The vitamins and minerals in romaine lettuce may contribute to some health benefits, and there are many simple ways to add romaine to the diet.
In this article, we look at the nutritional content of romaine lettuce, what possible health benefits it could offer, and how to make use of it in meals.
What is romaine lettuce?
Romaine lettuce is popular in salads, and is best eaten raw. The thickest part of the stem is often removed as it has a bitter taste.
Romaine lettuce is a variation of typical salad lettuce, though they stem from the same plant.
The name romaine suggests the lettuce was discovered in Rome, and the lettuce does well growing in the Mediterranean climate.
Romaine leaves are long and taper towards the root of the lettuce. The upper part of the leaves is a deeper green color and more flimsy than the lower leaves.
Towards the bottom of the lettuce, the leaves become sturdier and have thick, white ribs that are filled with a slightly bitter fluid, giving romaine lettuce its distinctive taste.
The amount of this bitter fluid increases further down the stalk, which is why many people throw away the thickest part of the leaves to avoid this bitterness.
The unique romaine is more than just a great tasting leaf. While some people may think that lettuce has no nutrients, romaine lettuce is full of vitamins and minerals.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, each cup of shredded romaine lettuce has just 8 calories. It also has an extremely high water content. Each cup of romaine lettuce contains around 44 grams of water or about 1.5 ounces.
Romaine lettuce is low in carbohydrates, sugar, and fiber.
Romaine contains a good amount of healthful minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. It is also safe for people looking to control their sodium intake, as it has just 4 milligrams of sodium per cup.
In addition to valuable minerals, romaine lettuce is also packed with vitamins. Romaine lettuce contains high levels of vitamin K and beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A. The leafy green also contains good levels of folate, vitamin C, and molybdenum.
Possible health benefits
Romaine lettuce is thought to have numerous health benefits, including supporting circulatory health, reducing cancer risk, and promoting good eye health.
Eating romaine lettuce is commonly associated with dieting due to its high nutrient density and low calorie content.
In fact, the nutrients and minerals in romaine lettuce may provide benefits to anyone who regularly eats it.
Romaine lettuce is packed with the antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin A, which play a key role in balancing and maintaining many systems in the body.
They do so partly by fighting damage caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicals are produced by a range of factors, from eating processed foods to breathing environmental toxins. If left unchecked, this damage can build up over time and may contribute to signs of aging and other health conditions.
The vitamins in romaine lettuce may help build up a person's immune system and protect against these health concerns.
Heart and circulatory health
Due to the high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C found in romaine, the lettuce may also be a great addition to a heart-healthy diet plan. These two antioxidants can help keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries and forming plaque.
The folate in romaine may also help prevent serious heart complications. It does this by breaking down the chemical homocysteine so it can be removed from the body.
As a study published in Nutrition Journal noted, high levels of homocysteine are linked to heart conditions. Folate from foods alone is not enough to keep this chemical in check but works as part of a wider heart-healthy practice.
Romaine lettuce is also rich in the heart-healthy mineral potassium. Potassium helps muscles such as the heart contract regularly. A review posted to the BMJ concluded higher levels of potassium might be helpful in lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk for stroke.
Vitamin A is commonly linked to eye health, and food rich in vitamin A such as romaine lettuce may help prevent eye disorders as people age.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) state that consuming the beta-carotene found in many plants may be a beneficial step to preventing a condition called macular degeneration, which is one of the leading causes of blindness due to aging.
Along with the antioxidants found in romaine, the leafy green may also protect the body from cancer through its high folate count.
The NIH state that folate found naturally in food may help decrease the risk of several forms of cancer.
Possible health risks
Always wash lettuce before cooking and eating to remove any dirt or chemicals.
Romaine lettuce is considered a healthful part of a varied diet, though not everyone is convinced.
Some suggest that improper farming practices may increase the risk of romaine lettuce being contaminated with bacteria, such as Salmonella or E.coli.
Another health concern is the absorption of heavy metals from the soil. One study published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment found that romaine lettuce can pull heavy metals from the soil.
These heavy metals may then transfer to the body of the person who eats them, which may be a health risk. Some people choose to avoid this as much as possible by purchasing organic lettuce.
Using romaine lettuce
Romaine is a living green that should be eaten within a few days of purchase to get the most nutrients from it. When choosing romaine at the store or farmer's market, always look for healthy, crisp leaves.
Thoroughly wash romaine lettuce before use by pulling off each of the leaves to be used and rinsing any debris or dirt from the surface. Or, soak the lettuce in water briefly and lightly massage the leaves to remove the dirt, and then dry with a dishcloth or in a salad spinner.
Romaine leaves may be chopped or used whole depending on the recipe.
Romaine lettuce is often associated with one specific food — Caesar salad. A Caesar salad is a delicious meal in and of itself, or it can serve as a filling starter.
Making a Caesar salad involves chopping romaine into 1-inch chunks and adding them to a large mixing bowl with a handful of croutons.
Grind or grate parmesan cheese and black pepper into the bowl, along with the desired amount of dressing.
Mix the ingredients until the salad is coated in delicious dressing. Caesar salads are also typically topped with proteins, such as chicken or shrimp.
The added cheese, croutons, and salad dressing can be trouble for anyone looking to reduce their caloric intake, however.
It is possible to make a simpler version of a romaine salad by taking those same 1-inch romaine chunks and tossing them with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and lemon juice. Add a portion of lean chicken or baked tofu to make a meal fit for most diet plans.
Romaine lettuce can also take the place of iceberg lettuce on tacos and burgers as a way to add more nutrients to the meal.
For a unique way to eat romaine lettuce, look for grilled romaine recipes.
For people looking to avoid carbs, the structure of romaine lettuce makes it the perfect shape to house a taco itself. People can also use the larger leaves as burger wraps.
Romaine lettuce can be a healthful part of a balanced diet, and it can provide even more health benefits if eaten regularly.
The combination of a low caloric content and high nutrient and mineral content in the leafy green make it an excellent, healthful staple.