Varieties of Lettuce
Q: I’ve heard that lettuce varieties have different nutritional value and some aren’t worth eating. Is that true?
A: Yes. And no. There are many types of lettuce, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. All are loaded with water and they have some fiber, which reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. The popular iceberg lettuce makes a crunchy salad and includes some vitamin K, folate, and beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A.
Other types of lettuce provide even more vitamins and phytonutrients.
A cup of Boston or Bibb lettuce provides more than six times as much beta-carotene as iceberg, and dark green or red leaf lettuce contains even more – about the same amount that’s in half a small carrot. These lettuces are also high in lutein, another carotenoid that links to eye health. One cup of romaine gives you over 80 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin A and more than half of vitamin K. Romaine also contains the B vitamin folate that helps maintain healthy DNA and may play a role in protecting against cancer.
You may also have seen the mixture of field greens called mesclun. Some mixes include mainly mild-flavored greens such as baby oak leaf and romaine, while other blends contain more peppery flavored greens, such as arugula and mustard. In general, nutrients in these greens are similar to that of romaine or leaf lettuce: high in beta-carotene and folate.
Whatever type of lettuce you choose as your salad base or in your sandwiches, all are less than ten calories a cup and can help keep you full without many calories. By mixing up your lettuce choices, you’ll keep your salads interesting and pack in a variety of vitamins and other cancer protective compounds.
AICR Health Talk
Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).