Nutritional quality of outer and inner leaves of green and red pigmented lettuces (Lactuca sativa L.) consumed as salads
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) is a major food crop within the European Union. The objective of this study was to test the potential nutritional quality of three types of lettuce consumed as salads: Lactuca sativa L. var. longifolia (commonly named Cogollos de Tudela) and two cultivars of Lactuca sativa L. var. capitata (Batavia Rubia Munguía and Maravilla de Verano). Distribution of sugars, proteins, minerals and antioxidant compounds (carotenoids, chlorophylls, phenolics, anthocyanins and ascorbate) between outer and inner leaves was tested. The potential benefits of each variety or cultivar were due to different compounds accumulated in leaves. Cogollos de Tudela showed higher levels of Mg and Ca in both external and internal leaves, and greater concentrations of Mn, chlorophylls and carotenoids in inner leaves than lettuces belonging to the var. capitata. Batavia Rubia Munguía had low quantity of Na and an important amount of K, Mg, Ca, Fe and Zn in outer leaves and it was the cultivar that accumulated the highest quantity of water in both outer and inner leaves. Maravilla de Verano showed the greatest contents of anthocyanins and ascorbate in external leaves. In the three cultivars some of the potentially beneficial compounds appeared in higher levels in the outer than in the inner leaves. Therefore, the complete elimination of the external leaves should be reconsidered when lettuces are consumed as salads or used as food crop for the `Fourth Range¿ of vegetables.