Salad might be presented to you with a gleaming health halo but it’s a lying bowl of crap, according to a recent Washington Post essay by food and science writer Tamar Haspel. For starters, lettuces like iceberg, romaine, and butterhead are almost all water (95 to 96 percent) and have pathetically low levels of nutrients. At least cruciferous vegetables like kale, collard greens, and arugula have lower water content — 85 to 92 percent — and more actual nutrition. (Spinach, which is technically neither lettuce nor a cruciferous veggie, is about 91 percent water.) A serving of lettuce might feel “like a bona fide vegetable,” but in reality, “lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table,” Haspel says. Plus, it’s the top source of vegetable food waste in the United States, to the tune of 1 billion pounds per year.
Then there’s the matter of what gets put on lettuce. If you opted for a salad as a health choice but it consisted mostly of meat, cheese, and dressing atop some leaves, you’ve been had, she says. “Lots of what passes for salad in restaurants is just the same as the rest of the calorie-dense diabolically palatable food that’s making us fat, but with a few lettuce leaves tossed in.” Which is not to say that there aren’t chains that offer non-lettuce greens and lots of additional vegetables, or that all salads are bad, including ones made at home. Haspel reminds us that healthy eating isn’t limited to salads alone, which is helpful if you’ve been feeling more like a rabbit than a person lately.