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Make Better Choices: Healthy Alternatives to Iceberg Lettuce

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Whether served as a wedge with a creamy dressing or used on a sandwich, iceberg lettuce is and has been a popular choice for consumers and restaurants, especially in America where it got its start. For various reasons, its popularity began to decline a few decades ago. One reason is because people heard it had essentially no nutritional value.

So if you’re looking to make better choices in your diet, should you give up iceberg lettuce?

It’s not the healthiest lettuce, but you can continue to enjoy this crispy choice if you like it. Still, it’s a good idea to try other lettuces and leafy greens like spinach in your salads and in other recipes.

About iceberg lettuce and health

Iceberg has a subtle bitter flavor, but where it really wins is in its crunch, which is better than any other lettuce out there. It does, however, rank the lowest in nutritional value—it is 96 percent water after all.

First, the bad:

  • It’s higher in sugar than other lettuces, which means more calories.
  • It’s lower in most nutrients than other lettuces and leafy greens.

And now the good:

  • It keeps longer than most other lettuces.
  • It’s cheaper than most other lettuces.
  • It’s a good source of iron, vitamin B6 and potassium and a very good source of fiber, vitamins A, C and K and folate and manganese.
  • It’s actually higher in alpha-carotene (a disease-fighting antioxidant) than spinach or romaine lettuce.
  • It’s a good foil in hot and spicy cooking. Hence, it’s popular in Asian-style dishes as a milder substitute for cabbage.

Seems like there’s more good than bad? Yep, but other options are still healthier overall …

Alternatives to iceberg lettuce

As a rule, darker foods and greens usually equal more nutrients (because darker leaves absorb more light and synthesize more vitamins,) although this isn’t always the case—for example, cauliflower is nutrient dense but lightly colored, as is the white variety of cabbage.

  • Romaine lettuce. Like iceberg, this lettuce is crispy (although not quite as crispy,) but it’s a healthier choice. It’s an excellent source of vitamins A, K and C, along with folate and fiber.

  • Red leaf lettuce. This option is low in calories, with almost half the daily recommended value of vitamins A and K.

  • Green leaf lettuce. This lettuce has a milder taste and is a rich source of vitamin A. It also has fiber, iron and B vitamins

  • Butterhead lettuce. Boston lettuce and Bibb lettuce are the two most common types. They have smaller leaves, making them good for sandwiches.

  • Spinach. A cup of spinach raw has 2X the recommended daily value of vitamin K, half the recommended value of vitamin A and calcium and iron. Spinach is actually one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth.

  • Mizuna. This mild mustard green has a slightly spicy flavor and is high in vitamin C, folate and iron.

  • Kale. We probably don’t need to tell you that kale is super healthy. It’s good cooked but also in salads if you have a variety that isn’t too bitter. It’s super high in vitamin K and high in vitamins A and C. It’s also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus.

  • Swiss chard. This green is an excellent source of vitamins K, A and C, and a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron and fiber.

  • Arugula. This green has a wonderful, earthy flavor and is good in salads but is low in most nutrients. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A and rich in B vitamins. It also has a good amount of vitamin C.

  • Watercress. With a peppery flavor, this veggie is high in vitamins C, K and A. It’s also a rich source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and other minerals.

  • Endive. Also known as escarole, this veggie has a slightly bitter flavor. It has a good amount of vitamin A and good amounts of B vitamins. It’s also a good source of many minerals.

  • Radicchio. This veggie has red or purple leaves and is common in salad mixes. It is high in phenols, which help neutralize free radicals.

In most grocery stores, you can easily find mixed greens, which can be a good way to try something new. And whatever you do, don’t eat boring salads. Mix a few different lettuces and greens with veggies, sprouts and other toppings like nuts, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and goldenberries. Also, a little dressing made with healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, will help your body better absorb the nutrients and adding a lean protein, like tofu, will help fill you up.

Good vegan salad recipes to try

1. Carrot Ginger Dressing and A South Beach Salad

This salad and dressing recipe calls for spinach, other greens and plenty of interesting toppings.

Recipe: Carrot Ginger Dressing and a South Beach Salad

2. Kale Salad with Grilled Eggplant, White Beans and Fresh Figs

This kale salad recipe is perfect for fall.

Recipe: Kale Salad with Grilled Eggplant, White Beans and Fresh Figs

3. Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries

This salad recipe is simple yet tasty.

Recipe: Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries

4. Smoky Chickpea and Watercress Salad with Mango and Avocado

This watercress salad recipe it mixed with smoky-flavored chickpeas.

Recipe: Smoky Chickpea and Watercress Salad with Mango and Avocado

5. Mizuna, Fennel and Mulberry Salad

This mizuna salad recipe is simple and a good alternative to arugula if you think arugula is too spicy.

Recipe: Mizuna, Fennel, and Mulberry Salad

 

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