Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Iceberg lettuce and your Digestion

(nl: IJssla krop)Iceberg lettuceImage via Wikipedia

Okay, your diet is off on the right track.  Armed with the information that Newark is leading the state of New Jersey in obesity, you refuse to be one of the statistics.   You have started  making healthier diet choices by increasing fiber; and cutting down on fats, sodium and sugar, congratulations!  Salads are a mainstay of your diet now since you know that better health results from consuming  more raw foods and vegetables. But, despite feeling good because of your new eating  habits, you notice gas, bloating and diarrhea.  What is going on?

Ice berg Lettuce, the culprit?
Iceberg lettuce is the round lettuce with the light green leaves.  Just stroll around the popular local Newark area restaurants and you will see it everywhere, particularly in the many Asian Buffet salad bars like Wok II and Alex Eng's.

At one time, iceberg lettuce was seen in abundance in our area.  This is due to the fact that much of the lettuce was shipped to our area from places such as California.  It was packed on ice, hence its name, and shipped all over the country.  It retained its crispy texture and light green color.  Obviously this  was a plus for manufacturers since it didn't loose its eye appeal on the supermarket shelf or in the salad bar.
however, nutrient wise, iceberg lettuce much less than romaine.

        Iceberg Lettuce has eight calories, 0.7g of fiber; potassium is 78mg. Vitamin C is 1.5gm, folate is     16mcg and beta-carotene 164 mcg.

        Romaine Lettuce has 8 calories with 1.0gm of fiber. Potassium 116 mg; vitamin C is 11.3 mg; folate is 164 mg and finally has beta-carotene at a whopping 1637 mcg.

("Exactly how nutritious is Iceberg Lettuce?"

As you can see, romaine contains a powerhouse of nutrition as compared to iceberg.  Also, some people are finding that they have digestive problems when consuming iceberg.  Symptoms of gas, bloating and diarrhea are common after eating  iceberg. I also have experienced this problem.

What causes the cramping?
In our intestines, we have friendly bacteria present which helps us digest our foods.  Sometimes, this bacteria does not properly digest certain bacteria in the lettuce and this causes a buildup of gas causing cramps.  This is a good reason to make sure that lettuce is properly washed.  Fertilizer usually contains manure which may have E. coli present. (Lehman, Christine, "Why does Iceberg Lettuce cause stomach cramps?"

Lettuce is full of water.  This water is held in the digestive track by fiber. (Did you ever notice what happens if you take a spoonful of fiber and stir it in a glass or water?  It expands.  In our intestines, this expansion causes the full feeling and has the added bonus of curbing the appetite. The water makes the stool easier to pass.)
If too much water is absorbed, this can result in diarrhea and stomach cramps.

What are some alternatives?

Other types of lettuce may be more agreeable to you such as chard, romaine, red tip leaf lettuce, spinach, curly endive, and arugula.  All are low calorie with their own distinctive flavor.  By trial and error, you can find which are the least offensive to your digestive system.

So, if that means riding a little further out, go ahead, enjoy the ride to a salad bar that offers a little more versatility in its lettuces.  You might even find that you fall in love with some of the tastes of other lettuce. 

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