Like many fast food chains, Chick-fil-A is trying to make its menu healthier. The company employs six chefs who work in a test kitchen in Atlanta to experiment with new ingredients for menu items, but they’re forbidden to use one seemingly-innocent ingredient: iceberg lettuce.
“We have a mandate: Never use iceberg lettuce,” David Farmer, Chick-fil-A’s vice president of menu strategy and development, said in an interview with Business Insider.
“It’s at the bottom of the salad food chain,” he says. “There is no nutritional value in iceberg lettuce.”
Is that true? Nope, Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., co-founder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, tells SELF. “It counts as a vegetable serving, something that nearly 90 percent of women don’t meet the minimum servings of on a daily basis,” she says. Upton admits that iceberg isn’t “a nutritional all-star” but says it’s better than a lot of the other options on fast food menus.
There are some nutrients in iceberg lettuce, says Tara Gidus, R.D.N., author of Flat Belly Cooking for Dummies. “Iceberg lettuce does have small amounts of fiber, potassium, zinc, calcium, folate, Vitamin A, and Vitamin K,” she tells SELF. It also has a high water content, she adds—however, it won’t hydrate you significantly compared to drinking fluids.
Sonya Angelone, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF that iceberg isn’t the most nutritious leafy green out there but, she says, “if someone only likes iceberg lettuce, it’s better than not eating any lettuce at all.”
Here’s how a medium leaf of iceberg stacks up against similar leafy greens:
Calories: 1 Vitamin A: 40 IU Folate: 2.3 mcg Potassium: 11.3 mg Calcium: 1.4 mg
Calories: 1 Vitamin A: 248 IU Folate: 5.5 mcg Potassium: 17.8 mg Calcium: 2.6 mg
Calories: 1 Vitamin A: 680 IU Folate: 11 mcg Potassium: 19.8 mg Calcium: 3 mg
Clearly it’s at the bottom of the lettuce barrel, but there are some benefits to eating iceberg. “It can add volume to food which may help you eat less overall,” says Gidus. “If it is the base for a salad that also has other high quality vegetables, then it can be a welcomed part of a healthy diet.” However, experts caution against using iceberg as the lone ingredient in a salad topped with high-calorie dressing—in that case, it’s better to do without.
If you want to opt for a leafy green with more nutrients, Upton recommends trying watercress, spinach, or romaine, which rank well on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nutrient density score.
Overall, experts said it seems odd for a fast food chain to target iceberg lettuce when it still offers plenty of menu items that are fried and high in sodium. “It’s great that Chick-fil-A is trying to be healthier, but banning iceberg lettuce—one leaf per sandwich—isn’t going to go far in helping achieve that goal,” says Angelone.
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