My girlfriend and I make a salad every Tuesday night, and we’re extremely proud of this—admittedly slightly pathetic—step toward a healthier lifestyle. But the recent outbreak of E. coli tied to tainted romaine lettuce totally ruined our weekly tradition: We always use romaine lettuce as the base for our salad, and now we’re terrified to even touch the stuff lest we spend the next week puking ourselves inside-out.
Fortunately, there’s one upside to all of this: We’ve been forced to spread our salad wings (not a euphemism, even on Urban Dictionary) by using different types of lettuce for once. But since our end-goal is a healthier lifestyle, we want to know which lettuce is the absolute healthiest lettuce in the whole world, because otherwise, what’s the point of all this?
To find out, we asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help us rank each type of lettuce—from most healthy to least healthy. Now, “lettuce” begin… (sorry)
1) Living Lettuce: Living lettuce is sold with its roots still attached, which reportedly help preserve the nutrients in the leaves by providing a constant source of moisture. “It theoretically holds its nutrients for the longest amount of time,” Hunnes explains. (Living lettuce can last for up to 18 days in the fridge.) As such, Hunnes crowns living lettuce the King of All Lettuce®.
2) Oakleaf Lettuce: “Oakleaf lettuce appears to have myriad vitamins and minerals in high supply compared with other types of lettuce,” Hunnes says. More specifically, oakleaf lettuce boasts six times more vitamin A (which promotes vision, immunity and reproduction) and three times more vitamin C (which is a powerful antioxidant) than iceberg lettuce.
3) Red Leaf Lettuce: “Red leaf lettuce contains more phytonutrients than green leaf lettuce,” Hunnes says, which are what contribute to its reddish color. Phytonutrients also possess an impressive list of health benefits: They have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, while also providing support for the immune system, repairing DNA from exposure to toxic chemicals and detoxifying carcinogens (which reduces cancer and heart disease risks). All in all, red leaf lettuce more than earned its bronze medal here.
4) Green Leaf Lettuce: “This is a good source of vitamin K,” Hunnes points out. Vitamin K is especially important for those living an active (and/or dangerous) lifestyle: It regulates blood clotting and may reduce the risk of bone fractures by helping transport calcium throughout the body.
5) Romaine Lettuce: Welp, looks like our go-to lettuce wasn’t the best choice after all. “Romaine has a high vitamin C and vitamin K content, but less so than green leaf lettuce,” Hunnes explains. But hey, it’s still a damn good base for a Caesar salad.
6) Butterhead Lettuce: The only positive thing Hunnes has to say about butterhead lettuce is that, “It’s soft and makes good wraps.” We’ll just leave it at that.
7) Iceberg Lettuce: “This has almost no nutrients,” Hunnes emphasizes. “It’s mostly water.” Well, I’m never ordering a $15 wedge salad ever again.
Now, if you’re willing to enter the world of leafy greens that aren’t lettuce, Hunnes has a few additional suggestions. “I’d also add baby kale to the list, because it’s full of vitamin K, potassium and fiber,” she says. “It’s like arugula, which also would be high on this list.”
But again, these aren’t technically lettuce: Baby kale is a type of cabbage, and arugula is in the mustard family, while lettuce belongs to the daisy family.
As an alternative, Hunnes recommends making your life easier by simply purchasing mixed greens, which might contain some combination of most of the above-mentioned lettuces.
Now excuse me while I call my girlfriend to report that we’ve been using unhealthy lettuce this entire time.
Pray for me.