5 Health Benefits of Romaine Lettuce (Green and Red Cultivars)
Get out of the rut and start experimenting with different types of salad greens! One salad green definitely worth befriending is romaine lettuce (also known as cos lettuce), a sturdy salad green with crisp, upright leaves that form a loaf-shaped head. Green romaine cultivars such as Parris Island Cos, Valmaine, and Little Gem are the most common cultivars, but you can also sometimes find red romaine. Both green and red romaine are packed with a surprisingly broad range of nutrients, and consequently, can offer a whole host of health benefits. Here's a rundown of the most important nutritional benefits of romaine lettuce:
Vitamin C for a Healthy Immune System, Skin, Bones, and Teeth
Romaine lettuce is a great source of vitamin C, with one ounce of romaine providing 11% of the Daily Value for this important nutrient. By contrast, an equal amount of iceberg supplies your body with only 1% of the Daily Value for vitamin C.
Aside from boosting your immune system, vitamin C helps keep your skin, bones, and teeth strong. These beneficial effects associated with vitamin C are linked to its strong antioxidant properties as well as its role in collagen synthesis. Vitamin E is known to boost the antioxidant properties of vitamin C, so be sure to sprinkle some vitamin E rich oil (such as avocado oil) on your romaine salad.
In addition, red romaine is loaded with flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, which have also been shown to enhance the positive effects of vitamin C, in addition to providing some health benefits in their own right. (Note: You can try your luck and see if you can find red romaine lettuce at a farmers' market near you, but the chances are you'll have to grow your own romaine if you prefer the red cultivar. Online retailer Amazon sells red romaine lettuce seeds here.)
Romaine is a Heart Healthy Food par Excellence
In addition to the wonderful medicinal properties of vitamin C described above, this versatile nutrient can also help keep your heart and overall cardiovascular system healthy. A team of researchers from the University of California found that study participants who ingested 500 milligrams of vitamin C supplements per day experienced a 24 percent drop in their plasma C-reactive protein levels after just two months. New research suggests that C-reactive protein levels, or CRP levels for short, may in fact be a better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol levels.
But the high vitamin C content of romaine lettuce is not the only reason why this humble salad green makes a wonderful addition to cardiotonic diets. Romaine is also supercharged with vitamin K, with one ounce providing a whopping 36% of the Daily Value for vitamin K (according to USDA's Nutrition Facts data). Several scientific studies suggest that vitamin K may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) by directing dietary calcium into the bone and preventing its build-up in the arteries.
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 is Rich in Pro-Vitamin A
Most people associate pro-vitamin A with carrots and other orange vegetables and fruits, but many salad greens also contain significant amounts of pro-vitamin A. Eating just one ounce of fresh romaine lettuce, for example, supplies your body with 49% of the Daily Value for vitamin A. In addition to its powerful antioxidant properties, pro-vitamin A has eye health protecting qualities, and several studies have linked vitamin A deficiency to poor night vision and impaired color vision.
A Low-Oxalate Salad Green
Health foodies love to use spinach in their green smoothies and salads due to its extremely high levels of nutrients. But spinach' nutritional benefits come with one major drawback: spinach is rich in oxalates. Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds that may pose a health risk for some people when ingested frequently in large amounts (for example, people prone to forming calcium-oxalate kidney stones are often advised to avoid eating oxalate-rich foods).
Romaine lettuce is low in oxalates and therefore a wonderful choice for those who are concerned about high levels of oxalates in their food. And even if you don't have an increased risk of developing kidney stones, you can still benefit from diversifying your diet by occasionally replacing some of that spinach by low-oxalate greens such as romaine, butterhead, and crisphead lettuces.
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.
- 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.
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