There are so many reasons to love the month of June – summery weather, school letting out, and the opening of farmer’s markets. It may sound weird but one of my favorite things about June is baby lettuce. Tender, mild, vividly colored baby lettuces hail in the growing season in the most delicate, yet delicious way. While I love all varieties of baby lettuce, I recently learned some interesting information about the romaine variety that I thought I would share.
Romaine often gets a bad rap as a lettuce with a lot of water but not a lot of nutritional value, like a slightly fancy version of iceberg. Yet I was recently surprised to learn that romaine lettuce is a rather nutrient dense food. In fact, romaine ranks high among all lettuces (not including spinach and other dark leafy greens) in the amount of folate it contains. Folate is the bioavailable form of vitamin B-9 and is crucial for many essential functions in the body including cellular growth and regeneration. As such it has been named an important element in the prevention of Alzhiemers disease, neural tube defects, cancer, and perhaps even mood disorders. Folate is considered such a vital element that a synthesized compound called folic acid is mandated by our government to be added to most wheat products to help boost levels of B-9 in the food supply. However, folic acid does not readily convert to folate in the body, which means that deriving this nutrient from whole foods like romaine is the best source for achieving nutrient sufficiency for this important vitamin.
In addition to folate, romaine lettuce is also high in vitamin C and beta carotene, as well as moderately high in minerals like copper, iron, manganese and potassium. It also contains dietary fiber important for digestive health, along with phytochemicals critical for detoxification and cancer prevention.
I’ve come across conflicting reports of the relative nutritional merits of baby versus mature lettuces, but even if baby romaine are not miniature nutrient bombs, they sure are tasty and fun. While mature romaine is crisp with a slight bitterness to it, baby romaine is ultra tender and sweet. Most baby romaine in this country gets made into salads. Yet this is not the only way to use it. Think out of the box and try sautéing it, or put it in a smoothie where it’s mild taste and texture makes it virtually unnoticeable. Here is one of my favorite ways of using baby romaine when I’m not in the mood for a salad.
Power Green Smoothie
- One large handful baby romaine lettuce (about 1 cup)
- 1/4 avocado
- 5-6 strawberries, hulled and halved
- 1 cup organic frozen blueberries
- 1/4 banana (optional. Leave out for lower glycemic load)
- 1 scoop vanilla flavored protein powder, optional
- about 1/3 cup coconut water, or as needed for correct consistency
Blend all ingredients with a handful of ice in a blender until it reaches desired consistency. Serve immediately.
Note: Flax seeds or chia seeds are healthful add-ins and provide Omega-3 fatty acids as well as fiber and protein.
Julie Wern is a psychologist turned stay-at-home-mom turned caterer. She is currently in training at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to become a Nutrition and Wellness coach. She is the author of Holcomb Farm CSA’s Simply Fresh blog and currently teaches cooking and cookie decorating classes. Contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org for comments and inquiries.