The Truth: Most leafy greens are good for you — but some are better than others.
Salads are a great way to pack in the nutrients without packing on the pounds. The best are a rainbow of vitamin-rich veggies and provide metabolism-boosting lean protein, non-starchy carbs, and a dose of healthy fat. However, too often these produce powerhouses fall short — starting with the most basic ingredient: lettuce! Since the greens are the foundation for the salad, it’s important to build a better one by choosing the best of the bunch.
Iceberg lettuce has very little nutritional value. When some people order a “wedge” of iceberg lettuce slathered with blue-cheese dressing, they think it’s healthy. What could be bad about it? Well, for one, don’t get me started on the amount of calories in the dressing! Secondly, iceberg lettuce doesn’t do much for your body. It’s made up of 95 percent water and contains only small amounts of fiber and minerals. So while iceberg lettuce is low in calories and definitely not bad for you, it’s not that good either. If you’re stuck on the mild taste of iceberg lettuce, I would recommend you switch to romaine. It has far more metabolism-boosting nutrients and is high in vitamin C. Also, beware of “frisée” lettuce in salads, which is much like iceberg and doesn’t offer a lot of nutritional value.
The darker the lettuce, the more nutritious it is. Use this rule when you’re out grocery shopping and you’ll always choose the better lettuce. Dark leafy greens — like spinach, arugula, kale, turnip greens, and so many more — have countless health benefits. They play a significant role in decreasing our risk of diabetes because of their fiber and magnesium content, which in turn helps your metabolism and overall nerve and muscle function. The high levels of iron in spinach and Swiss chard are great for bringing oxygen to your muscles, and kale is loaded with vitamin C and calcium. Dark leafy greens, in general, help to prevent system-wide inflammation, reducing arthritis pain and blood clotting. Bonus: They even contain a very small amount of omega-3 fats.
There are easy ways to work healthy lettuce into your diet. > I hate it when people say that eating healthy is hard. It’s so easy to work healthy foods, like lettuce, into your diet on a daily basis. Here are a couple tips: Start every dinner with a salad — and switch it up! Have romaine lettuce one week, then spinach the next. Or, buy frozen organic spinach in those little bricks — they are perfectly portioned for an evening’s meal with leftovers the next day. Sauté them with a teaspoon of olive oil, chopped garlic, and lemon. They cook in minutes, so getting it to the table couldn’t be easier. Ever tried kale chips? I know they are expensive, but you can make your own healthy kale chips for next to nothing — and that is a great way to work more greens into your diet while snacking. These are just a few ideas — get creative! The more greens you eat, the healthier you’ll be.
The Bottom Line: Leafy greens are great for you, and you should be eating more of them! Skip the iceberg and other light-colored lettuces and instead load up on kale, spinach, romaine, arugula, and other dark greens.