Looseleaf vs. Romaine vs. Mesclun Lettuce

When it comes to salad fixin’s and nutritional quality, it is widely known that spinach is the king of greens… and iceberg lettuce is, well, kind of the court jester. Although Popeye remains tops, we live in a world with infinite salad possibilities – so how do other lettuce varieties stack up?

Most people don’t give lettuce much thought when it comes to nutrients, they focus on what’s topping the salad instead BUT lettuces provide more than just water and fibre! Who will take this round: stalwart looseleaf green lettuce, bad reputation Caesar-associated romaine, or fancy mesclun (spring mix)?

A special thanks to Kirsten Solli-Nowlan for this outstanding  Food Fight! request! 

(100 g)
VS Romaine
(100 g)
VS Mesclun*
(100 g)
Ancient Egypt origin Ancient Greece origin Provence, France
$0.95 cost** $0.40 cost** $1.32
15 calories 17 calories 21
1.3 g fibre 2.1 g fibre 1.8 g
36 mg calcium 33 mg calcium 73 mg
0.86 mg iron 0.97 mg iron 1.29 mg
13 mg magnesium 14 mg magnesium 33 mg
194 mg potassium 247 mg potassium 347 mg
4,443 μg β-carotene 5,226 μg β-carotene 5,862 μg
38 μg folate 136 μg folate 106 μg
18 mg vitamin C 24 mg vitamin C 15 mg
1,730 μg lutein & zeaxanthin 2,312 μg lutein & zeaxanthin 5,263 μg

No Baloney’s results? Based on nutrient density, we have to give the win to mesclun (spring mix) – highest for nearly every nutrient, likely due to the fact it’s a lettuce blend where you get the best of several varieties. The only downfall for the mesclun is the significant price difference, though no prep and no waste are great assets too!

While this may have seemed like a foregone conclusion at the beginning of our investigation, we too-quickly judged a lettuce by its colour or lack thereof; admittedly, despite its light green shade and fatty salad dressing-leanings, romaine surprised us. It had top marks for fibre, vitamin C and folate, as well as crushed the competition in nutrient-density-per-dollar. One of those hidden-in-plain-sight nutritional gems, we’ll think a little differently of romaine from now on!

We did look at other lettuces as well, including iceberg, red leaf and Boston (bibb) lettuce. We elected to go with our top three non-spinach greens in the showdown to allow for a fair fight. If we had to give you a hierarchy of salad green superiority (among those most often consumed), it would look something like this:

1. spinach
2. mesclun (spring mix)*
3. romaine
4. looseleaf green
5. red leaf and bibb (tie – too close to call!)
6. iceberg

We think you DO win friends with salad but always wash your salad greens, because you don’t win friends with E. coli! Lettuces tend to rank pretty high when it comes to pesticides too, so buy organic when you can.

Nutrition information from the Canadian Nutrient File: “lettuce, looseleaf, raw”, “lettuce, cos or romaine, raw” and “lettuce, spring mix (mesclun)”. NOTE: 100 g is approximately 1.5 cups of lettuce, shredded.

*Mesclun, also known as spring mix, is a blend of baby leaves including romaine, chard, mizuna, arugula, frisée and radicchio.

**Costs were determined based on comparable organic produce during a grocery store trip on September 10, 2012. Cost per 100 g edible portion was determined from estimated refuse Canadian Nutrient File (2010): looseleaf lettuce = 36% refuse; romaine = 6% refuse; spring mix (mesclun) = 0% refuse.


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