Romaine lettuce: You know it, you probably love it, and it’s got some pretty spectacular crunch. This popular leafy green, perhaps most famed for its use in Caesar salads, also goes by the name cos lettuce. Oh, yeah — it also packs a serious nutritional punch for almost no calories.
Romaine lettuce is a nutrient-dense leafy green that’ll add a crunchy bite to your salads, sammies, and even hidden in sauces. Here are some possible health benefits.
- An antioxidant kick. Romaine has a solid amount of vitamins A and C, otherwise known as antioxidants. Antioxidants are beneficial for many things including liver, kidney, and digestive functions. Vitamin E works with vitamin C and other antioxidants to help protect us from chronic diseases.
- Heart and circulatory benefits galore. You’ll find another nutrient hero hiding in romaine: Folate. A 2015 review of studies indicated that low levels of folate can cause high levels of homocysteine, an amino acid. This amino acid is usually broken down by folate. When it’s found in high amounts, it may contribute to damage in the heart and blood vessels.
- Pregnancy benefits. Folate is also really essential for pregnant people and those thinking about becoming pregnant. It helps to prevent neural tube defects, some of the most common types of birth defects.
- Even more cardiovascular benefits. Potassium is also associated with a healthy cardiovascular system in that it may help keep your blood pressure in check. A 2020 review of clinical trials indicated that there’s a positive association between well-managed BP and potassium intake, though more research is needed to be sure.
For every cup of romaine you nosh on, you’re consuming just 1 or 2 grams of carbs and 8 calories. And that’s not all you’re getting. You can count on romaine to deliver a small alphabet of vitamins, including A, B, C, and K. (Romaine lettuce is actually high in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in your bod.)
This leafy wonder is also full of minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It’s not a great source of fiber, but we can overlook that since it’s low in sodium.
If you’re a numbers person, here’s the macronutrient breakdown per cup:
|Carbohydrates||1.5 grams (g)|
|Total fat||0.1 g|
Here’s how all that nutrition translates to better health:
- Folate, or vitamin B9, helps with production of genetic material and cell division, so it’s essential for pregnant women.
- Vitamin K supports bone health along with calcium, combating the effects of osteoporosis. It also helps with blood clotting.
- Vitamin C is high in antioxidants and helps protect your bones and pearly whites. It also gives your immune system a boost and helps your body heal wounds by forming scar tissue.
- Phosphorus helps protect your teeth and bones.
- Magnesium works to relax your muscles, helps enzymes do their job, and supports tissue growth with a little help from calcium.
- Potassium is a mineral multitasker. It combats the detrimental effects of sodium and supports muscle and nerve function. It also helps with cell metabolism and mobility and helps your heart beat regularly.
- Vitamin A (aka retinol or retinoic acid) supports the functioning of some of your body’s major players: your heart, lungs, and kidneys. It also supports immunity, eye and reproductive health, and cell growth.
Pretty darn well, actually. It’s got twice as much vitamin A and folate as its trendy cousin kale. In fact, when it comes to vitamin A and folate, romaine beats out a host of other greens, including arugula, Swiss chard, and watercress. (Spinach is the exception boasting more folate and vitamin A.) Romaine has a minor edge in fiber though.
However, for vitamin K and magnesium, Swiss chard tops all these mighty greens.
Salad is really just the beginning. Romaine’s sturdy crunchiness adds great texture to sandwiches, burgers, and tacos. If there were ever a lettuce made for shredding, it’s romaine. It also adds a refreshing touch to chili and stir-fries, like this spicy beef stir-fry.
Don’t worry about it getting warm — it can stand the heat. In fact, you can even sauté it like you would spinach. Add some pine nuts to the mix for extra crunch and texture.
Speaking of heat, have you ever tried grilling romaine? Talk about a #ChefsKiss. Simply cut a head of romaine in half and char the cut sides on a grill, as suggested in this recipe. These char-grilled greens make a great side dish with just a drizzle of delicious vinaigrette and some grated Parmesan, but they can also serve as an unexpected base for any of your favorite salad recipes.
If you’re living that low carb life, romaine is basically your BFF. This lettuce makes a great sandwich wrap. If you’re looking for something a little snazzier than your BLT (extra L in this case), you can try your hand at a Thai-style lettuce wrap.
Unlike some vegetables, such as carrots, which can stand a few forgotten days in your fridge, romaine is best enjoyed within a few days of purchase. You can buy packaged romaine or just the hearts, but take note: The deeply colored outer leaves contain the most nutrition.
As is the case with all lettuces, make sure to give it a good wash in cold water to ditch any funky stuff.