Romaine lettuce is one of the fastest-growing vegetables in terms of popularity, like kale and arugula. So is romaine lettuce good for you, or is it a lower-nutrient lettuce similar to iceberg?
Research tells us that romaine lettuce nutrition is actually quite impressive due to its high level of antioxidants and other crucial vitamins and minerals — including vitamin A and C, folate, vitamin K, and more.
Thanks to its durable nature and sturdy “crunch,” romaine lettuce adds not only nutrients to your salads, sandwiches or other recipes, but also variety in terms of texture and flavor. Because of its great taste, ease of use, versatility in recipes and high nutrient profile, there’s reason to include romaine lettuce in your diet regularly.
What Is Romaine Lettuce?
Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.), which is often called “cos lettuce” in some parts of the world, is a variety of lettuce from the Longifolia/Asteraceae plant family. This type of lettuce grows in a tall head of sturdy leaves and has signature firm ribs down the center.
Is Little Gem lettuce the same as romaine?
Little Gem is one of many varieties of romaine lettuces, most of which are deep green with long leaves and a crisp texture. The taste of romaine lettuce is described as mild by some but deep in taste by others.
Depending on the specific kind you buy, you may notice a slight sweetness or bitterness as well.
Is romaine lettuce considered a superfood?
While it might not provide as many nutrients as some other greens, there are still many romaine lettuce benefits. For example, it’s a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C — two powerful antioxidant that play a critical role in maintaining the function of many parts of the body.
They do this by fighting free radicals that can contribute to the development of health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and arthritis. Romaine also contains vitamin K, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.
One cup (about 47 grams) of romaine lettuce nutrition contains approximately:
- 8 calories
- 1.5 grams carbohydrates
- 0.6 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 1 gram fiber
- 4,094 international units vitamin A (82 percent DV)
- 48.2 micrograms vitamin K (60 percent DV)
- 11.3 milligrams vitamin C (19 percent DV)
- 63.9 micrograms folate (16 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligras manganese (4 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams iron (3 percent DV)
- 116 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
Romaine vs. Other Greens
Many people know that certain lettuces, like iceberg lettuce, tend to be lower in nutrients that other varieties, and sometimes people can confuse romaine lettuce as falling into this low-nutrient category. So what is the most nutritious type of lettuce?
- Which is better for you: iceberg or romaine lettuce? Compared to iceberg lettuce nutrition, romaine lettuce nutrition is a richer source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, folate and other micronutrients. The two are comparable in terms of calories, carbs, etc.
- What’s healthier: kale or romaine? Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is that darker, heartier, bitter greens (like kale, mustard greens, collard or chards) tend to supply more antioxidants and fiber than lighter greens.
- What about romaine lettuce vs. spinach? Spinach is a great source of vitamin K, C, A and folate. While romaine also provides these nutrients, spinach is a richer source.
- Keep in mind that many people enjoy mixing together different types of greens in order to obtain lots of micronutrients. This is a good way to enjoy a mix of textures and tastes in salads and other recipes.
Top 10 Health Benefits
1. Excellent Source of Antioxidants Vitamin A and Vitamin C
Just one cup of romaine lettuce nutrition provides 82 percent of your daily vitamin A and 19 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. These vitamins are partly responsible for gene regulation and cell differentiation, and they work to stop free radical damage from overwhelming the body and leading to disease.
Both vitamins are responsible for aiding healthy eyesight and skin and play a role in maintaining strong bones and boosting immunity. Studies show that these vitamins also help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which can cause tissue and cellular damage.
Additionally, romaine lettuce seeds and leaves have been found to contain phenolics, which are now being used to create extracts for various purposes, including reducing oxidative stress and promoting sleep.
2. Helps Prevent Bone Loss
Leafy greens are often considered the best natural vegetable sources of vitamin K. Romaine lettuce nutrition is no exception to this since it’s a great source of bone-building vitamin K.
In fact, studies have shown that vitamin K2 can help boost bone density and prevent osteoporosis even better than calcium can.
In addition to building and maintaining a healthy skeletal structure, vitamin K plays a vital role in blood clotting, treating bruises, aiding in bone calcification and, according to studies, helping prevent certain diseases.
3. Boosts Heart Health
Romaine lettuce nutrition is a great source of folate, also sometimes called folic acid. Folate is a type of B vitamin that is used by the body to convert homocysteine, which when unconverted can lead to heart problems, including damaged blood vessels and dangerous plaque buildup.
Romaine lettuce nutrition also supplies vitamin A and vitamin C, two antioxidants that play a role in heart health by oxidizing cholesterol and keeping arteries strong.
These antioxidants help prevent buildup in the artery walls that form plaque. They also increase blood flow and help prevent blood clots, heart attack and stroke.
4. Promotes Healthy Eyesight
The rich supply of vitamin A, vitamin C, and carotenoids like zeaxanthin found in romaine lettuce nutrition may help protect against eye disorders. Deficiencies in these antioxidants can lead to a thickening of the cornea, glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and possibly even blindness as one ages.
Certain studies have shown that antioxidant beta-carotene, the form of vitamin A found in plants, plays a big role in preventing macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related blindness. Research shows that people who consume vitamin A and vitamin C from a healthy diet or supplementation are less likely to suffer eye damage as they age.
5. Helps Treat Skin and Prevent Signs of Aging
The high amount of vitamin A found in romaine lettuce nutrition is supportive for skin health, and research shows that a deficiency in this critical vitamin can lead to a poor complexion. Vitamin C also helps build collagen in the skin, which is responsible for building firm, healthy skin and preventing loss in elasticity.
Both of these antioxidants work together to stop cell damage that can lead to skin cancer. Additionally, romaine lettuce nutrition supplies nutrients that help defend against acne and inflammation, including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, B vitamins and more.
Romaine lettuce nutrition may help to get rid of acne since it has a low score on the glycemic index — whereas a diet filled with foods high on the glycemic index, including a lot of sugar, has been shown to be related to acne flare-ups.
6. Boosts Immunity
Vitamin C and vitamin A, two of romaine lettuce nutrition’s stars, are both known as powerful immune boosters.
Vitamin A is involved in several immune system functions, including regulating expression of certain genes that are involved in autoimmune symptoms. The vitamin A found in romaine lettuce nutrition helps fight infections, protect skin and nourish the digestive system so it can properly absorb nutrients from food and defend against harmful bacteria overgrowth.
Vitamin C can help benefit your immune system by reducing inflammation, aiding in digestive health, and helping nutrients be absorbed and used properly. It also plays a large role in your body’s ability to fight off common colds, the flu and viruses.
Your body does not make powerful vitamin C on its own naturally and relies on foods high in vitamin C. The body also does not store vitamin C, so it is important that you get this essential vitamin frequently from whole food sources, including leafy greens like romaine lettuce.
7. Can Help Fight Cancer
Studies have shown that the chlorophyll pigment in dark leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, may reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, including colon cancer and liver cancers. Research also shows that diets low in green leafy vegetables are associated with an increase of cancer risk.
Antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin C may also help treat several forms of cancer thanks to their ability to control malignant cells in the body and protect against DNA damage.
A diet high in antioxidants like vitamin A and vitamin C found in romaine lettuce nutrition has been correlated with a decreased risk for lung, prostate, breast, ovarian, bladder, oral and skin cancers.
8. Helps Maintain a Healthy Pregnancy
Research shows that folate does this through contributing to an adequate birth weight of the fetus, healthy neural tube formation, and the proper development of the fetus’s face and heart. For pregnant women, a deficiency in folate (also called vitamin B9) can lead to neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
There is actually a difference between folate, the natural form of multiple B vitamins, and folic acid in terms of health benefits. While many people think that they are interchangeable and both are important for a healthy pregnancy, folate is the preferred source naturally found in foods.
When people consume large amounts of folic acid through vitamins and synthetically fortified foods, the body cannot break it down and then elevated levels of unmetabolized folic acid remain. This is problematic for all people, especially pregnant women, and has been linked with an increased risk for developing cancer and other illnesses.
A folate deficiency can also contribute to the formation of anemia (poorly formed red blood cells), poor immune function and poor digestion in those who are not pregnant. To combat these illnesses, get folate naturally from whole food sources, including leafy greens like romaine lettuce.
9. May Help with Weight Loss
There are very few calories in one cup of romaine lettuce and almost no carbs. Net carbs in romaine lettuce are practically zero when fiber is taken into account, even though romaine is not one of the highest-fiber veggies.
While romaine lettuce is extremely low in calories, carbs, sugar and fat, it offers nutrients and has a water content, which means you can basically eat as much romaine as you want even when trying to lose weight. The water and volume of romaine lettuce makes it filling and may helps shed bloat and excess water.
10. Helps Digestion and Intestine Health
Romaine lettuce nutrition has long been known to ease digestion. Easy to add into your diet, its high water, mineral and fiber content help keep things moving along as you digest and also helps get toxins out of your body.
How to Use and Prepare (Plus Recipes)
Romaine lettuce is one of the bitter herbs that is talked about in the Bible. But it is praised as one of the Bible “bitter herbs” that is still a little sweet, which is why it pairs so well with so many different savory and sweet foods.
In the U.S., the vast majority of harvested romaine lettuce and other salad greens come from California. Romaine can usually be found year-round in most markets and during the spring and summer months in the Northern regions where it’s cooler.
When purchasing romaine, look for leaves that are sturdy and not yet browning. Avoid buying leaves that have slimy spots or brown and yellow patches.
The leaves should also have a milky fluid, which gives the romaine the typically fine-bitter herb taste. Look for romaine greens that are sold with their roots attached, which helps them stay fresh for longer.
You can keep romaine for five to seven days in your refrigerator and may want to wrap the roots in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag, where they will stay hydrated and fresh longer.
Whenever possible, look to buy organic romaine lettuce. Like all leafy greens, romaine lettuce can easily absorb pesticides and chemicals that are sprayed on conventional, non-organic crops.
Salad greens are usually highly sprayed since they grow close to the ground and are susceptible for bugs and rodents.
What part of romaine lettuce is most nutritious?
The leafier upper part of the leaves, which has a deep green color, tends to be the most nutrient-dense. However, the crunchier stalks are also edible and nutritious.
What can you eat instead of romaine? What are the best romaine substitutes?
Many other greens can serve as substitutes for romaine, including bib, butter or Boston lettuce, baby spinach or baby kale, etc.
What are some healthy romaine lettuce recipes?
Unlike many other types of leafy greens, romaine is durable and can stand up well to high heat. Aside from adding it to sandwiches, this makes it a great leafy green to try grilling on the barbecue or roasting in your oven, in order to give it a char and to bring out it natural flavors.
Romaine lettuce is also a great vegetable to try juicing, adding nutrients and subtle flavor to your juice or smoothie without it becoming too bitter. And because it retains its shape and folds easily without breaking, it makes a great “wrap” substitute.
There is no shortage of romaine lettuce recipe ideas. Try making one of these romaine lettuce recipes to add it to your diet more often:
How to Grow Romaine Lettuce
Romaine is a cool-weather crop that can be grown in both the spring and fall. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s best to plant in the spring starting two weeks after the last frost and again eight weeks before the fall frost.
Romaine seeds grow quickly, within just 10 days of being planted, and will germinate best at 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plant romaine in a sunny location with loose, well-drained soil that is damp without being too moist. Avoid an area that has lots of weeds, stones or rocks.
Seeds should be planted about a half-inch deep, with 12 to 15 inches between each row. Treat the soil with composted organic matter about one week before you seed or transplant.
You can also start growing your seeds indoors four to six weeks before your last spring frost date.
Risks and Side Effects
Unfortunately romaine lettuce has been linked to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, including E. coli and salmonemalla, over the past several decades. According to recent romaine lettuce updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 34 romaine lettuce E. coli or other foodborne illness outbreaks involving leafy vegetables within the past 15 years.
Lettuce is susceptible to bacteria because it retains moisture, grows close to the ground and is commonly eaten raw. Leafy greens are also eaten from salad bars that in general have the potential for lots of contact with people’s hands, which can result in them carrying bacteria and germs.
Considering there have been a number of romaine lettuce recalls, is romaine lettuce safe to eat now? It’s very difficult for consumers to know one way or the other if greens like romaine lettuce are ever contaminated, but there is only a slight chance of this occurring on any given day.
If you are worried about contracting foodborne illnesses, you may wish to cook your greens rather than eating them raw. This can help prevent bacteria from remaining alive.
Here are tips for reducing your risk for becoming sick due to eating greens like romaine:
- Wash your hands before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
- Wash or scrub all fruits and vegetables, including those that are “pre-washed,” under running water before eating, cutting or cooking.
- Use separate cutting boards, utensils and plates for fruits and vegetables and for raw meats, poultry, seafood or eggs.
- Buy romaine lettuce from bigger grocery chains with more accountability and required testing. Buying organic greens also helps ensure that they were harvested in a more sterile environment free of chemicals, which is another concern for consumers.
- Romaine lettuce is a variety of lettuce from the Longifolia plant family.
- It’s one of the best loved lettuces for having a mild, non-bitter taste that deters some people from consuming leafy greens regularly.
- Romaine lettuce nutrition is low in calories yet a good source of vitamins A, C, K; potassium; folate; and more.
- Over the past several decades there have been a number of romaine lettuce recalls due to contamination with E. coli and salmonemalla.
- Is romaine lettuce safe to eat now? Yes, according to the CDC it’s safe and beneficial to include romaine and other similar greens in your diet regularly once a recall has ended.
- There are also steps you can take to reduce risk for contamination.