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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

Lettuce is often seen as a support act for the main dish – but it’s good for much more than layering in a sandwich or tossing in a salad, as these ideas show…

 

1. Steamed fish wraps

Top thick white fish fillets with grated fresh ginger and orange zest. Wrap the fish in large butterhead lettuce leaves to make parcels, then steam for 10 min or until the fish is cooked.

2. Canapé cups

Healthier than pastry-based party bites, crisp little gem lettuce leaves are ideal for filling with mini portions of coronation chicken (made with low-fat mayo and yogurt), spicy Thai-style chicken mince or sweet chilli prawns.

3. Braised leaves with peas and miso

Crisp cos and romaine lettuce are good for cooking as they have a thick spine that becomes soft and fleshy when steamed or boiled. Thickly shred the leaves, then simmer in a little miso broth with frozen peas and chopped spring onions for 5 min or until the veg are just tender.

4. Refreshing soup

Any dark green, soft lettuce leaves will work here. Simmer chopped potatoes and onion in reduced-salt vegetable stock (just enough to cover) until tender. Add roughly chopped lettuce leaves and simmer until wilted, then blend in a food processor with a handful of fresh mint leaves. Add semi-skimmed milk to thin a little, then season with ground black pepper. Serve hot or cold.

5. Crunchy slaw

Toss shredded iceberg lettuce and fennel with thinly sliced radish and apple. Dress with low-fat natural yogurt, wholegrain mustard and chopped fresh parsley – a winning match for grilled oil-rich fish.

6. Classic salad

A good dressing is the key to a simple leaf salad. Mix a little walnut oil with a dash of sherry vinegar, some Dijon mustard and a squeeze of lemon juice. Toss with frilly lollo rosso or red-tinged oak leaf lettuce, then finish with a sprinkle of chopped toasted walnuts.

7. Vegetable juice

For a refreshing drink for two, juice 8 large lettuce leaves (cos or romaine are best) ½ cucumber and 1 large carrot. Serve over ice.

8. Chicken fajitas

Use large crisp lettuce leaves instead of soft flour tortillas for fajitas or lunchtime wraps – they’re surprisingly satisfying. If the leaves have thick spines, cut a v-shape at the base of each to make rolling easier. Put chopped cooked chicken and sliced avocado down the centre of each leaf, spoon over a fresh mango, chilli and lime salsa, then roll up to serve.

9. Barbecue side dish

Halve or quarter a crisp heart lettuce, such as little gem or romaine. Brush the cut surfaces with a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, and a little olive oil and runny honey. Barbecue or griddle until just starting to brown, then transfer to a large bowl and pour over any remaining marinade. Serve warm with barbecued or grilled lean beef or lamb steaks.

10. Creamy pasta salad

The sweet, tender leaves of lamb’s lettuce are delicious stirred into hot dishes, or wilted and piled on top as a garnish. Try this pasta dish: stir chopped mixed summer herbs, such as fresh tarragon, chives and parsley, into ricotta cheese, then add small blobs to freshly cooked pasta and stir through. Add flaked cooked salmon and a few handfuls of lamb’s lettuce and briefly toss to combine, then serve hot scattered with extra lamb’s lettuce, if you like.

What’s so great about lettuce?

HFG expert and nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam says: ‘All lettuce contributes to our intakes of vitamin C, folate, potassium and fibre, and provides vitamin K, which helps to maintain healthy bones. But for maximum nutrition benefits choose deeply-coloured varieties such as lollo rosso, romaine or butterhead lettuce. The deeper the colour, the higher the beta-carotene content – in fact, the outer lettuce leaves can contain up to 50 times as much beta-carotene as the inner white leaves. The body uses this nutrient to make vitamin A, important for healthy skin and eyes, and immunity. Coloured leaves also have more polyphenols, which are thought to have cardiovascular health benefits.’