Radicchio: Benefits, Nutritional Value and Facts
Radicchio: Benefits, Nutritional Value and Facts

Radicchio scientifically known as C. tybus L. group rubifoliumis a type of chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), popular in Northeast Italy, Central Europe and North America. Along with other chicory species, radicchio originated in the Mediterranean region, but can be grown in temperate and semi-arid regions around the world.

Radicchio is a leafy vegetable characterized by its bitter taste and valued for its attractive color, texture and nutritional qualities. It is often confused with red cabbage or red lettuce. It typically offers a more pronounced bitter flavor and a denser, crisper texture compared to the softer, leafier texture of lettuce and the crisper, waxier texture of cabbage.

Radicchio also comes in two color groups: red and variegated. Red radicchio has a red blade with a white central vein, while variegated radicchio has a yellow-greenish blade with green, red and whitish spots or lines. Both species offer potential health benefits and nutritional richness.

Chicory contains beneficial plant compounds, including phenolic compounds such as hydroxycinnamic acid and hydroxybenzoic acid. Red colored varieties also contain anthocyanins. These good-for-you plant compounds demonstrate antioxidant activity.

Antioxidants fight oxidative stress caused by free radicals that form naturally in the body and from exposure to environmental factors such as pollution and sunlight. This stress is linked to diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, eye diseases and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. These diseases are usually attributed to chronic oxidative stress, and this is only one of the factors that can influence the disease.

Beneficial plant compounds in radicchio and other chicory varieties show promise in fighting oxidative stress. However, it is important to recognize the current limitations of research, mostly conducted in test tubes or animals. These studies look at its antioxidant properties, its ability to reduce inflammation, fight microbes, protect the stomach and potentially inhibit tumor growth. Further research is needed to fully understand the therapeutic effects of chicory and to draw more definitive conclusions.

Leafy greens, including radicchio, are high in vitamin K, an important nutrient for proper blood clotting. One cup of grated raw radicchio offers 102 micrograms of vitamin K, covering 85% of the recommended intake or daily value (DV) for this nutrient.

Vitamin K is essential for healthy bones, and human studies show that low vitamin K intake and low vitamin K in the bloodstream are associated with an increased risk of bone fractures.

Additionally, vitamin K’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties suggest that in addition to reducing the risk of bone fractures, it may also help prevent age-related diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.

Radicchio is a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, types of carotenoids (pigment) also found in foods such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, corn and egg yolks.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are unique in that they are the only carotenoids found in the retina. They play a vital role in promoting eye health and preventing eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

One cup of shredded raw radicchio provides a total of 3,530 micrograms (or 3.53 milligrams) of these beneficial compounds combined. A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) serving of shredded raw radicchio contains 8.83 milligrams (mg) of lutein and zeaxanthin. To put that into perspective, other food sources like kale offer 39.55 milligrams, while Brussels sprouts provide 1.59 milligrams per 100-gram serving.

Although there is no set daily value for lutein and zeaxanthin, researchers suggest aiming for approximately 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin per day to maintain optimal eye health.

One cup of grated raw radicchio contains:

  • Calories: 9.2 calories
  • Protein: 0.572 grams (g)
  • Thickness: 0.1 gr
  • Carbohydrates: 1.79 gr
  • Fibers: 0.36 gr

In addition to its rich vitamin K content, radicchio is a good source of copper, providing 0.136 milligrams (15% of the daily value) in one cup. Copper plays an essential role in our body, helping to produce energy, build connective tissue and maintain healthy blood vessels. It is also critical for brain development, gene activation, and maintenance of the nervous and immune systems.

Radicchio also provides 0.904 milligrams of vitamin E, which is 6% of the daily value. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. In addition, it supports the immune system and helps dilate blood vessels to prevent clotting in them.

Radicchio is generally safe to eat. However, it is a type of chicory and rare cases of chicory allergy have been documented. Most of the cases involve adults who are in contact with chicory because of their occupation. Reported allergic reactions include rhinoconjunctivitis, asthma, anaphylactic reactions and contact dermatitis.

People with allergies to the Asteraceae family (which includes lettuce), those with birch pollen allergies, and individuals with atopic dermatitis are generally advised to be cautious when consuming or coming into contact with inulin (a type of fiber in chicory) and chicory-containing foods .

If you suspect you have a food allergy, it is important to consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis, especially if you are not sure whether you are allergic to radicchio or another type of food.

To get the most out of radicchio in your diet, it’s a good idea to first learn how to properly store it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends storing leafy greens, as well as many other produce, in a clean refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

Storing leafy greens like radicchio in the crisper drawer can help preserve their freshness by providing a slightly higher level of humidity, which can help prevent wilting and extend their shelf life. Whether you wash your produce before storing or just before eating, it’s important to make sure it’s completely dry before storing.

The CDC recommends that leafy greens that have not been pre-washed be washed thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting, and cooking. Do not soak leafy greens, as soaking can transfer germs from one leaf to another.

Here are some easy ways to enjoy radicchio in a meal or snack:

  • Combine shredded radicchio with other salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and your favorite dressing for a refreshing salad
  • Mix shredded radicchio with thinly sliced ​​apples, toasted nuts and a tangy vinaigrette for a crunchy straw
  • Slice the radicchio, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until lightly charred for a delicious side dish
  • Use large radicchio leaves as a substitute for tortillas or wraps, filling them with protein, veggies, and your choice of sauce for a low-carb option
  • Spread goat cheese on toasted baguette slices and top with thinly sliced ​​radicchio drizzled with balsamic glaze for an appetizer
  • Add shredded radicchio to pizza, tacos or soup
  • Stir-fry radicchio with your favorite vegetables, tofu or meat in a spicy sauce to complement rice, noodles or quinoa

Including radicchio in your diet not only adds a delightful burst of color and flavor to your meals, but also provides some potential health benefits. Its unique flavor can balance sweet and savory flavors in one dish while offering antioxidants and essential nutrients such as vitamin K, honey, lutein and zeaxanthin. Enjoy radicchio in a variety of dishes, from soups and pastries to tacos and wraps.

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