Making the Most of Iceberg Lettuce

Healthy Ways to Add This Crunchy Green to Your Diet

Iceberg lettuce in basket
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No lettuce adds the same quality of crispness to a salad, burger, or taco like iceberg. Even so, the popularity of this cabbage-like head lettuce, so named because it was packed on ice for shipping before refrigerated train cars were invented, has begun to pale in comparison to powerhouse greens like spinach and kale.

It is true that nutrition-wise iceberg can't compare to most dark leafy greens.

And to many palates, it's not as flavorful as, say, peppery arugula or bitter escarole. But none of this means there isn't a place for iceberg on your sandwich or in your salad bowl. Besides the delightful crunch it brings to the table, iceberg lettuce does have some benefits. Besides, it's sometimes the only lettuce little kids will eat. So whether you like your iceberg chopped into a salad, layered leaf by leaf onto a sandwich, or cut into a wedge and drizzled with blue cheese dressing, here's how to make the most of it.

Benefits of Iceberg Lettuce

Nutritionwise, iceberg really can't compare to darker lettuces, which are rich sources of vitamin A and other nutrients thanks to the health-boosting phytochemicals found in the pigment that gives these greens such rich, deep hues. However, it's not totally devoid of value. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a cup of shredded iceberg does have small amounts of iron (0.18 milligrams), vitamin A (150 international units, or IUs), and fiber (0.5 grams).

These numbers represent minuscule amounts of the recommended Daily Value for these nutrients, but they at least make a small contribution.

Where iceberg does shine is as a mainstay of a healthy low-fat or low-carb diet. That same cup of chopped iceberg lettuce has only 5 calories and not a spot of fat.

It's also made up almost entirely of water, and so just like downing a big glass of H2O, munching on a very lightly dressed iceberg salad can before a meal can help to fill you up and curb your appetite so you aren't tempted to overeat.

Buying, Storing, and Prepping

When shopping for iceberg lettuce in the produce department, look for heads that appear fresh, with leaves that are green and crisp-looking—not brown or limp. The leaves also should be tightly wrapped to form a solid, round shape, and not loose.

To store iceberg, place it in an airtight bag or covered container the refrigerator. It should last up to two weeks.

When you're ready to use your iceberg, there's a simple way to remove the hardcore that holds all of the leaves together so that they can be easily rinsed and separated: Simply hold the head of lettuce six to eight inches above the kitchen countertop with both hands and the core-facing downward. Firmly bring the head down onto the hard surface of the counter; this will loosen the leaves from the core so that you can grab it with one hand and twist it out. You then can hold the entire head upside down under running water, flip it over to let the water drain out, and then remove separate leaves.

Some people toss the outer leaves but there's really no need to do this as long as you rinse them.

Just don't rinse or chop lettuce before you're ready to use it: The leaves oxidize and turn brown quickly, and although the darkened edges won't hurt you, they don't look good.

Pre-washed and cut iceberg lettuce also is sold in plastic bags, often combined with carrots or other types of greens. A bag of lettuce will last for a few days in the refrigerator, but once opened, you'll need to use it up within a few days.

Iceberg Lettuce in the Diet

Probably the best-known salad made with iceberg lettuce is the wedge salad—a quarter of a head of iceberg topped with blue cheese dressing and crumbled bacon.

It's delicious but deadly in terms of calories and fat. If you want to indulge, ask to have the dressing on the side so you can control the amount you eat.

Otherwise, since iceberg lettuce is all crunch and virtually no flavor, it's easy to incorporate into salads that include other greens and vegetables. It also can serve as the base for a lightly dressed main meal salad loaded with fresh veggies and a little lean protein. Let your imagination guide you or toss together one of these iceberg-based recipes.

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Article Sources
  • United States Department of Agriculture. USDA Branded Food Products Database. Iceberg Shredded Lettuce. Oct 13, 2017. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45329480?man=&lfacet=&count=&max=25&qlookup=iceberg+lettuce&offset=&sort=default&format=Full&reportfmt=other&rptfrm=&ndbno=&nutrient1=&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&subset=&totCount=&measureby=&Q534393=1.0&Qv=1&Q534393=2.0&Qv=1
  • Smithsonian Institute. Tip of the Iceberg: Our Love-Hate Relationship With the Nation's Blandest Vegetable. Mar 26, 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/tip-of-the-iceberg-our-love-hate-relationship-with-the-nations-blandest-vegetable-9074175/