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Lettuce Wrap vs. Sandwich: A Real Knock-Down Drag-Out

May 27, 2010

I think I’ve made a big difference in my caloric over intake and my energy and fitness levels just by making one switch- no more bread! I’ll eat a little whole grain pasta here and there, I LOVE Ezekiel sprouted grain tortillas, and here and there we go to Subway and I get honey oat bread with my sandwich. But I don’t really eat a slice of bread or make a sandwich very often. So now that I’ve cut it out pretty completely, I was shown just how much of a difference it makes! We were graciously given a large box of a delicious bread eatery’s unsold, gorgeous, various breads- french, white, wheat, spicy, cheesy, round, regular, rolls, bagels… and being on a super-strict grocery budget, we felt like it was Christmas! I made a sandwich immediately with an everything-seed type torpedo roll with avocado, Italian herbs, olive oil, pepper and golden balsamic vinegar. Yes, yum. Then over that evening and the next day I surely had a few slices of different breads and a bagel. No big deal right, everyone eats bread? Ugh. I felt yucky, needed naps, gained 5 pounds in as many days and felt so bloated I couldn’t suck in my stomach. Then my knees and ankles hurt for two days and I could barely do any plyo or cardio without being in slight pain somewhere in my joints.

I couldn’t believe what a difference it made. I stopped eating the bread immediately after feeling the effects and haven’t had any since. I’ve had brown rice, beans, vegetables, salad fixings and various dressings in romaine leaves instead. I make Asian wraps- anything I would wrap in nori- or Mexican- anything I would put in a taco. You can basically make a favorite salad but instead of chopping the lettuce with it, keep the leaves whole and spoon the salad mixture into the leaves. Tabbouleh, barley salads, burrito fillings, herbed cottage cheese… I’ve loved them all over the past few months and it just keeps getting better. Here’s my take on why:

  1. The versatility
  2. It’s fun to eat, like a little taco
  3. It’s fun to make them, you can have quite a few and make each one a little different
  4. Making them and eating them one at a time slows down the pace of the meal to a rate where you get full before you overeat
  5. It’s much harder to overeat as far as calories anyway when you are eating filling, nutritious greens rather than bread
  6. This one may be my favorite: romaine keeps longer than pretty much any other lettuce I’ve tried. Arugula goes bad quickly, green leaf and read leaf keep a little longer. Baby spinach does pretty well, but still starts to get gross somewhat quickly sometimes depending on how old it already was when you bought it. But romaine stays crisp and crunchy for a week or more! Sometimes the outer leaves are floppy- just take them off, it’s better to anyway to get rid of any yucky pesticides. Then just chop off the end, and your hands are full of delicious, crispy taco shells!

Here’s a picture of my lettuce wrap lunch today!

So how much better is it to eat a lettuce wrap than a sandwich, burrito or taco? Enough to make a difference? YES! Read more about the many virtues of romaine here, including the fact that it provides lutein, folic acid and iron which are super-important, especially to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and need to provide body-building blocks to another human while sustaining their own bodies!

Here’s a look at how they match up in the Glycemic Index, even though these fighters aren’t even in the same weight class 🙂

Romaine Lettuce: 15

Whole Wheat Breads: 60-90

White Breads: 70-100

Baguette: 95

These numbers indicate how quickly a food raises your blood sugar- the higher the number, the faster the spike. And the faster the crash and craving for more of the same…

But, if you must have bread, romaine can still save the day. When you eat greens along with a high GI food, the blood sugar level is moderated by the greens, so even if you eat the same bread, the spike won’t be as high. Pretty cool, huh? You’ll still be getting a lot more calories though. Which leads to the next round!

So I can eat 2 cups of romaine lettuce for 15 calories AND get tons of nutrients that stop cravings?!! Nothing is really going to beat that, but let’s check out the bread anyway… Ok, I couldn’t find the chart on white bread because I got these charts on one of my favorite websites World’s Healthiest Foods, and white bread is not one of the World’s Healthiest foods. By the way, here’s an awesome resource from their site on the Glycemic Index while we’re on the subject! But here are some stats for bulgur wheat- this is wheat in one of it’s healthiest forms, basically it’s only downhill from here as far as breads. But even still, the nutrients don’t stack up at all! And calories for one serving: 151.

That’s a pretty modest calorie estimate for grains, considering that’s for bulgur wheat. To give you an example of a bread you might actually eat with lunch out at a “healthier” soup & salad chain:

Serving Size: 6.25 oz

Calories: 460

Fat grams: 6

Saturated Fat Grams: 1

Sodium miligrams: 760

Carbohydrate Grams: 84

Fiber Grams: 3

Sugar Grams: 3

Of course, this doesn’t begin to include anything IN the sandwich!

So I’m just going to call this fight because it’s getting awfully bloody in that ring! Winner by unanimous decision: ROMAINE LETTUCE!! Basically, the only contender left with a chance to beat romaine is maybe nori (sushi seaweed wrapper.) But as far as general appeal, affordability, ease of use and storage, adaptability to many recipes, and satisfying crunch and fullness, romaine holds the title of best sandwich swap!


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