Health & Wellness

The Low-Down on Lettuce & Leafy Greens

leafy greensLeaf vegetables, also known as leafy greens, are plant leaves that are consumed as vegetables. Though leafy greens often have a short shelf life as compared to other foods, these delicate vegetables offer a great deal of nutritional benefits, including a plentitude of vitamins and high dietary fiber. Lettuce is one of the most popular forms of leafy greens eaten in the United States. Spinach, fennel, kale, and even carrots fall into the leaf-green category. Leaf green vegetables, including microgreens which are immature greens, are low in calories and have impressive nutrient profiles, thus people are greatly encouraged to enjoy them.

Many older Americans are grateful to have a large variety of different types of lettuce and vegetables to choose from when grocery shopping today. In the 1950s, iceberg lettuce, a crisp head lettuce with a high-water content, topped the charts in terms of consumption. This California based lettuce was grown year-round and was often stocked in large quantities at the grocery stores. Meanwhile, other lettuces and greens were harder to obtain. Thankfully, newer technological advances, such as vacuum technology and newer packing methods, gave way to the shipping and obtainability of more nutrient rich greens over time. Today, we have a large variety of produce, including leaf vegetables, from which to choose.

In 2018, Cooking Light did a side-by-side comparison of iceberg lettuce, still popular in a wedge salad, to spinach, kale, and bibb, butterhead, green and red lettuces. They broke down the key ingredients and vitamins in each one, per 100 gram or 3 ½ ounce serving. While iceberg lettuce came out lower in calories as compared to some of the others (i.e., iceberg 14, Spinach 23, and Kale 49), they concluded that the vitamin content and nutrients of iceberg lettuce is generally lower. For example, Butterhead lettuce contains 85% dv of Vitamin K, whereas iceberg contains 20%. Folate in spinach is 49% dv, whereas iceberg lettuce has 7%. And kale has 11% dv of Magnesium, with iceberg at just 2%. However, iceberg lettuce is still a valuable part of the diet for its moisture content, its crisp flavor, and cooling effect.

Using the above comparison, we can conclude that leafy greens such as spinach and kale are essential to healthful diets, as those greens are applauded for their unique nutritional density and unique flavors and textures. Given their examination of iceberg lettuce, we can also deduce that not all lettuces are created equal. No matter what, it’s vital to know what we are consuming, whether to lose weight or to boost dietary nutrition to become healthier. Leafy greens are known to contain pesticides, depending upon how they are grown and treated. In fact, Insider shares that strawberries and leafy greens contain the most pesticides of any produce, even after washing them. Thus, consumers should lean towards organic, pesticide-free produce whenever possible. Though it may cost slightly more to buy organic, when it comes to leafy greens, it is a worthwhile investment in one’s health.

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