasta or stir fry, and can make most sandwiches much more exciting on the taste buds. You can pretty much throw these leaves into any meal.

A Fresher, Healthier Salad

One thing to remember with all salad, fruit and veg is that from the moment they are picked they start to loose nutrients. Nutritionally, this tray of growing salad is a better option than buying a bag of salad leaves that were picked some time ago and suffocated in a plastic bag.

Salad Nutrients

Salad leaves like these are a great source of vitamin A and folate (also known as vitamin B9 or folic acid). They also contain vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. You can find more on baby salad nutrients here.

Vitamins A, C and E, and zinc are powerful antioxidants, which the body uses to keep its cells healthy by protecting against free radicals*. So these salad leaves not only taste good, they are good news all round.

Grow Your Own

Pick-your-own salad has obvious benefits. This is the freshest way to get your salad leaves, they are bursting with nutrients and they are available right there, on your kitchen windowsill, whenever you want to use them.

But then I start to think . . . why not try growing your own? It doesn’t look like it should be that difficult. I’ve already got the tray – I can reuse the one my Living Salads salad came in – I just need some compost and seeds.

I did an internet search for salad seeds and found an interesting sounding oriental mix on the Suttons Seeds website. For £2.10 (today’s price) you get an average of 850 seeds in the Leaf Salad Spicy Oriental Mix Speedy Seeds packet. The mix contains Mizuna Kyoto, Indian Red Mustard, Yukina Savoy, Sky Rocket, and Golden Streaks Mustard.

Ready in Just 3 Weeks

From sowing, so the website says, the leaves should be ready to eat in just three weeks, and each sowing can give you up to three crops. Hmmm . . . I wonder how many sowings the 850 seeds give you and, although the website says to ‘grow them in the garden or in containers on the patio’, I wonder if you can grow them indoors. It’s definitely worth trying at some point.

* Particles and substances such as air pollution, smoke, alcohol, UV light, pesticides and medications, which can damage the cells and are often quoted in association with disease.

Swede Nutrients

Turnip jack-o-lantern (couldn't find an image of a swede lantern)

The ancient symbol of a damned soul. Turnip jack'o'lantern (couldn't find an image of a swede lantern). Image from Wikipedia.

Oh my word . . . another week, another swede. In fact this week’s box is identical to last weeks with: • Sweetcorn • Potatoes • Cabbage • Onions • Mushrooms • Carrots • More sweeeeeeede!

Swede: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As it’s another small swede I will ‘face the fear and eat it anyway’ – some how, some way. May the force be with me.

In the meantime, as painful as it is, I guess I should try to feel some love for ye olde swede-ee and explore it’s good side.

So does the swede have any good things to offer?

What Nutrients Are in Swede?

According to the website Nutrition Data, swede is a very good source of vitamin C, potassium and manganese, and a good source of fibre, thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.

With potassium, calcium and magnesium it has certainly got the electrolytes covered.

Nutrition Data also rate this veg as good for weight loss, which I believe could be true due to the fact that once you’ve cooked it, you don’t want to eat it. Well . . . that’s how it works for me!

A Taste Sensation

What I can’t understand is that one website describes the flavour of swede thus: ‘this creamy, orange-fleshed vegetable has a wonderful nutty, sweet flavour’. Huh?! They are definitely not eating the same swede that I’m eating!

I would describe swede as beige/yellow fleshed with a harsh, earthy/metallic flavour and weighty enough to sink a ship. I wonder if swede inspired the canon ball?

Rutabagas and Pumpkins . . . Now it Gets Interesting

OK, so at this point in my research, I’m not convinced of the swede’s good points. Then I discover that this vegetable carbuncle is also called a ‘rutabaga’, which is a much cooler name!

Furthermore, before pumpkins were grown in the UK and Ireland, swede were carved with faces and used as Jack’o’lanterns on Halloween. In this form they were the ancient symbol of a damned soul.

The ancient symbol of a damned soul . . . now that definitely fits with my experience of swede – they certainly taste like hell!

Please vote in my swede poll – click here.