10 Reasons You Shouldn't Buy Iceberg Lettuce & What To Buy Instead

fresh and halved iceberg lettuce
fresh and halved iceberg lettuce - Ildar Imashev/Getty Images

Summer is coming and with it, comes salad season. Iceberg lettuce has always been a classic base for a salad. From caesar to wedge, this leafy vegetable has worked its way onto the plates of diners for years, acting as the sturdy foundation for many a dressing and an array of toppings. But has anyone ever stopped to ask why?

If you take a minute to think about the merits of an iceberg lettuce, it's hard to come up with more than a handful of solid points. Sure, it's got a nice texture to it and, yes, it's undeniably a healthy and low calorie option, but beyond that? We're stumped. So even though an iceberg lettuce might be your automatic addition to a salad or plate when the weather starts warming up, we think that you should leave the iceberg on the shelf as there are better, bolder ingredients you should be using in its place. Here's why you should put down the iceberg and what you should buy instead.

Read more: 7 Nuts You Should Be Eating And 7 You Shouldn't

It's Bland

bowl full of apple and walnut salad
bowl full of apple and walnut salad - Gala Didebashvili/Getty Images

Here is one of our biggest issues with the iceberg. It's bland. Think about it. When did you last take a bite of iceberg lettuce and think, "Wow! There's a flavor sensation to write home about!"? We will hazard a guess here and say that that's never happened. There's nothing going on in those bland leaves that make us want more and its flavor is so mild that it might as well not be on the plate. So why would you take up prime space in your salad bowl with a food that tastes, if we are being honest, of nothing?

Most likely you are after the texture it'll give your food. So if you are desperate for that fresh crunch that a leafy base in your salad delivers, then buy arugula instead. An apple walnut salad will hit the spot if fresh and crunchy is top of your priority list. And this leafy green isn't referred to by the Brits as "rocket" for nothing because, unlike iceberg, arugula gives a peppery punch to the dish that demands that you sit up and listen. Sweet apples paired with earthy nuts and a sweet dressing are the perfect bedfellows to arugula and it'll do more for your taste buds than plain old iceberg lettuce ever could.

It Gets Soggy

bowl of kale salad
bowl of kale salad - Candice Bell/Getty Images

What's worse than a boring salad? A soggy, boring salad. Though there are many tips and tricks for keeping salad fresh whilst it's still in the fridge, it seems that, as soon as you've placed your carefully assembled lettuce based salad on the table, it'll wilt into a sad, swampy heap. The reason is because any dressing added to your salad will draw water out of the cells of the leaves via osmosis. Considering that iceberg lettuce is 96% water, there's a lot of water to draw out.

The solution? Switch your iceberg for kale. The cell walls in a kale leaf are much thicker than that of lettuce, meaning that it'll take a lot more time for the kale to wilt. Something like this Mexican kale salad recipe will stay fresher for much longer, or follow this simple kale salad recipe by blogger, Lauren Grater, who expresses her love for the salad because "...You can prep this simple kale salad up to an hour before serving it and it will still be crunchy and delicious. After several hours it becomes a bit softer but never really soggy," which is exactly what we want for our dinner table.

It's Bulky

bowl of shredded carrots garnished with herbs
bowl of shredded carrots garnished with herbs - Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

By its very nature, iceberg lettuce is a bulky vegetable. The leaves are big, and a 96% water content means that you've got to eat a lot of the stuff to even start to feel satisfied. So, if you're adding iceberg to a meal, it's going to take up a lot of space. In a salad, it's just super awkward. Those unruly leaves get in the way and, once you've managed to get a few on a fork prong, they are hard to get in, and you'll likely find yourself having to dab away bits of dressing from the corners of your mouth after trying to tackle a bite of salad. Unless you are hot on the chopped salad trend, having iceberg in a salad can be more hassle than it's worth.

A much better idea is carrots. Shred the carrots with a box grater and you've got a compact, easy to shovel, replacement for iceberg lettuce. This shredded carrot salad recipe is the place to start. Begin with the dressed and shredded carrots as a bright base and then get creative with toppings. Build it up with extras like grilled chicken or tofu and you're on your way to a deliciously un-bulky salad that is much easier to tackle with a fork.

It Has Little Nutritional Value

bowl of lentil, cucumber and tomato salad
bowl of lentil, cucumber and tomato salad - Korovina Anastasia/Shutterstock

Whilst iceberg lettuce might be seen as the stereotypical "health" food, we are not so sure. There's no denying that it is a good source of some minerals and vitamins, and it could well keep you that bit more hydrated with its high water content, but other than that, there's not much else going on in those leaves in the way of nutrition. It means that if you are basing your meal on lettuce then you're going to need to seriously pimp your plate with add-ins that bump up the nutritional value more than what an iceberg can deliver.

We'd recommend skipping the lettuce and replacing it with lentils. Lentils will do great things for your body as they're a great source of satiating fiber, and have a good amount of protein in them too. A lentil salad with tons of fresh herbs will leave you feeling fuller for much longer than an iceberg based salad, and you'll get a hit of protein from the pulses before you even get started on the rest of the meal. Leave iceberg lettuce cowering in the corner and serve your lentil salad alongside something like this grilled skirt steak with chimichurri. You'll not only have a really tasty meal, but you'll have doubled up on your protein sources, too.

It's Not Filling

bowl of pasta salad with vegetables
bowl of pasta salad with vegetables - Mariha-kitchen/Getty Images

The whole point of having a meal is to refuel so you can carry on with your day. And though a salad can be a great option for getting in lots of nutrients, they're not known for being the most filling of options. It's all well and good having a salad for lunch if you're watching what you eat, but the issue is a light and healthy meal might leave you still feeling hungry and reaching for a candy bar in a few hours time. So those good intentions could actually end up thwarting your chances at shedding the pounds if they mean you'll be snacking until your next meal.

Instead, opt for something more filling and swap out your iceberg lettuce for pasta. A pasta salad is not only a deliciously customizable way of using up all those odds and ends in your fridge, but a base of carbohydrates from the pasta will mean that you're not left hungry after your meal and you're less likely to head to the snack cupboard.

A grilled summer vegetable pasta salad is a great option if you're focusing on getting those vegetables in, and this party veggie pasta salad calls for whole grain pasta which is one of those foods that will keep you feeling full because of the boost in fiber content. Either will do the trick and leave you feeling satisfied well after the dishes have been cleaned.

It's Got To Be Washed And Dried Before Using

tomato, mozzarella and basil salad
tomato, mozzarella and basil salad - Owenprice/Getty Images

There's a lot of debate on the merits of washing, or not washing, lettuce ahead of time, or even if you should be buying pre washed lettuce straight from the store. Either way, rinsing lettuce before you use it is a good idea to be rid of any lurking soil and mud between the leaves. According to this guide on washing fruits and veggies, the rule for washing lettuce is "...to let them soak for two minutes, then rinse off the loosened particles for 15 seconds". Then there's the awkward drying to do, and that's before you've even started the actual cooking, which, all in all, is quite a process when you're just trying to whip up a quick lunch. Smooth produce, on the other hand, just needs a little rinse and scrub. Much easier.

A tomato has got to be one of the smoothest ingredients you can buy in place of lettuce, and will cut down the preparation time. If you've got some beefy tomatoes in the house then a simple caprese salad can be whipped up in no time with just a handful of ingredients, or this avocado tomato salad is a great option if you've got cherry tomatoes. Importantly, with each recipe there'll be no faffing around with paper towels and wet leaves.

It's Terrible For Meal Prep

filled soba noodle salad jar
filled soba noodle salad jar - Anna_Pustynnikova/Shutterstock

Having lunch ready to grab and go makes the mornings that you're rushing off to work a much easier process, and having dinner sitting in your fridge for when you get home is one of those smug moments we're all striving for. If you're a meal prep person, we salute you. And, if you are a meal prep person, you'll have probably heard of the nifty meal prep hack of salad jars. Containers of layered ingredients that can be made in advance, salad jars are the personalizable solution to busy weeks.

But here's the thing. You should leave the lettuce out. Iceberg is terrible for meal prep because it's bulky (try stuffing those leaves into a jar, it's not an easy process) and it'll likely be soggy by the time Tuesday lunchtime rolls around. Instead, swap the lettuce based salad with something that will hold up longer and that is easier to transfer to and from a jar. Enter: soba noodles. This is where this nifty noodle comes into its own. This 5 ingredient soba noodle bowl with mushrooms and broccolini is a great base to add in some of your favorite protein sources, or opt for a peanut soba noodle salad for a complete meal. It's full of vegetables, fiber from the noodles and protein from the satisfying peanutty sauce. Plus, the leftovers will stay lunchtime ready for 4 days, making them a perfect way to get one step closer to being a smug, meal prepped human.

It's Not Good At Holding Dressings

plate of broccoli salad with bacon and onions
plate of broccoli salad with bacon and onions - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

As we've mentioned, iceberg lettuce is about as bland as it gets. So, to jazz up your salad, you're most likely going to be adding some kind of salad dressing to get the hit of flavor that the lettuce is crying out for. But the issue with iceberg lettuce is that it is terrible at holding dressings. The majority of dressings have oil in them in some shape or form, and the slick leaves of iceberg means that those flavor bomb sauces simply slide right off. Which isn't the goal.

So, if you're after a flavor filled salad bowl, don't buy iceberg lettuce and buy broccoli instead. The nooks and crannies in broccoli florets are experts at catching dressings meaning that every bite you take will have extra flavor that you've worked so hard to infuse into your salad. Add some decadence to your salad game with a bacon and broccoli salad, covered in a creamy dressing, or something like this broccoli salad, which is filled with a honey-spiked dressing. This is a sure fire way to make a tasty, crunchy bowl that will mean you'll be choosing broccoli over iceberg lettuce the next time you're in the mood for a salad.

It's Bad To Bring To A BBQ

filled bowl of shredded cabbage salad
filled bowl of shredded cabbage salad - Svetlana Monyakova/Shutterstock

Salads are the perfect thing for an outdoor cookout. On a hot summer's day they're fresh, light accompaniments to the meaty mains and carb heavy sides that are usually filling the table when the barbecue gets fired up. And iceberg lettuce is fresh and light, so it should be great for a barbecue, right? Wrong. Put down a bowl of sliced up iceberg in direct sunlight and you can practically see it wilting before your eyes.

If you're looking for easy side dishes to go with your barbecue then stay well away from the iceberg. Instead, opt for something that can stay in the sun a while. Cabbage is your answer here, and something like this shredded cabbage salad is a much better option than lettuce. It'll deliver that same fresh, lightness that you want to have in the mix of heavier barbecue dishes, whilst also staying deliciously crunchy and fresh, even when you're going in for your third helping.

There Are Better Things To Put In A Salad

fall salad with figs, brussels sprouts and sweet potato
fall salad with figs, brussels sprouts and sweet potato - Nina Firsova/Shutterstock

Long gone are the days when salad meant some undressed lettuce, chopped tomatoes and cucumber. It's the 21st century! Get rid of the old fashioned, boring lettuce because, when it comes to salad, the world is your oyster. Some of the best salad recipes come without lettuce and in its place are exciting ingredients like fruits, nuts, pulses and whole grains. If you're eating a salad then you deserve something that makes you actually want to eat it, and as soon as you release yourself from the shackles of iceberg lettuce, you're going to discover a whole new world of salads.

Because here's the thing. If you are opting to eat salad in the first place then you're choosing to eat something that will nourish your body and leave you feeling great. But a salad shouldn't be a chore to get down, it should be delicious, fresh, satiating, and full of nutrients that will make you want another salad tomorrow. And in our opinion a lettuce based salad just isn't going to do that. Try something new like a Muffuletta olive salad, a roasted Brussels sprout salad, or even a strawberry, snap pea and yogurt salad. Whatever taste sensation you are after, there are recipes out there in abundance that don't call for boring iceberg lettuce.

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