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Learning to Love Leaf Lettuce

Although leaf lettuce contains more nutrients, the Huget family prefers iceberg lettuce (above). (Photo by Getty Images)

When Mom becomes a nutrition columnist, it doesn't necessarily follow that the whole family will fall into lockstep with her new ideas about healthful eating.

My husband, daughter (age 15) and son (12) have been very open-minded about my efforts to make our home diet more nutritious, and it's been fun to see them learn about the benefits of whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins. We've also enjoyed working together on my little cooking projects, from crock-pot yogurt and nut butters to mayonnaise. But we've run into a few sticking points along the way, areas in which they simply don't care to give up old favorites when I offer a more-healthful option.

Iceberg lettuce is one of those favorite foods. It doesn't matter how often I tell them that leaf-lettuce contains way more nutrients than does iceberg and that its more vibrant colors suggest the presence of antioxidants, substances that, as I note in today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, may or may not be what makes fruits and vegetables so good at fighting heart disease and otherwise keeping us healthy. When I make a tossed salad or a BLT, they want iceberg lettuce, not romaine.

The odd thing is that they otherwise love fruits and vegetables. They even warmly embrace spinach, either cooked or in a big ol' spinach salad, something we pair with a grilled meat and some brown rice about once every other week. (Sadly, they do draw the line at kale.)

I'm not one for disguising foods and sneaking them into meals, but I have found myself making tuna wraps with leaf lettuce instead of iceberg, thus building an extra dose of vitamins and minerals into the sandwich. And with good reason; here's how the two lettuces measure up:

A cup of iceberg lettuce, at 10 calories, has just a gram of fiber, plus 3 percent of the government-recommended daily value (DV) of Vitamin C, 7 percent of the DV for Vitamin A, 22 percent of the DV for Vitamin K, 1 percent of the DV for calcium, 2 percent of the DV for iron and 5 percent of the DV for folate.

A cup of romaine, at 8 calories, also has a single gram of fiber. But it provides 19 percent of the DV for Vitamin C, a whopping 82 percent of the DV for Vitamin A, and 60 percent of the DV for Vitamin K, plus 2 percent of the DV for calcium, 3 percent of the DV for iron and 16 percent of the DV for folate.

No matter. The family likes the crunch and comfort of iceberg. I'll keep trying to change their minds, I suppose. But maybe not: In the grand scheme of things, I suppose they're doing fine.

How about you? What culinary compromises do you make between optimal nutrition and accommodating family favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And don't forget to take today's poll!

Results of a recent poll: 1,234 of you shared your opinion about inspecting your own stool. Only 1 percent thought that was gross; 2 percent said you weren't a big enough hypochondriac enough to, er, stoop that low. While 37 percent of you allowed as how it's hard NOT to look, fully 59 percent said of course you check your stool, as it's a reliable way to keep tabs on your health.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 2, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Next: Do Kids Follow Parents' Dietary Habits? Maybe Not So Much.


My kids hate romaine lettuce. They say it is too bitter. They will eat expensive lettuce mix and I can sneak in some red and green leaf lettuce (but not romaine) to stretch the expensive stuff. You might try that to vary with the spinach.

Posted by: janedoe5 | June 2, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Well, I prefer Anything But Iceberg. But DD will eat only iceberg. And since she's not so big on the veggies in general, I figure some iceberg is better than no romaine. I thought it was just a stage, not a taste thing (she's into pseudo-foodie phase, bragging on how some brand or version of something is the "best" -- really, really funny when she starts claiming that iceberg is the best lettuce, or Stouffers is the best mac & cheese!). But a couple of times, I told her that light-colored romaine was iceberg, and yet she hardly ate any. So guess she really can tell the difference.

Posted by: laura33 | June 2, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Romaine, raw kale or collards, mixed greens including spinach, is our salad greens with cut up string beans, broccoli florets, carrots, broccoli slaw, as some of the ingredients. My son will only eat iceberg lettuce. That is for the "younguns" who have not acquired a mature palate and don't care or need to jam in nutrient density.When I grew up I learned to eat dark leafy greens with yummy dressings. Now I remind myself that raw vegetables have enzymes and enzymes are to fat what turpentine is to paint. I lost 25 pounds filling up on a little protein and a lot of veggies, mostly raw salads with everything in it made in advance. It's like being on an inexpensive weight loss plan.

Posted by: Lydiasings | June 2, 2009 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I've been trying to replace iceberg lettuce for years. My hubby who is totally game to try anything (including a primarily vegan diet) still prefers iceberg in salads & on sandwiches, but will eat romaine, etc. when put before him. He even planted bibb & spring mix in his experimental square foot garden this spring. I do buy him an occasional head of iceberg to appease.

Posted by: wendy22 | June 2, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Arugula, aka rocket, roquette, rugola. Love the stuff. Any tips on how to make it keep longer, though? I buy it prewashed and bagged (the only way to find it, pretty much, where I live) and it seems to start liquefying within about 36 hours.

Posted by: rbrite | June 2, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I'm an 83 year old salad lover. Best: romaine, spinach. Iceberg is better than no salad. I grew my own lettuces in containers on the deck this spring, and am missing the Bibb, red leaf, and oakleaf lettuces, now that they have been replaced with geraniums, etc. The oak leaf has a slightly bitter taste that I enjoy. Fortunately, my 86 year old husband will eat any salad, although he prefers fresh fruit. Bon appetit!

Posted by: yarnandfabric | June 2, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I voted for "other" because we eat nearly all greens equally, though I admit iceberg rarely makes an appearance (mainly if I'm cooking for my step-father). We love a diverse diet and that is reflected in our choice of greens.

Posted by: esleigh | June 2, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

We eat most any kind of green, raw or cooked. Haven't bought iceberg in years. Lately, salads are usually either romaine, spinach or spring mix from Costco. we load them up with toasted nuts, tomato, avocado, usually goat, parmesan or blue cheese and some kind of fruit (sliced pears, stawberries, mandarin orange, dried cranberries, etc.). I like a little light Vinaigrette, but DH still loves mounds of blue cheese dressing.

Posted by: longn1 | June 2, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

My husband and I grew up eating only iceberg lettuce. I still buy it occasionally for a particular salad, but we both prefer romaine and spinach now. Being native Floridians, we also love and eat regularly turnip greens, mustard greens, collards, & kale, which fortunately can now be bought fresh, pre-washed & cut, or frozen.

Posted by: omaJean | June 2, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

i read a chef's tip that he soaks the romaine lettuce in cold water for a half-hour or so. that makes it more moist and crunchy, and more palatable to me. i also find it easier to eat if i cut it in thin slices, rather than big pieces.

Posted by: marybeamish | June 3, 2009 12:22 AM | Report abuse

My family likes iceberg lettuce and spinach, separately and together. They think romaine takes too much work. By the time they have taken out the hard center and cut the leaves up, there is not much left. They don't like the soft lettuce. I do like butter lettuce and sometimes put it on sandwiches. We usually eat our salads without any dressing of any type. Don't know why, but that's the way they like it.

Posted by: sitricat | June 3, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

How do you dry romaine and leafy lettuces?

We love them, but hate soggy salads. And I feel environmentally black when I use up wads of paper towel sopping up water off lettuce. Help!

Posted by: hatchfn | June 4, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Hi, hatchfn:

You need a salad spinner! We have a nice big red-plastic one that does a great job.

As for rbrite's question about keeping prewashed, bagged greens from liquefying, do any of you readers have any tips to offer? Has anyone tried those Debbie Meyer GreenBags?


Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | June 4, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Although as an adult I prefer romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce is one of my comfort foods. My father says that when my mother was pregnant with me she had cravings for iceberg lettuce and so it came as no surprise that as a child I would gobble up handfuls of the stuff as a snack

Posted by: crvanselow | June 6, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Anything but iceberg for us. Both me and my husband prefer mixed leafy greens for salads and kale for cooked greens. For sandwiches, Boston Bibb is our preference.

I have to admit I thought iceberg had absolutely no nutrients, so after reading your column I guess it's not as bad as I thought!

Posted by: a7dk2000 | June 7, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

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