This Veggie of the Week is like a garden in your fridge!  Your living lettuce is one of many varietals of the Lactuca plant family – first cultivated by the ancient Egyptians in the Nile basin.  In early farming, lettuce was transformed from a weedier plant which was harvested primarily for its seeds/seed oil – into what would eventually become the larger, tender leaves we enjoy as a staple vegetable. There are countless types of lettuce varieties; different textures and flavours, however their nutritional profile remains pretty consistent. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to write a bit of an expose on why we should all be eating more `green leafy veggies`, lettuce being one of them! We hear it all the time and know how nutritionally valuable these foods are – but perhaps some of the health benefits these veggies provide are not as obvious and worth a refresher!

Greens should always be a staple of our diet – and perhaps when we were still `foraging` for our foods it was – the fab folks at Fresh City Farms are helping us get more greens too!  Lettuces and all leafy veggies are the ideal carbohydrate – and the greener and fresher they are the better! These living greens, still with their roots intact – are unique because these leaves will contain more active plant enzymes.  Plant enzymes increase the digestibility of such foods and enhance our bodies’ ability to absorb vitamins and minerals from the leaves, including magnesium, calcium, Vitamins A, K and B’s like folic acid. Living greens and sprouts are the two best sources of active plant enzymes.

The flavanoids and carotenoids in green leafy veggies are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories in the body! Now you may have heard me use those words before – but what do they really mean?  Antioxidants are crucial in the body to repair damage done by `free radicals`and other toxins that unfortunately we cannot always avoid. High oxidant or free radical stress can eventually contribute to skin damage, cognitive decline, heart disease, and cancer – so regular consumption of these foods is very important in preventing the latter!  We all have some degree of inflammation from time to time, as it is a natural and required immune response – but we run into trouble when inflammation is allowed to persist due to high stress levels, poor diet, and lack of exercise. This type of chronic inflammation leads to health concerns like chronic allergies, skin conditions, joint & muscle pain, headaches, irritable bowel, menstrual cramps and low energy among others. Bottom line is – food, especially leafy veggies – has the power to prevent the negative effects of oxidant and inflammatory stress on our system!

Bronwyn Hill, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor & food lover. She is currently in practice in Toronto's Forest Hill Neighbourhood, at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. She specializes in using food as medicine, acupuncture & traditional chinese medicine & botanicals; and has particular experience treating digestive concerns, women's health concerns including menopause, stress management, insomnia, healthy detoxification, and chronic respiratory conditions including asthma. She can be reached at bhillnd@gmail.com . Follow her on Twitter @drbronwynnd.