For years, iceberg lettuce has been left out of the salad bowl having been deemed of having no nutritional value. Iceberg gets passed by for other more power-packed greens such as Romaine lettuce, spinach, red leaf lettuce and the like. Many people, however, prefer the crispness of iceberg, which until the 1930s was called crisphead lettuce, to other lettuce choices. The crispness of iceberg is unique. No other lettuce has the same cool, enjoyable crunch. Iceberg is the lettuce that my generation grew up with — it wasn’t a salad if it didn’t start with iceberg.
So where does iceberg fit as far as nutritional benefit?
One cup of iceberg lettuce contains: 10 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbs (1 of dietary fiber), 7 percent of vitamin A, 3 percent of vitamin C, 1 percent of calcium and 2 percent of iron. It also contains trace amounts of potassium, folate, vitamin K, magnesium and phosphorus. Iceberg is cholesterol free and low in sodium. Granted, it isn’t the most nutrient packed vegetable but if it is the only lettuce your child will eat, serve it up.
It is true that darker greens contain more nutrients. Iceberg can be an acceptable choice combined with a variety of other greens to make a delicious salad. Mixing greens is a great way to keep crispiness and nutritional value. Leaf lettuce can be somewhat bitter if it is left too long growing in the ground, and sometimes when it is harvested in a timely manner it can still retain some of its bitterness. By combining leaf lettuce with iceberg, the bitterness can be reduced while maintaining other beneficial nutrients.
If nothing else, iceberg lettuce is 96 percent water so to those of you that don’t drink enough fluids each day, munch on a chunk of iceberg!
From Fine Cooking, here is a recipe that highlights iceberg lettuce.
Vietnamese-Style Rice Noodle Salad
Packed with bright lime flavor, a touch of spicy heat, and just the right amount of crunch, this noodle salad is great for lunch or dinner.
½ cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 large limes)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. fish sauce*
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. minced ginger
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Thai bird chile, seeded and minced
8 oz. dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch thick)
8 cups thinly sliced iceberg lettuce (from 1 large head)
1 large carrot, shaved into ribbons (use a vegetable peeler)
1 large cucumber, peeled if you like, cut into ½ inch dice
5 medium radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mint leaves
½ cup salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Dressing: In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, cilantro, fish sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, and chile and let sit for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the rice noodles and stir immediately. Cook the noodles, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water until cool to the touch.
In a large salad bowl, combine the noodles with the lettuce, carrot, cucumber, radishes, and mint leaves. Toss the salad with the dressing and garnish with the peanuts.
Per serving: 200 calories, 5 grams fat, 5 grams protein, 36 grams carbs, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Note: Fish sauce is a very potent Asian condiment made from the liquid from salted, fermented fish — thus the smell. Fish sauce has a very concentrated flavor and, like anchovy paste, when used in small amounts, gives foods a salty flavor that is difficult to copy.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.