Q: I’ve heard that lettuce varieties have different nutritional value and some aren’t worth eating. Is that true?
A: Yes. And no. Pale lettuce like iceberg does make a crunchy bed for salads that can include other higher nutrient packed foods.
Other types of lettuce do provide more vitamins and phytonutrients than iceberg.
A cup of Boston or Bibb lettuce provides more than six times as much beta-carotene as iceberg, and dark green or red leaf lettuce contains even more – about the same amount that’s in half a small carrot. These lettuces are also high in lutein, another carotenoid that links to eye health. One cup of romaine gives you over 80 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin A and more than half of vitamin K. Romaine also contains the B vitamin folate that helps maintain healthy DNA and may play a role in protecting against cancer.
You may also have seen the mixture of field greens called mesclun. Some mixes include mainly mild-flavored greens such as baby oak leaf and romaine, while other blends contain more peppery flavored greens, such as arugula and mustard. In general, nutrients in these greens are similar to that of romaine or leaf lettuce: high in beta-carotene and folate.
Whatever type of lettuce you choose as your salad base or in your sandwiches, all are less than ten calories a cup and can help keep you full without many calories. By mixing up your lettuce choices, you’ll keep your salads interesting and pack in a variety of vitamins and other cancer protective compounds.