The Truth: Most leafy greens are good for you — but some are better than others.
Salads are a great way to pack in the nutrients without packing on the pounds. The best are a rainbow of nutrient-rich, non starchy veggies (although not a problem if you want to add some starchy vegetables) that provide immune system stabilizing and strengthening micronutrients, and a dose of healthy fat even before a nut or seed based dressing is added. However, too often these produce powerhouses fall short — starting with the most basic ingredient: lettuce! Since the greens are the foundation for the salad, it is important to build a better one by choosing the best of the bunch.
Here is a quick tutorial of the different leafy greens out there to help you select the best lettuce for your next salad!
1. Romaine – romaine lettuce has large, crisp leaves that provide a crunchy texture sharp flavor making it the perfect selection for Caesar salads. It has a decent shelf life in the refrigerator and can be found in both green (the more common) and red varieties.
2. Arugula – arugula lettuce has a peppery, pungent flavor that goes great with milder greens as a contrast flavor. At some health food stores you can find arugula sold on its own, but it is usually found in pre-made spring mixes.
3. Radicchio – radicchio has a beautiful purple color with a bitter, peppery flavor when eaten alone but goes well mixed in with milder greens.
Watercress – watercress is a peppery green that goes great in salads, sandwiches, and in soups. It also makes a great garnish for any meal. Watercress is highly perishable so it is recommended that you use it as soon as you buy it.
4. Butter – Butter lettuce (or butterhead lettuce) consists of both Bibb and Boston lettuces. These lettuces have soft tender loose leaves that can be used in salads, on sandwiches, or as a bed for other dishes. Bibb lettuce tends to be smaller, more flavorful, and more expensive than Boston lettuce.
5. Leaf lettuce – leaf lettuce comes in both green and red tip varieties that can be used interchangeably. Leaf lettuce has a tender, sweet, mild flavor that makes them versatile for any salad.
6. Mizuna – mizuna lettuce is a Japanese green that has tender leaves with a pleasant peppery flavor. Mizuna lettuce is commonly seen in spring green mixes.
7. Endive – endive lettuce is a category that includes Belgian endive, curly endive, and escarole. Belgian endive has crunchy, bitter leaves usually used to make hors d’oeuvres but can also be chopped up and added to salad. Curly endive (frisee) is a also a crisp bitter green that can be used in salads or as a side dish. Curly endive is often seen on salads to add visual interest over flavor. The outer leaves are more bitter than the more pale, tender, and mild inner leaves. Escarole has sturdy bitter leaves that are best cooked as a side dish or used in soups. Young escarole leaves are more mild and can be used in salads.
8. Iceberg – Iceberg lettuce is known for its crisp texture and long shelf life in the refrigerator. However, iceberg lacks most of the flavor and nutrients that other lettuce varieties contain.
The Bottom Line: Leafy greens are great for you, and you should be eating more of them! Iceberg, romaine, leaf lettuce, and butterhead lettuce are the most common salad greens. However, spring salad mixes are becoming more common in supermarkets and general contain some mix of arugula, mizuna, frisee, radicchio, spianch, tat soi, oakleaf, red chard, and red mustard greens.