Ask the Diva: Are Outer Lettuce Leaves More Nutritious Than Inner Ones?

A reader wonders if there's a substantial nutritional difference between light green and dark green lettuce leaves. Read on to learn Nutrition Diva's the surprising answer.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
1-minute read

Q. My husband does not care for the white parts of lettuce leaves, so I end up throwing them into my salad and giving him the darker green parts. Is he getting more nutrition than I am? Does the dark green part hold more nutrients than the white part of lettuce?

A. Yes, I’m afraid that the darker green part of the lettuce leaf is probably higher in certain nutrients than the white part closer to the stem.

Pale iceberg lettuce, for example, has only a fraction of the nutrients found in darker romaine lettuce. And within a single head of lettuce, the darker outer leaves, which are exposed to more sunlight, are more nutritious than the paler inner ones. Specifically, darker green lettuce leaves are likely to be significantly higher in beta carotene, folate, vitamins C and K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.

The thicker, whiter part of the lettuce leaf is also much higher in water. It might be time to start dividing those lettuce leaves more equitably between your two salads! Alternatively, pump up the nutrition in your salad by adding other veggies, such as carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes. To give leaves the crunch you crave check out these tips for How to Make Perfectly Crispy Salads.

(My thanks to dietetics student Ryanne Gallagher, who assisted in researching your question!)

References: USDA Food Composition Database and Agricultural Research Service

Romaine Lettuce image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.