As cases pile up in a nationwide E. coli outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is giving some out-of-character advice: Don’t eat romaine lettuce.
That (temporary) admonition of the vegetable is meant to prevent the spread of food-borne illness, since the CDC has linked 84 E. coli infections — and counting — to romaine grown in the Yuma, Ariz., region. As the investigation continues, the agency has warned customers to dispose of store-bought romaine, and to avoid buying more or ordering it in restaurants unless it definitely wasn’t sourced from the Yuma area.
The romaine warning, however, shouldn’t mean a moratorium on all leafy greens, says Allison Knott, a New York City-based registered dietitian.
“There are so many leafy greens that are available and are just as good, if not better, for you than romaine,” Knott says. “All leafy greens are good, so however you can get them in, the better.”
Leafy greens are a nutritious option because they contain vitamins A, C and K, as well as nutrients such as folate, potassium and calcium. And though “there’s really no leafy green that’s bad for you,” Knott says the darker the veggie, the more nutrient-dense it typically is.
For that reason, she says, kale is a great choice. If you’re used to eating romaine, however, you may not love the plant’s strong, bitter flavor. If that’s the case, Knott recommends arugula, spinach or butter lettuce — the last of which has large leaves that can even be used in place of wraps and breads. She also suggests branching out to lesser-known mustard or collard greens while you’re looking for new greens.
As soon as the E. coli investigation is over, Knott says, there’s no reason not to go back to the old standby, romaine.
“This whole romaine scare is definitely not ideal for anyone, and it maybe scares people away from eating leafy greens in general, which is frustrating,” Knott says. “The key message is just that [you should be] eating leafy greens.”