Is Romaine Lettuce Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Says

Romaine lettuce is beloved for good reason, and it might offer some health benefits that surprise you.

Romain lettuce on a designed background
Photo: Getty Images / wmaster890

When we think of greens, kale and spinach might be the first things that come to mind. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach have a reputation for being rich in nutrients and having several health benefits. We might view lettuce, such as romaine lettuce, as only a vegetable for salads. With its watery crunch and mild flavor, we might underestimate its nutritional quality. Here we take a deep dive into what romaine lettuce is, romaine lettuce nutrition and a few reasons why you may want to include more in your meals.

What Is Romaine Lettuce?

Romaine lettuce is one of the most popular types of lettuce in America, accounting for 30% of lettuce consumption in the U.S. You've probably seen it used in Caesar salads, chop salads, wedge salads, and more. Compared to other lettuce varieties, romaine lettuce leaves are green in color, and fade to a white stalk with a green tint in the center of each leaf. The leaves also offer a neutral flavor, with a slight bitterness at the bottom, giving a distinctive flavor profile. Aside from the green romaine that we commonly see in grocery stores, romaine lettuce also comes in the red variety, with a blend of green at the stalk and a reddish-purple leafy top.

Romaine Lettuce Nutrition

Every 1 cup (47 grams) of shredded romaine lettuce provides:

  • 8 calories
  • 1.6g carbohydrates
  • 1g fiber
  • 0.6g protein
  • 0g fat
  • 8mg sodium
  • 64mcg folate (16% Daily Value)
  • 205mcg vitamin A (22% DV)
  • 48mcg vitamin K (40% DV)

Romaine Lettuce Health Benefits

Like many vegetables, romaine lettuce is nutritious, with several health benefits.

Supports bone health

This crispy and crunchy vegetable is an excellent source of vitamin K, an essential nutrient for blood clotting, wound healing and supporting bone health. In fact, research has shown that romaine lettuce contains more minerals important for bone health than other crisphead lettuce varieties, such as iceberg lettuce. To get the most bang for your buck, try pairing romaine lettuce with other food sources of vitamin K like broccoli, beans, pine nuts, carrots or chicken breast.

Promotes eye and skin health

Surprisingly, romaine lettuce boasts a comparable vitamin A content to spinach for the same serving size. This is partly because romaine lettuce heads grow in a way that keeps their leaves more open and exposed to sun, allowing them to synthesize more vitamin A precursors (called carotenoids) than other lettuce varietals. Vitamin A is important for keeping our immune system, eyes and skin healthy.

Good source of folate

Romaine lettuce is also a good source of folate, a vital nutrient for a healthy heart, to prevent anemia and to lower the risk of some types of birth defects in early pregnancy. It has a comparable folate content to raw spinach and avocados, making it one of the most potent food sources of the nutrient.

Rich in antioxidants

In addition to the essential nutrients, romaine lettuce is rich in a range of antioxidants that might help decrease the risk of inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancers. Specifically, the pigment lutein is an antioxidant found in romaine lettuce. Like vitamin A, lutein is important for promoting eye health and reducing the risk of age-related vision loss.

Moreover, red romaine lettuce has a greater concentration of anthocyanins, which gives the leaves their reddish-purple hue. These antioxidant molecules are also widely studied for their potential benefits in supporting heart health, urinary health and the immune system, and for reducing the risk of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Potential Drawbacks of Romaine Lettuce

While romaine lettuce is a nutritious vegetable, there are a few food-safety concerns worth considering.

Risk of food poisoning

Uncooked leafy greens, like romaine lettuce, could potentially be contaminated by bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella. These harmful bacteria can stick to the surface of the leaves or get inside the lettuce.

If the raw produce is not safely handled, it may put you at risk of getting sick, like an 2018 outbreak where more than 200 people were infected by the E.coli found in romaine lettuce.

While anyone can potentially get food poisoning, certain groups are at a higher risk for more serious symptoms, including older adults, young children, pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system.

To ensure that your head of romaine lettuce is safe to eat, follow safe food-handling tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including:

  • Wash your hands before handling food for 20 seconds with soap and water
  • Remove bruised and torn leaves
  • Wash leafy greens under cold running water
  • Remove any visible dirt by gently rubbing the leaves

How to Enjoy Romaine Lettuce

You can enjoy romaine lettuce in a classic Caesar salad or toss the leaves with our cucumber herb vinaigrette or pair them with other ingredients such as grapefruit and shrimp. The crunchy leaves are a great addition to sandwiches and wraps.

This crisp, crunchy leafy green is good for more than a leafy green salad. The large leaf pieces are a great alternative to wraps, like in our Taco Lettuce Wraps recipe. And if you love tacos and chili, shredded lettuce is perfect for topping to add crunch and nutrition.

Getting tired of eating raw lettuce leaves? Consider drizzling them lightly with olive oil and placing them on the grill for the savory char flavor. Top them up with our avocado-lime dressing for a different eating experience.

Romaine lettuce could also be added to stir-fries and soups, but make sure it is the last ingredient to add, so the leaves do not completely wilt and make the dish soggy.

Bottom line

Romaine lettuce is a nutritious leafy green that offers numerous potential health benefits. It is packed with nutrients, and eating it might help decrease the risk of chronic diseases. Browse our healthy lettuce recipes to discover the endless ways of enjoying this crispy and crunchy vegetable.

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