Iceberg lettuce is classic, sure. It’s a must for those satisfyingly crispy-creamy wedge salads drizzled with blue cheese at pretty much every fancy steakhouse in America. You absolutely need it for standard cookout burgers or old-school tacos (especially ones with the crunchy shell). And you can’t have a solid sub or hoagie sandwich without it.
But it’s not, well, cool in the wellness world. Iceberg probably isn’t going into a $12 lunch salad, or a fancy grain bowl, or a green smoothie. And chances are you’re not going to find it on an artisanal grilled cheese or as a topper for a beet-and-hemp-seed veggie burger. Above all, iceberg lettuce likely won’t be the kind you pick when your goal is to go for a green that’s actually good for you. Right?
Probably not, because iceberg has gotten a pretty bad rap. “Iceberg lettuce has developed a reputation for being unhealthy and is often said to have little to no nutritional value,” Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition expert and author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook, tells SELF. Even though people have been eating good old iceberg lettuce for pretty much ever, somewhere along the line those humble, pale green heads ended up on the bottom of the pile—while other, more hype-generating greens rose in popularity. “Iceberg lettuce used to be popular before dark leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and kale came into favor,” Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of The Smoothie Plan, tells SELF.
So how warranted is iceberg’s lowly standing—if at all? Is iceberg lettuce good for you or not? Should you actively avoid it in favor of kale or romaine every single time a salad opportunity comes up? And have we reached a point where iceberg lettuce has gone from an acceptable base for healthy salad recipes to the “treat yourself” category?!
These are important questions that demand thoughtful and serious answers. So before you start steering your cart waaaay past the iceberg like the way the Titanic should have done, let’s do a little digging.
What’s wrong with iceberg lettuce?
First of all: Iceberg doesn’t actually have anything wrong with it. (Unless you’re talking about lettuce that’s part of a salad recall, of course—but seriously, that happens with other greens too.) So let’s reframe that question to be a little less accusatory, shall we? Instead of asking what’s wrong with iceberg lettuce, let’s talk about why it’s always treated like the poor kid who gets picked last for dodgeball.
Reason one: Yes, it’s true that iceberg lettuce is less nutritionally dense than other lettuces. That’s largely due to iceberg’s water content, which is nearly 96%, according to nutrition data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “With the high water content, iceberg lettuce isn’t as rich in [nutrients] as other types of lettuce,” Feller explains. The sky-high levels of H20, mean there’s just not as much room for other good stuff, like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making iceberg lettuce nutrition less impressive. In fact, the push for people to eat more fiber is another reason iceberg lettuce fell out of favor, Largeman-Roth says.
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