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Radicchio – Nutrition, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Radicchio is a leaf vegetable with vibrant reddish-purple leaves and white veins. The vegetable is often mistaken for red cabbage but is a form of leaf chicory. It is a perennial plant that grows in Italy and parts of America, with California being the highest producer. It is also known as Italian chicory because of its extensive use in Italian cuisine. According to “Naturalis Historia”, radicchio was used as a blood purifier and aid for insomnia in the Roman era. That is because radicchio has Intybin, a type of analgesic/sedative. 

The modern form of radicchio with its deep-red colour was engineered in 1860 in the Veneto region of Italy by Francesco Van den Borre, a Belgian agronomist. To create the dark red leaves with vivid white veins, he used Imbianchimento (whitening). The process involves keeping a plant in water, in dark places where the lack of light inhibits the formation of chlorophyll. The loss of chlorophyll causes loss of their green pigmentation.

Radicchio has numerous health benefits. It is full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In addition, it is rich in antioxidants, has anti-parasitic properties, good for the heart and is also known to fight the growth of cancer cells. 

Different varieties of radicchio are named after the Italian regions where they originate. Chioggia, the most common variety, is shaped like a head, while treviso is a type that has an elongated structure. Treviso has a crunchy and distinctive bitter taste. Another variety of radicchio called the Castelfranco is light green with deep red speckles. It has a sweeter flavour than other varieties. It is eaten, tossed with olive oil, and mixed into dishes, often used as a coffee substitute.

As per USDA data, 100 grams of radicchio serving contains:

Energy: 23 kcalWater: 93.1 gFat: 0.25 gProtein: 1.43 g Carbohydrate: 4.48 gFibre: 0.9 gSugars: 0.6 gCalcium: 19 mgMagnesium: 13 mg

The HealthifyMe Note

Radicchio has a rich nutritional profile with abundant minerals and vitamins. Like several vegetables, it has minimal calories and a trace amount of carbohydrates. Various vitamins like vitamins A, C, K and E benefit overall health. In addition, the minerals in the vegetable make it healthy for the heart and skin.

Health Benefits of Radicchio

Promotes Healthy Bones

Radicchio is an excellent source of vitamin K. One hundred grams of the vegetable offers 255 µg of vitamin K. Vitamin K is a great vitamin for bone health as it is involved in the carboxylation of many bone-related proteins. These proteins regulate the genetic transcription of osteoblastic markers and regulate bone reabsorption. Furthermore, research proves that vitamin K and calcium work synergistically on bone density.

Research shows vitamin K increases the bone mineral density in osteoporotic people and reduces fracture rates. As per studies, low levels of vitamin K impair osteocalcin activation and decrease osteoblasts’ activity.

Rich in Antioxidants 

Radicchio is rich in antioxidants. The rich purple colour of the vegetable comes from antioxidants called anthocyanins. According to research, anthocyanins can protect the body from many diseases. For example, it helps reduce cancer cell proliferation and inhibit tumour formation. In addition, they are instrumental in protecting your body against free radicals and thus are responsible for disease prevention. 

Anthocyanins are also beneficial for intestinal health. Interestingly, the red parts of the leaf have more anthocyanin content than the rest of the leaf.

Reduces Blood Sugar

Radicchio, like chicory, contains inulin which is good for regulating blood sugar levels. It is also rich in fibre and has a low glycemic index. That makes it excellent for patients with diabetes. According to a study, chicory root extract could delay the early onset of diabetes. Similarly, the inulin in radicchio makes it beneficial for diabetes patients.

Vitamin K in radicchio shows improvements in insulin sensitivity of the body. It allows the body to use glucose more effectively, decreasing blood sugar. Several studies show that vitamin K improves insulin sensitivity in men with diabetes.

Aids Cardiovascular System

Radicchio has a significant amount of vitamin C and vitamin E. The benefits of vitamin C for good health are no secret. There is enough evidence proving vitamin C benefits in preventing the risks of cardiovascular diseases. 

Studies suggest that vitamin C prevents apoptosis of vascular smooth muscle cells, which helps keep plagues more stable if atherosclerosis has developed. Consuming vitamin E-rich foods decrease the risk of coronary heart diseases. Research associates its benefits with middle-aged to older people.

The vitamin K-rich composition of radicchio makes it a blood coagulant. It helps in making four of the thirteen proteins required for blood clotting. Thus it prevents excessive bleeding. In addition, vitamin K is responsible for regulating blood calcium levels. It is instrumental in producing Matrix Gla Proteins (MGP), which prevent calcification or hardening of arteries. Therefore it reduces the risks of heart attacks caused by mineral build-up in the arteries. 

Vitamin K also helps regulate blood pressure. It also helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease or increases the mortality rate for coronary heart disease.

The anthocyanin content in radicchio is also beneficial for the heart. It has anti-inflammatory effects and protects the body against free radicals causing cardiovascular diseases. Radicchio also has other polyphenolic compounds like luteolin, proven to improve circulation and prevent blood clots.

Aids Weight Loss

Radicchio is rich in dietary fibre, which adds bulk to your diet. It helps you feel fuller for longer and hence, reduces hunger. It is also low in calories, low sodium, fat-free and cholesterol-free. Fibre and antioxidants also help improve bowel movement and metabolism and prevent bloating. Therefore it is an excellent addition to your diet to lose weight healthily.

Anti-Cancer

Radicchio has several benefits credited to its high concentration of essential nutrients. Another benefit is its anti-cancer properties. According to research, vitamin C has consistently inhibited the growth of cancer cells in the oesophagus, larynx, pancreas and oral cavity. The antioxidant content in radicchio may also help the body fight diseases and prevent metastasis or recurrence of cancer in several instances. 

Improves Cognitive Health

Vitamin K is essential for the nervous system. In addition, several vitamin K-dependent hemostatic proteins are vital for the brain and aid brain function. 

According to research, vitamin K participates in synthesising sphingolipids, a class of lipids that regulate major cellular processes such as apoptosis, proliferation, and senescence. 

In recent years, a change in the number of sphingolipids has resulted from cognitive decline and neurodivergent diseases. As a result, vitamin K improves psychomotor behaviour and cognition and may prevent cognitive decline, especially in older adults with Alzheimer’s.

Radicchio is also rich in folate, potassium and antioxidants. Potassium is responsible for relaying signals from the brain to every other body part. In a study, increased potassium intake improves cognitive brain function and attenuates histopathological markers in patients with Alzheimer’s. 

Folate is vital for the creation of DNA and RNA, and neurotransmitters. Folate deficiency is known to accompany depression and cognitive decline. According to studies, folate intake helps reduce mental fatigue, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc. 

Healthy for the Skin

Radicchio is excellent for your skin. It has a reasonable amount of vitamins B, C, and K. Vitamin B as an antioxidant helps promote skin cell turnover while reducing free radical damage. According to research, vitamin C helps boost collagen synthesis and makes the skin look younger. Studies have also found that vitamins B and C could benefit the physiological wound healing process.

Vitamin K helps protect collagen in the body. Studies also emphasise the anti-ageing benefits of vitamin K since it helps maintain skin elasticity, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Radicchio is a healthy addition to your diet. It is full of antioxidants, a good source of dietary fibre, and rich in vitamin K, zinc and copper. It is also low in calories, sodium, fat-free and cholesterol-free. Its rich purple colour results from anthocyanins known for their benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic effects.

Best Ways to Add Radicchio to Your Diet

Radicchio is known for its crisp texture and bitter flavour. It is versatile when it comes to the flavour profile. It is used a lot in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. 

You can consume it raw, roasted or grilled.Add it to your salad to take advantage of its crunchy texture, colour and nutrient profile.Grill and serve as a side dish.You can use it to hold tuna, chicken or seafood.You can add it to your soup, pasta, legumes, tofu etc.The roots of radicchio can substitute coffee, much like any other chicory.

How to Prepare

The correct way to cut radicchio depends on your recipe, but it usually involves removing the stem. Start by removing any wilted leaves. Cut the radicchio in half such that the stem is sliced lengthwise. Remove the stem by cutting a V across the stem.Once the stem is removed, you can cut it into quarters, separate the leaves or cut it into thin slices as per your requirement.To reduce the bitterness, you can soak the pieces in water for about ten minutes. Cooking also reduces bitterness, using opposite flavours in pairs like salty or tangy to balance the bitter.

Healthy Recipes Using Radicchio

Orange Radicchio Salad

Servings: 4

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

Radicchio: 1 headOlive oil: 1 tbspRed wine vinegar: 1 tsp Navel Orange: 1 largeSalt: ½ tspPepper: ¼ tspLarge green olives: 12Basil leaves: 10-12

Method

Heat olive oil in a pan. Saute chopped radicchio with vinegar, salt and pepper.Squeeze orange juice over the salad. Remove the rest of the peel, cut oranges into little slices, and add them to the salad.Add the olives and basil leaves and toss the salad. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Servings: 4

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 42 minutes

Ingredients

Radicchio: 2 small headsExtra virgin olive oil: ¼ cupBalsamic vinegar: 3 tbspKosher salt: As per tasteFreshly ground pepper: As per tasteMedium shrimp: 1 poundBacon: 3 stripsDijon mustard: 1 tspMaple syrup: 2 tspCherry tomatoes: 1 cupFinely chopped parsley: 2 tbsp

Method

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Prepare the radicchio by removing wilted leaves and cutting them into four wedges. Leave the root intact. Toss the wedges with olive oil, ¼ tsp kosher salt, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and pepper. Let them marinate in a casserole while the oven preheats.To prepare the shrimp, toss it in 1 tbsp olive oil, ¼ tsp kosher salt and pepper and arrange it on a separate casserole since the shrimp and radicchio have different cooking times.Roast the radicchio and shrimp. The radicchio is roasted for about 15-18 minutes till the leaves start wilting and becoming crisp around the edges. Put the shrimp in the oven and cook for 3-5 minutes. Remove both from the oven and place them on a cutting board. Chop into bite-sized pieces and combine.Prepare your bacon vinaigrette by cooking the bacon in 1 tbsp of olive oil over moderate heat till it gets crispy and starts to render its fat. Add shallots and cook till they soften. Remove it from heat and add 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and cherry tomatoes.Now toss the bacon vinaigrette with radicchio and shrimp. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Precautions

Allergies

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to radicchio. Therefore, if you experience swelling, shortness of breath, nausea, or itching after consuming radicchio, you should avoid its consumption and consult a doctor.

Moderate Consumption

Consuming anything in excess is detrimental to health. For example, radicchio is rich in inulin, which in excess might cause stomach cramping, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea and other digestive distress.

Drug Interactions

According to research, antiepileptic drugs can interact with folate and Vitamin B12 in radicchio. Studies also show that if you are taking blood thinners warfarin, you should avoid Vitamin K-rich foods since it might worsen coronary artery calcification. Talk to your doctor beforehand about possible drug interactions.

Summary

Radicchio is beautiful, flavourful and nutrient-dense, which makes it an all-rounder. The beautiful red-purple of radicchio can add colour to your dishes alongside various health benefits. It is a good source of Vitamin K, fibre, potassium and other trace minerals. It is also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanin, responsible for its vivid hue. Benefits of Radicchio include but are not limited to weight loss, improved cognitive health, decreasing blood sugar, inhibiting cancer cells, boosting skin collagen, promoting healthy bones etc.

Its bitter and spicy flavour and crunchy texture make it perfect for salad. However, it is used in innumerable sweet and savoury dishes as well. You can add it to anything from soup, lentils, and pasta to cakes and mocktails. Radicchio root also works as a coffee substitute.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Is radicchio a superfood?

A. Royal Rose Radicchio qualifies as a superfood. It is rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. In addition, it is abundant in anthocyanins which help fight against free radicals that may cause cancer, coronary heart diseases etc.

Q. Is radicchio good for your liver?

A. Radicchio helps stimulate liver function and enables you to get rid of the toxins in your body. It has also been proven beneficial for individuals with liver cancer. Vitamin K in radicchio might help prevent liver cancer and death in patients with liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma(HCC). It also reduces the recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma(HCC) in patients with liver cirrhosis.

Q. Can I eat radicchio raw?

A. Yes, radicchio can be consumed raw. It has a crispy texture and bitter flavour, great with a salad. It is the perfect addition to your meal if you like bitter foods. To keep it fresh, wrap it with plastic and store it in the refrigerator. 

Q. What vitamins does radicchio have?

A. Radicchio is an excellent source of Vitamin K. It has significant amounts of vitamin A, C and E. It also contains pyridoxine (B6), thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folate, and pantothenic acid (B5).  

Q. Is radicchio good for weight loss?

A. Yes, radicchio is excellent for weight loss. It is a source of dietary fibre which keeps you full and thus decreases appetite by adding bulk to your diet. It is also low in calories, low sodium, fat-free and cholesterol-free, making it perfect for your diet routine.

Q. Is radicchio lettuce or cabbage?

A. radicchio is neither lettuce nor cabbage. This leafy vegetable is a member of the chicory family. It is often mistaken for lettuce or red cabbage because of the similarity in their appearances. 

Q. Is radicchio high in iron?

A. Radicchio contains iron. According to USDA, 100 grams of radicchio contains 0.57 mg of iron. However, it is not a potential source of iron. Therefore, if you need iron-rich foods, consume dates, spinach and shellfish.

Q. Does radicchio give you gas?

A. Like other chicory root fibre, radicchio can also cause gas and bloating when consumed in excess. That is because of its high concentration in inulin. However, consuming in moderation will not cause any known health issues to a healthy individual. 

Q. Is radicchio a prebiotic?

A. Since radicchio is a kind of chicory, it is also a lesser source of prebiotics. Although, through fermentation, the inulin in radicchio acts as a prebiotic and helps stimulate the growth of beneficial bifidobacteria in the intestine.

Q. Do you eat the white part of radicchio?

A. Radicchio leaves are the most commonly used part of radicchio. You can saute them, grill or even bake them. The white stem of radicchio is usually cut before chopped into finer pieces. However, the leaves aren’t the only edible part of radicchio; you can use radicchio roots as a coffee substitute or additive. 

Q. Is radicchio a chicory?

A. Yes, chicory is considered a flowering plant and a member of the dandelion family. It has characteristics such as light purple flowers and a strong stem. Radicchio is a chicory family member, a group of leafy vegetables known for their spicy bitterness.

Q. Is radicchio the same as red chicory?

A. Yes, radicchio and red chicories are the same things, they belong to the same family. Since radicchio is a type of chicory with dark red and purple colour with visible white veins, it is also known as red chicory.

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