We thought it was just Romaine!
At this point, you should probably just throw out all your lettuce regardless of the origin. It doesn’t matter if it came from Salinas, California because other states may be involved now. There have been over 100 reported cases across 23 states at the time of this writing. There is an official recall. So I’d recommend you throw away (or return if allowed) lettuce that says “Caesar” or “Spring Mix” or “Hearts of Romaine” or “Romaine” or whatever! ALL OF IT!
I’m not being an alarmist, just the other day, we were told to trash those convenient bagged salad ‘kits’ because there are various types of lettuce in there, and some bags might have the contaminated E. coli leaves in it. The warning to consumers was about the brand called, Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp Chopped Salad Kits.”
There are multiple strains of pathogens and once infected, symptoms often show up a day or two after exposure to E. Coli (or Shiga toxin) but could actually take up to a week after eating to begin! This makes it hard to trace back because most people don’t remember what they ate a week ago!
The CDC says there are several pathogens involved now. The infection brings on diarrhea, which can at times become bloody. It will also trigger severe stomach cramping, physical weakness and sometimes vomiting. Hydration and rest and electrolyte supplementation are critical, or you might end up in the hospital requiring an IV bag with saline and nutrients!
Symptoms can last a week or two. For some, a complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) may occur. This is what happens to some people who have a gastrointestinal infection with E. Coli (or other food-borne pathogens like Salmonella, Shigella, and others) that spreads, and the HUS requires hospitalization for sure. It signals damaged kidneys. This condition will cause severe abdominal pain, fever, and reduced urination. Diarrhea will be bloody, there may be a nosebleed too. It’s common in children who get a severe GI infection from E. Coli.
Symptoms of eating poisoned lettuce usually start between two and eight days after eating the contaminated food and, if you’re a healthy adult, the symptoms will persist for a week or two. Again, hydration and electrolyte replenishment is important.
Just days after the original urgent concern, the FDA announced that it is looking into several other E. coli outbreaks linked to lettuce grown from other states. The CDC WEBSITE has information on this that is updated daily.
I’m a salad lover and for me, this has been disheartening news. Our food supply chain should never, ever be contaminated like this and produce food-borne illness that could ultimately be fatal. The pipes and water supplies to the farmland that grows our food should be pristine!
Below are some alternative options for those of you who love leafy greens, but are now avoiding all lettuce just in case. By the way, all salad greens are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-cancer nutrients, so I do not recommend that you run away from them just because of this recent scare! Just avoid the lettuce and substitute other leafy greens for now.har
One thing I love to do is add fruit and vegetables to my ‘salad’ so it’s more complex in flavor and nutritional profile. Doing this means you won’t need quite as many leaves to make the salad. For example, add chopped water chestnuts, or chopped jicama, fresh blueberries or chopped apple… dried cranberries, zucchini, grapefruit or your favorite cheese. Nuts add texture and flavor, as well as essential fatty acids.
One quick thing, if you are supported on warfarin or other anticoagulants, please be aware that all salad greens are high in Vitamin K (some more than others), so do not change your diet without your doctor’s approval and supervision. Wash the following leafy greens very well. Here are some safer salad green options:
Rainbow or Swiss Chard.
These have broad green leaves attached to a bright crimson red stalk. The red in the leaves and stalk is due to the natural dye “betalain.” I love them sautéed in garlic butter. If you’ve ever cooked them, you know they cook to nothing! You can fill a giant 16-quart pot with these, and by the time you’ve steamed them over 5 minutes, you have a spoonful! 😮
I once bought 6 of these at once, and when I checked out at the supermarket, the cashier sarcastically asked me if I was going to eat all that myself. Without batting an eye, I quipped, “No I have a horse to feed!” LOL 😂
The leaves are mild, and not too bitter or earthy. This is more tasty to me than spinach, and you can eat a little of it raw without concern to your thyroid. The chard contains a lot of Vitamin K and beta carotene, calcium and zinc. The betalain I mentioned earlier supports the body’s detoxification process and inhibit lipid peroxidation. Beets have a lot of these betalain compounds!
Very versatile and contains over 50 vitamins and minerals. Scientific data shows this can help prevent DNA cellular damage and in that regard, perhaps slow the development of cancer. Sometimes people worry about the goitrogenic effect on iodine absorption and subsequent production of thyroid hormone, but I think a little watercress is just fine.
If you’d like to read about goitrogens and what they can do to you in concentrated forms, like green dietary supplements that contain A LOT or juicing 2 pints of them every day… well, that’s a different story. CLICK HERE to read, The Case Against Kale.
Like all leafy greens, spinach is high in fiber and promotes regularity. It is also rich in potassium which regulates blood pressure. People are sometimes concerned about the oxalates in spinach, so just mix these greens with other greens if you don’t want an entire bowlful. I’m not worried about it too much, because “stones” are not directly caused by spinach! Of course, you do want to limit intake, and if you’re very concerned, or dealing with an active stone, please ask your physician or dietician what to do, and what to avoid. Here’s a delicious recipe for a cooked spinach dish called, Asian Spinach Saute.
This is a leafy vegetable that I’m sure you’ve seen in the produce section. It’s from the chicory family. Radicchio is a small, round reddish-purple sphere. There are 5 types, however, the kind you’re most likely to find at your supermarket is the “Radicchio di Chioggia.”
It looks like a head of red cabbage except it’s smaller and it has more tender, thinner leaves that pair well with greens in a salad. I use this all the time in my salad and it’s much tastier than red cabbage which is more firm and waxy. Add some radicchio to your salad because it is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and other micronutrients. It is chock full of minerals!
Mustard greens are one of my favorite greens to cook, but you can certainly slice a leaf up into your salad. Taste it first, because you might have to acquire this taste! No lie, this is going to provide a little bit of zing, and some peppery flavor to anything you put it on. I must be weird, I don’t mind eating it raw when it’s mixed with other greens. If you lightly steam or blanch it, so it’s not completely raw, you will dampen down the bitterness of it. Add bacon, prosciutto, or some Manchego cheese to your salad in order to tame the bitter flavor.
Did you know that the leaves, stem, and seeds from the mustard plant are used all over the world? You probably have the mustard seeds in your fridge, as in “mustard” a favorite condiment. The leafy greens of the mustard plant can be chopped up and put into a salad. Not all grocery stores carry this because it’s low on the list of favorites, so definitely call ahead. If you’d’ like to see the breakdown of compounds in mustard greens, CLICK HERE.
These leaves taste a little bitter, similarly to arugula. Dandelion greens are delicious in their unique flavor and can be cut up into a salad, or sautéed as a side dish. They have a mild diuretic effect which may be helpful if you have hypertension, just be aware. These leaves are high in beta carotene, inulin, chlorophyll (like all greens), iron, potassium, and calcium.
Dandelion greens are botanically related to sunflowers.
Pea shoots or pea tendrils are the other names for these. I get them at the Farmer’s Market when they are in season. You can wash and put these into your ‘salad’ and they add a layer of visual interest and taste. Don’t use the stems if they’re too big, you can slice the pea tendrils as you wish. They don’t taste as sweet as peas though.
This beautiful leaf is mainly yellow and white. It looks like a rowboat actually! It has grown well in the cooler months similarly to lettuce but it belongs to the chicory family. The leaves have a more bitter taste as compared to Romane. You will find in fancy salads because the leaves are attractive and frilly, just like Frisee (which is below). Endive is sometimes juiced with other fruits and vegetables because it has a pretty mild flavor, it’s not quite as bitter as some of the other leaves here, nor does it have that peppery-zing like mustard greens!
Endive contains a powerful antioxidant called kaempferol which I’ve written about before. You will enjoy reading this article, Stop Counting Carbs, Eat Kaempferol. Kaempferol is in many other vegetables and has been shown to starve cancer cells, and inhibit angiogenesis. This effect is not exclusive to endive, it’s in many of the salad greens I’ve discussed today.
Here’s a recipe you might enjoy, Skillet Kaempferol Chicken with Caper Butter Sauce.
A member of the chicory family is not a classic “lettuce” and the leaves are very frilly and curly. Frisée is related to endive, botanically speaking. The taste is wonderful in my opinion, you can scissor up one entire head into any mix of salad greens! When open, the edges are deep green and the center contains leaves that are bright yellow or ‘peridot’ in color. Adding Frisée to your greens adds an interesting texture and offers a stunning appearance to an otherwise boring bowl of leaves. It has some folate, vitamin C and A and of course like all leafy greens, a substantial amount of vitamin K. There is magnesium and manganese too. Magnesium helps with muscles* and manganese helps with blood sugar.*
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.