Food and Nutrition

Iceberg Lettuce vs. Romaine Lettuce: What’s the Big Difference Between These Leafy Green Rivals?

Photo: Stocksy / Sophia Hsin
When you head to the produce aisle at your local grocery store, which do you reach for first? A bag of pre-chopped iceberg lettuce that’s ready to throw in a salad or a hulking head of romaine? While the latter is typically thought to be much better (and fresher and healthier), iceberg lettuce isn’t without its own benefits. (Hey, don’t look so shocked.) To put the iceberg vs. romaine lettuce debate to rest, we chatted with two dietitians for everything there is to know about two of our favorite leafy greens that are so often framed as rivals.

Iceberg Lettuce Nutrition

Iceberg lettuce often gets a bad rap for being watery—and not in a good way. As such, many people firmly believe that it’s void of all nutritional benefits. That’s not the case, though. According to Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, nutrition expert and author of The Smoothie Plan and Eating in Color, one cup of shredded iceberg lettuce has 10 calories and less than a gram of protein, as well as fiber. While that might not seem like a good thing,other iceberg lettuce nutrients make up for it. “It has 102 milligrams of potassium and 20 micrograms of folate,” Largeman-Roth says. “Where iceberg really shines is its water content—one cup provides nearly 70 grams of water, which is nearly its entire weight.”

Although iceberg lettuce is often sold in pre-chopped bags—and often labeled as a salad mixer, Largeman-Roth says that you can find it in a head, both at the grocery store and many farmer’s markets.

Romaine Lettuce Nutrition

If you thought 10 calories was low, you might be surprised to find that one cup of romaine boasts just eight calories. While it has less than a gram of protein, Largeman-Roth says that it’s packed with almost an entire gram of fiber, as well as 15 milligrams of calcium, 116 milligrams of potassium, 64 micrograms of folate, and 2,460 micrograms of beta-carotene. And, like iceberg, it, too, packs a powerful punch of hydration with 45 grams of water per cup. Suffice to say, romaine has its nutritional perks.

What’s more, according to Largeman-Roth, romaine comes in two main forms—as head or as hearts. “The hearts are less bitter and are generally crisper than a head of romaine,” she says.

How To Store Iceberg Lettuce vs. Romaine Lettuce

One of the biggest downfalls of filling your fridge with lettuce is that, all too often, it seems to go bad before you’ve had the chance to use it. Sound familiar? Well, there’s good news: According to Largeman-Roth, both iceberg lettuce and romaine can last in the fridge for up to a week.

It’s all about how you store it. For the longest-lasting leaves, Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, who is the owner of Active Eating Advice by Leslie Bonci, suggests lining a container with paper towels. “Rinse the lettuce leaves and pat them dry, then scatter them over the paper towels and cover the container,” she says.

Another option? Add a Rubbermaid FreshWorks Produce Saver ($27) to your fridge organization. These bins are designed like a crisper to regulate the air within the container while also providing a slightly elevated shelf so that the leaves won’t sit in their condensation. As a result, you can look forward to an even longer shelf life for your lettuce—whether romaine or iceberg.

One thing to keep in mind when storing lettuce of any kind is that it’s best to store it whole until you’re ready to use it, says Largeman-Roth. (Though, following the leaf-patting technique above works, too.)

“When it’s salad time, remove any damaged or dry outer leaves,” she says, noting to then chop, slice, or shred it as you please.

When To Use Iceberg Lettuce vs. Romaine Lettuce

While iceberg and romaine are both forms of lettuce, they can be used in so many different and specific ways. When it comes to iceberg, Largeman-Roth recommends a wedge salad.

“It’s so refreshing,” she says. “Just slice it into four wedges and then drizzle a rich dressing, like ranch, on top. I also like to add some juicy summer tomatoes and pieces of cooked turkey bacon.”

As for romaine, she says you can’t go wrong with a classic Caesar salad. “I like to dress it with my vegan Caesar dressing,” she says, sharing the recipe, below.

Romaine Caesar Salad Recipe

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • Juice of 1.5 lemons
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 sheet nori
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp chickpea miso paste
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • ¾ to1 cup water (depending on how thick you like your dressing)
  • 7 oz triple washed romaine
  • Croutons

“Add dressing ingredients to a blender and blend until creamy,” Largeman-Roth says, noting that it makes 1 ½ cups of dressing. “Toss ¼ cup dressing with 7 ounces of romaine. Add croutons to taste."

The Kitchen Gadget To Make Eating Lettuce More Exciting

Now that you know the nutritional benefits of iceberg lettuce vs. romaine, as well as tasty ways to enjoy both popular lettuces, we’re here to let you in on a little secret: preparing your lettuce in certain ways can make it that much more appealing. After all, why do you think salad chains like Sweetgreen and Chopt exist? To enjoy the trendy salads without shelling out around $15 per salad, consider equipping yourself with the OXO Good GripsSalad Chopper With Bowl ($29). You’ll be able to enjoy the perfectly chopped goodness of a store-bought salad without having to pay extra for the prep. (As someone who owns this bad boy, I truly couldn’t recommend it more. Say hello to huge salads you won’t be able to get enough of.)

The Takeaway

As Largeman-Roth is quick to point out, 90% of Americans aren’t eating enough fruits and veggies. “I encourage people to eat as many salads as possible,” she says. “We shouldn’t be pitting one lettuce against another—they’re all good! But it’s smart to mix it up and get a variety of produce in our diets instead of having just one type—eat the rainbow!”

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