Over the years, iceberg lettuce has been given a pretty bad rap. Most of us have at one time or another been told this specific variety of lettuce has little to no nutritional value.
We learn that rather than eating this crunchy lettuce, we should instead be eating romaine, kale, or virtually any other type of salad greens.
However, like many other things in the world, there is more to this myth than meets the eye and it might amaze you how much nutritional value there really is in iceberg lettuce.
Where Did Iceberg Lettuce Come From?
Crisphead lettuce first became available in the United States for commercial production back in the 1940s. Due to the nature of the tightly formed heads, it was the only variety of lettuce that could survive the trip from the growing fields of California to the East Coast.
It arrived packed in mountains of ice, in time those waiting for it would jokingly say, “Here comes the iceberg”, referring to the ice used to keep the lettuce fresh during the long journey prior to refrigerated box cars. The name stuck and before long this variety of Crisphead lettuce became known as “Iceberg lettuce” (1).
For decades, iceberg was the main lettuce available practically anywhere in the country, unless you grew your own or went out to eat in expensive restaurants. This was true well into the mid-1970s when loose leaf lettuce varieties were still only 5 percent of the lettuce varieties currently grown in California. Things remained like this until the consumer started to learn that other varieties of greens had a higher nutritional value.
Nutritional Value of Iceberg Lettuce
Iceberg lettuce is made up of mostly water. According to one study, it contains only 1/20th of the vitamins found in most other dark leafy greens (2).
It is the high water content that gives iceberg its familiar and much-desired crunch. But it is also the reason why so many people have long thought that this light green lettuce has very little in the way of nutritional value to offer.
This is perhaps the biggest myth of all. While iceberg lettuce may not have the same high levels of many nutrients found in other dark green leafy vegetables, it is an excellent source of a number of minerals that are an essential part of our diets.
Take a look at the breakdown of nutrients listed below contained in Iceberg lettuce.
|Vitamin A||5.02 IU||8710 IU|
|Omega 3 Fatty Acids||0.1g||0.1g|
The Main Ingredients
When you look at the numbers in the chart above it is easy to see that iceberg does fall short when compared to the nutritional value of romaine lettuce (one of the most popular varieties of lettuce today). But, this being said when you take a closer look at the numbers, iceberg is far more in the ballpark than most people give it credit for.
Plenty of Water
In fact, iceberg lettuce contains higher levels of water and sodium, two very essential components of the human diet. Being so rich in water, iceberg is much lower in calories, but at the same time, all that water doesn’t leave much room for other nutrients. It is for this reason that so many people have labeled iceberg lettuce a dismal nutritional favor.
Iceberg lettuce is comprised of 96 percent water, leaving only 4 percent for nutrients (3).
Water, of course, is vital to the function of virtually every organ of our bodies. It is in fact so important that if you lose 1% of your total body weight, you are considered to be mildly dehydrated. If you lose 5%, your life could be at risk.
When you consider how much water is in iceberg lettuce (95.64%} to be precise), it is a little easier to see how this food has it’s place in a well balanced diet.
Lots of Salt
Water is not the only nutrient iceberg lettuce has more of than romaine. It also has more salt, another nutrient that is vital to better health in moderation.
Sodium is utilized by your body to help moderate the osmotic flow of fluids, and other vital nutrients through the cell membranes in your body.
Your body uses salt to help it maintain the right electrolyte balance. At the same time, metabolic waste hitches a ride on sodium molecules as it passes out of the cells.
Health Benefits Associated with Iceberg Lettuce
Beyond the water and sodium content that have obvious health benefits, there are many other reasons why you might include iceberg lettuce in every salad you eat.
High in Fiber
For those who are interested in making changes to their diet if they want to lose weight, iceberg lettuce has a relatively high fiber content. Foods that are high in fiber tend to make you feel fuller faster (4). When you couple this with the fact that iceberg lettuce has very few calories, it makes the perfect diet food.
Since iceberg lettuce can help you feel fuller, it leaves you feeling as though you have less room to eat other foods that are much higher in calories and fat content.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says you should eat foods that are high in water content and fiber to help suppress hunger and limit your calorie intake (5).
Promotes Healthy Blood Clotting
When you cut yourself, you bleed, this is a normal process. Along with this, your blood is designed to clot once it comes into contact with air. At least, this is the theory as long as your blood and body are healthy.
Iceberg lettuce can help with this as it contains vitamin K, which is a vital nutrient your body uses to help promote normal blood clotting.
Vitamin K has also been found to play an important role in preventing heart disease, building strong bones, and in several other important body functions. Most people live their lives with a vitamin K deficiency.
Here are some of the problems associated with a vitamin K deficiency:
- Infectious diseases such as pneumonia
- Arterial calcification, cardiovascular disease, and varicose veins
- Tooth decay
- Brain health problems, including dementia
- Prostate cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, and leukemia
Helps to Prevent Birth Defects
Iceberg lettuce is considered a good source of folate. In the form of folic acid, folates are a superhero when it comes to pregnancy.
Many doctors recommend for pregnant women to consume approximately 400 mg of folic acid per day before and during pregnancy. This can help prevent several birth defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida (6).
While you can take a supplement that contains folic acid, the folate found in iceberg lettuce is a much healthier and more natural source.
Vitamins In Iceberg Lettuce
The various nutrients found in a head of iceberg lettuce may not be as high in quantity as many of the other varieties of lettuce, but many are present is sufficient quantities to ensure you meet the standard recommended daily intake.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant used by your body to maintain eye health and night vision. Vitamin A also supports cell growth.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant used by your body to boost your immune system.
- Vitamin K: Vitamin K along with calcium can help prevent bone fractures and works with vitamin C to promote blood clotting.
- Calcium: Calcium is vital to the health of your teeth and bones. It can also support muscle and nerve function, and to promote blood clotting.
- Folate: Folate is a type of B vitamin used to create genetic material and DNA. It is a very important nutrient for pregnant women.
- Potassium: Potassium’s function in the body is to negate the effects of salt in your diet and help lower blood pressure.
Are There Any Risks to Eating Iceberg Lettuce?
Unfortunately, iceberg lettuce has been listed among the top 20 fruits and vegetables found to have the highest levels of pesticide residues (7).
Among the petrochemicals found in the heads of lettuce during testing, several known to be harmful were found, such as nitrate and perchlorate. The study also found a number of personal care and pharmaceutical residues in the lettuce (8).
Additionally, poor farming and handling procedures have been found to result frequently in E.coli and Salmonella contamination.
The FDA has approved irradiation of the lettuce as a way to eradicate many diseases, but at what cost? (9).
One last thing you should know, iceberg lettuce has been found to have allergens similar to those found in carrots (10). So if carrots cause you irritation, it’s very possible that Iceberg lettuce may do the same.
Down to the Last Leaf
If you are like many of us and have spent your life thinking that iceberg lettuce has no nutritional value, you might have been misled down the garden path.
As you can see, this form of Crisphead lettuce contains a number of nutrients that play a vital role in the overall health of your body.
Whether you shred it and add it to your sandwiches or chop it up and use it in a salad, there is no reason why you should not enjoy the crisp refreshing taste it has to offer.