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Romaine lettuce is a crispy salad green with high nutritional value. Its vitamin and mineral content offers a range of health benefits, and there are many simple ways to add romaine lettuce to the diet.
In this article, we look at the nutritional content of romaine lettuce, the health benefits it may offer, and how to include it in meals.
Romaine lettuce is a type of salad lettuce. It comes from the same plant family as other types of lettuce.
The name “romaine” suggests that the lettuce might have originated in Rome. It also grows well in the Mediterranean climate.
Romaine lettuce leaves are long and taper toward the root of the lettuce. The upper part of the leaves is a deeper green color and more flimsy than the lower leaves.
Toward the bottom of the lettuce, the leaves become sturdier and have thick, white ribs that contain a slightly bitter fluid. This gives romaine lettuce its distinctive taste.
The amount of this bitter fluid increases farther down the stalk. Some people throw away the thickest part of the leaves to avoid this bitterness.
Romaine lettuce is more than just a tasty leaf that adds color and crunch to a salad. It also provides vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
For example, one 70 gram (g) salad serving of romaine lettuce contains:
- 65.4 g of water
- 13.3 kilocalories
- 1 g of protein
- 2.7 g of carbohydrate
- 2.2 g of fiber
- 43.4 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 0.6 mg of iron
- 14 mg of magnesium
- 24.5 mg of phosphorus
- 229 mg of potassium
- 17.5 mg of sodium
- 90.3 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 194 mcg of vitamin A
- 8.1 mg of vitamin C
- 2,320 mcg of beta-carotene
- 147 mcg of vitamin K
Romaine lettuce is suitable for people who wish to lose weight, due to its high nutrient density and low calorie content.
However, it can be a tasty and healthful addition to any meal and eating plan. The nutrients and minerals it contains can provide benefits to anyone who regularly eats it.
We cover some of romaine lettuce’s possible health benefits in the sections below.
Romaine lettuce is a good source of vitamins C and A, which are antioxidants. These play a key role in balancing and maintaining many systems in the body.
The body naturally produces unstable molecules called free radicals during metabolism. Environmental exposures also cause the body to take in free radicals.
However, if too many free radicals build up in the body, it can cause a condition known as oxidative stress. Cell damage can result, and this can lead to health problems.
The body can eliminate free radicals naturally, but it may have difficulty eliminating all of them. Antioxidants in foods appear to boost the body’s ability to do this.
Examples of conditions in which free radicals may play a role include:
The antioxidant content of romaine lettuce may help support a person’s immune system and protect against various health concerns.
Learn more about the benefits and sources of antioxidants here.
Heart and circulatory health
The high levels of potassium within romaine lettuce can help maintain cardiovascular health.
In addition, the antioxidant vitamins A and C in the lettuce may help prevent cholesterol from building up and forming plaque in the arteries.
The folate in romaine lettuce may also help prevent serious heart complications. It does this by breaking down the chemical homocysteine so that the body can remove it.
A 2015 review suggests that people with a folate deficiency face a higher risk of having too much homocysteine in the blood. Homocysteine may contribute to heart conditions.
Romaine lettuce is a good source of folate, which can help keep this chemical in check.
It also contains some fiber, which plays a key role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
What other foods provide antioxidants? Find out here.
Potassium, sodium, and the cardiovascular system
Romaine lettuce is also rich in the heart-healthy mineral potassium.
Sodium and potassium are electrolytes. The body needs both sodium and potassium to maintain healthy levels of bodily fluids and circulating blood. Experts recommend consuming more potassium than sodium, as too much sodium can give rise to heart problems.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 recommend that adults consume around 4,700 mg of potassium and no more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.
Romaine lettuce provides both sodium and potassium in healthful proportions.
How much salt should we eat? Find out here.
Vitamin A helps protect eye health. The vitamin A in romaine lettuce might help prevent eye conditions such as cataracts as people get older.
Also, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), beta-carotene may help prevent a condition called macular degeneration. This is one of the leading causes of vision loss due to aging.
Many plants, including romaine lettuce, provide beta-carotene. This may make it a good option for people wishing to boost eye health.
Learn more about age-related macular degeneration here.
The antioxidants and folate within romaine lettuce might help protect the body from cancer.
The NIH state that folate that occurs naturally in food may help decrease the risk of several forms of cancer.
Learn more about folate here.
Romaine lettuce can be a healthful part of a varied diet, but some people have expressed concern that salad greens may carry toxins.
For example, contamination can occur if farmers grow their produce in contaminated soil or irrigate it with contaminated water.
Some suggest that improper farming practices may increase the risk of romaine lettuce being contaminated with bacteria, such as Salmonella or Escherichia coli.
Following an E. coli outbreak in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that a key reason for this was the watering of plants using contaminated water.
Another health concern is the absorption of heavy metals from the soil. One study, from 2013, 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 could pose a health risk.
Also, a 2016 study measured levels of heavy metals — including lead, cadmium, chromium, and mercury — in 5,785 vegetables grown in China.
The team found the highest amounts of cadmium and lead in romaine lettuce, among other vegetables. They expressed concern that this could affect people’s health.
Using only organic or homegrown lettuce can help a person reduce this risk. Romaine lettuce seeds are available for purchase online.
Romaine lettuce is a living green that needs eating within a few days of purchase. The fresher the leaves, the more nutrients they will provide. When choosing romaine lettuce at the store or farmers market, always look for healthy, crisp leaves.
Thoroughly wash romaine lettuce before use by pulling off each leaf and rinsing any debris or dirt from the surface.
Alternatively, soak the lettuce in water briefly and lightly massage the leaves to remove the dirt, then dry with a dishcloth or in a salad spinner.
People can chop the leaves or use them whole, depending on personal preference or the recipe.
Romaine lettuce is a key ingredient in Caesar salad, but it can play a role in any salad that needs green leaves.
Whole, washed leaves can also make a tasty and refreshing side to spicy and oily dishes.
A Caesar salad is a delicious meal in and of itself, or it can serve as a filling starter.
To make a Caesar salad:
- Chop romaine leaves into 1 inch chunks.
- Add them to a large mixing bowl with a handful of croutons.
- Grind or grate parmesan cheese and black pepper into the bowl.
- Add the desired amount of dressing.
- Mix all the ingredients until dressing coats the salad.
- Top with a protein option, such as chicken or shrimp.
People following a weight management diet may wish to avoid or reduce the croutons and cheese in their salad. They can also choose a low fat dressing option.
For a simpler, lower calorie version:
- Put 1 inch romaine chunks into a bowl.
- Toss them with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and lemon juice.
- Add a portion of lean chicken or baked tofu.
For texture and extra color, add a handful of toasted pine nuts, some pomegranate seeds, or both.
When making burgers or wraps, people can add romaine lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce, or they can use the romaine leaves as the wrap itself.
Romaine lettuce can be a healthful part of a balanced diet and can provide even more health benefits if a person eats it regularly.
The combination of a low calorie content and high nutritional value make this leafy green an excellent, healthful staple.
As romaine contains folate, is it a good choice during pregnancy? Or should I avoid it, in case of contamination?
There is no need for pregnant women to avoid preparing foods with romaine lettuce if they follow food safety guidelines and good hygiene practices correctly. For example:
ï Wash the hands thoroughly both before and after handling.
ï Thoroughly rinse and rub the lettuce under running water (even if it says prewashed).
ï Sanitize surfaces before and after food contact.
ï Use sanitized utensils.
ï Cover and store the lettuce at the proper temperature and separate from “ready-to-eat” foods.
For people who are concerned about lettuce safety during pregnancy, vegetables such as broccoli and spinach also contain plenty of folate. It is also possible to cook these foods, which will kill any bacteria.
Katherine Marengo LDN, RD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.