Green leaf, red leaf, butterhead and iceberg are just a few common types of lettuce available at most markets. However, in terms of nutrient density, none are healthier than Romaine.
There are plenty of other green leafs which are even healthier such as spinach, kale, arugula, radicchio, endive etc, but for common lettuce types, romaine is king. Leafy greens in general are likely the number one food you can eat to regularly help improve your health.
If you start your meal with a salad made of romaine lettuce you will be sure to add not only a variety of textures and flavors to your meal but an enormous amount of nutritional value. Most of the domestic U.S. harvest of romaine lettuce and other salad greens comes from California and is available throughout the year.
Native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia, lettuce has a long and distinguished history. With depictions appearing in ancient Egyptian tombs, the cultivation of lettuce is thought to date back to at least 4500 BC. The ancient Greeks and Romans held lettuce in high regard both as a food and for its therapeutic medicinal properties.
It apparently reached the West via Rome, as in Italian it is called lattuga romana and in French laitue romaine, both meaning 'Roman lettuce', hence the name 'romaine', the common term in American English.
The vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber found in romaine lettuce are especially good for the prevention or alleviation of many common health complaints.
As with other dark leafy greens, the antioxidants contained within romaine lettuce are believed to help prevent cancer. According to the 2011 edition of the Old Farmer's Almanac, the chlorophyll pigment in dark leafy greens, such as Romaine lettuce, may reduce levels of colon and liver cancer carcinogens.
Due to its extremely low calorie content and high water volume, romaine lettuce--while often overlooked in the nutrition world--is actually a very nutritious food. Based on its nutrient richness, our food ranking system qualified it as an excellent source of vitamin A (notably through its concentration of the pro-vitamin A carotenoid, beta-carotene), vitamin K, folate, and molybdenum. Romaine lettuce also emerged from our ranking system as a very good source of dietary fiber, four minerals (manganese, potassium, copper, and iron), and three vitamins (biotin, vitamin B1, and vitamin C).
All common lettuce varieties are considered hypoallergenic (unlikely to cause allergic reactions), but romaine lettuce may offer additional health benefits for people who suffer from allergies thanks to its high folate content (one ounce of romaine delivers 10% of the Daily Value for this B complex vitamin). A 2009 study examined the blood folate levels of more than 8,000 people with and without asthma and allergies and found that people with the lowest serum folate levels were 31% more likely to have allergies and 40% more likely to have wheeze than those with the highest levels of folate. The inverse association also appeared to be dose-dependent, meaning that the people with the highest levels of folate were least likely to suffer from allergies or wheezing. This study appeared in the June 2009 issue of the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Romaine's vitamin C and beta-carotene content make it a heart-healthy green. Vitamin C and beta-carotene work together to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. When cholesterol becomes oxidized, it becomes sticky and starts to build up in the artery walls forming plaques. If these plaques become too large, they can block off blood flow or break, causing a clot that triggers a heart attack or stroke. The fiber in Romaine lettuce adds another plus in its column of heart-healthy effects. In the colon, fiber binds to bile salts and removes them from the body. This forces the body to make more bile, which is helpful because it must break down cholesterol to do so. This is just one way in which fiber is able to lower high cholesterol levels.
Phytochemicals may be as important as any single nutrient in supplemental form. Phytochemicals are some of the most biologically active substances found on Earth. They give fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains their rich colors, flavors, and aromas. But phytochemicals also detoxify the body by neutralizing free radicals, inhibiting enzymes that activate carcinogens, and most of all boosting immunity. The new study in the Nature Immunology found that dietary factors, and in particular consumption of cruciferous leafy greens, control the activity of vital immune cells through the activation of a particular gene known as T-bet.
Equally beneficial to heart health is Romaine's folate content. This B vitamin is needed by the body to convert a damaging chemical called homocysteine into other, benign substances. If not converted, homocysteine can directly damage blood vessels, thus greatly increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, romaine lettuce is a very good source of potassium, which has been shown in numerous studies to be useful in lowering high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart disease. With its folic acid, vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, and fiber content, romaine lettuce can significantly contribute to a heart-healthy diet.
10 REASONS TO EAT ROMAINE LETTUCE
1. Low Calorie Content
Lettuce has only 17 calories for every 100 grams. This is why it can be consumed in massive quantities without dramatically increasing daily calorie consumption.
2. Helps Weight Loss
Romaine lettuce contains fiber and cellulose. Besides filling you up, fiber improves your digestion. Improving your digestion is actually essential for long term weight control.
Fiber also helps remove bile salts from the body. When the body replaces these salts it breaks down cholesterol to do so. This is why romaine lettuce is also good for your heart!
3. Heart Healthy
Romaine Lettuce’s vitamin C and beta-carotene work together to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. This prevents the build up of plaque.
4. Omega-3 Fatty acids
Romaine lettuce has a two to one ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. That’s a great ratio. The fat content in lettuce is not significant UNLESS you eat a lot--but we actually suggest you do!
5. Complete Protein
Romaine lettuce’s calories are 20 percent protein. Like all whole foods, much of this protein is complete, but the amount can be increased by combining with balancing proteins.
6. Helps with Insomnia
The white fluid that you see when you break or cut lettuce leaves is called lactucarium.
This has relaxing and sleep inducing properties similar to opium but without the strong side effects. Simply eat a few leaves or drink some lettuce juice.
7. Romaine Lettuce is Alkaline Forming
The minerals in romaine lettuce help remove toxins and keep your acid/alkaline balance in order. Once you are balanced on this level there are a host of benefits including greater energy, clearer thinking, deep restful sleep, and youthful skin.
8. Low Glycemic Index
Romaine Lettuce has an average glycemic index of 15, but because it has so few calories, its glycemic load is considered zero. Foods with low glycemic indexes are great for anyone watching their blood sugars for medical reasons, or for weight management.
Of course, lettuce has no refined or white sugars and the host of problems that come with them.
9. Whole Life Food
Romaine Lettuce is almost always eaten raw, providing us with many micronutrients not found in cooked or processed food. Eating raw food also adds vital energies not recognized by nutritional science.
Large food corporations have not found a way to package lettuce long term or stick it in cans or boxes. Let’s hope they never do!
In fact, lettuce is one of the few foods which can be found organic and prewashed already in bins for you to eat immediately.
10. Lettuce Tastes Great
Even though lettuce is very low in calories, many varieties still have a sweet taste. To maximize benefits from your food you should really WANT to eat it with your whole body--not just your mind saying it is good for you. If you like the bitter taste you can find more bitter lettuce options, too!
How to Reap the Health Benefits of Romaine Lettuce
Now that we've established that romaine lettuce is good for you, it's time to look at how you can maximize the health benefits of romaine. Here are a few tips:
- Buy organic romaine lettuce or grow your own crop using organic methods -- conventionally-grown lettuce typically contains high levels of pesticides which can cause ill health.
- Don't discard the outer leaves, just wash them thoroughly to remove all grit. Scientific studies show that the outer leaves have the highest phytonutrient content and antioxidant properties.
- Eat your romaine as soon as possible to minimize nutrient losses. Green leafy vegetables, including romaine lettuce, begin to lose their nutritional value immediately after harvest.
- Use an oil-based salad dressing to make the fat-soluble carotenoids in romaine more available to your body. Raw ice-pressed olive oils are among the best.
- Don't store romaine near fruits that produce ethylene gases (like apples) as this will increase brown spots on the lettuce leaves and speed up spoilage.
Natasha Longo has a master's degree in nutrition and is a certified fitness and nutritional counselor. She has consulted on public health policy and procurement in Canada, Australia, Spain, Ireland, England and Germany.