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Spinach vs. Lettuce — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan by Victoria Mazmanyan | Last updated on June 27, 2023
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan Article author photo Astghik Baghinyan
Spinach raw
vs
Lettuce

Summary

Spinach is nutritionally superior to lettuce, providing more protein, carbohydrates, fats, and almost all vitamins and minerals. Specifically, it contains 4 times more vitamin K, 5 times more folate, and 3 times more vitamin C than lettuce. With regard to minerals, spinach provides 3 times more manganese and iron.

Although both lettuce and spinach have low levels of sodium, lettuce contains fewer amounts compared to spinach.  

Both spinach and lettuce can have various beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, diabetes, and mental health.

Introduction

Leafy greens are often considered to be “superfoods” associated with maintaining good health. But do all leafy greens provide the same beneficial nutrients? This article will compare spinach and lettuce to see which of these vegetables is the healthier option.

Classification

Lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, belongs to the Asteraceae family and the Lactuca genus. This family is also known as the daisy or sunflower family and includes other vegetables, such as chicory, endive, and globe artichoke.

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a part of the Amaranthaceae family and the Spinacia genus. Other vegetables in this family include garden beets and chards. The pseudocereal quinoa is also part of this family.

Appearance

Lettuce and spinach have easily distinguishable characteristics. Spinach has small, rounded triangular leaves in darker green, while lettuce leaves are much larger, wrapping each other to form a rosette.

Taste and Use

Spinach, being denser, has a stronger flavor, getting more robust as it is cooked. Lettuce, on the other hand, has a very mild taste and almost no scent.

Both of these greens can be used raw as part of a salad or cooked, boiled, and steamed.

Varieties

The same vegetable can have different textures, tastes, and nutrition depending on the variety.

There are three main groups of spinach leaves: savoy, semi-savoy, and smooth-leafed. Savoy spinach, also known as curly-leaf spinach, is usually crispy and easier to cook with. The Regiment and Bloomsday are two of the most popular cultivars belonging to this group.

Smooth-leafed spinach, as the name suggests, has unwrinkled leaves, making them easier to clean. Some of the most popular varieties in this group are Space and Red Cardinal spinach.

Last but not least, semi-savoy spinach has characteristics of both groups, making them undemanding in both cooking and cleaning. The most popular varieties of semi-savoy spinach are Tyee and Catalana.

Different varieties of lettuce leaves are also based on their texture. The most widely used types of lettuce are looseleaf lettuce, Romaine or cos, and iceberg or crisphead.

Both lettuce and spinach can come in a variety of different shades of not only green but also red. Red spinach and red lettuce are high in compounds called anthocyanins which give these vegetables several health-beneficial properties.

Nutrition

The nutritional values below are presented for raw spinach and raw lettuce. Cooking methods can alter the nutritional composition of foods.

Macronutrients and Calories

The average serving size for both of these vegetables is one cup. For spinach, one serving weighs 30g, while one cup of shredded lettuce is equal to 36g.

While both of these leafy greens are a little sparse in nutrients, spinach is denser, consisting of 91% water, while lettuce contains 95% water.

Macronutrient Comparison

Macronutrient breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Protein +110.3%
Contains more Fats +160%
Contains more Carbs +26.5%
Contains more Other +168.8%
Equal in Water - 94.98
3% 4% 91% 2%
Protein: 2.86 g
Fats: 0.39 g
Carbs: 3.63 g
Water: 91.4 g
Other: 1.72 g
3% 95%
Protein: 1.36 g
Fats: 0.15 g
Carbs: 2.87 g
Water: 94.98 g
Other: 0.64 g
Contains more Protein +110.3%
Contains more Fats +160%
Contains more Carbs +26.5%
Contains more Other +168.8%
Equal in Water - 94.98
 

Calories

Spinach and lettuce are both very low-calorie foods; however, lettuce has fewer calories. 

A 100-gram serving of spinach contains 23 calories, while the same serving size of lettuce provides only 15 calories.

Protein and Fats

Spinach is richer in both protein and fats when compared to lettuce.

Both spinach and lettuce provide low levels of all essential amino acids.

As can be seen from the fat type comparison chart below, while the fat content found in leafy greens is very low, most of this fat consists of favorable polyunsaturated fatty acids, containing minimal amounts of saturated fats. 

Spinach and lettuce naturally contain no cholesterol, as they are plant-based products.

Fat Type Comparison

Fat type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +66.7%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +101.2%
Contains less Saturated Fat -68.3%
26% 4% 69%
Saturated Fat: 0.063 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.01 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.165 g
19% 6% 76%
Saturated Fat: 0.02 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0.006 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.082 g
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +66.7%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +101.2%
Contains less Saturated Fat -68.3%

Carbohydrates

Spinach has a higher level of carbohydrates than lettuce. Consequently, spinach contains almost two times more dietary fiber.

The small amounts of sugars found in lettuce consist of glucose and fructose. In addition to these two, spinach also contains low levels of sucrose and galactose.

Vitamins

Spinach is the winner in the vitamin category, as it contains significantly higher levels of almost all vitamins.

Although both lettuce and spinach are great sources of vitamin K and vitamin A, spinach provides around 4 times more vitamin K and slightly more vitamin A. Moreover, spinach is a great source of folate, containing around 5 times the amount in lettuce, as well as vitamin C, containing around 3 times more than in lettuce. 

Some other vitamins prevalent in both at lower quantities include vitamin B6, vitamin B2, vitamin B1, and vitamin E. 

Spinach and lettuce both completely lack vitamin D and vitamin B12.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
:
Contains more Vitamin A +26.6%
Contains more Vitamin E +822.7%
Contains more Vitamin C +205.4%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +11.4%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +136.3%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +93.1%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +116.7%
Contains more Folate +410.5%
Contains more Choline +41.9%
Contains more Vitamin K +282.3%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +106.2%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Choline Vitamin K 563% 41% 0% 94% 20% 44% 14% 4% 45% 146% 0% 11% 1208%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Choline Vitamin K 445% 5% 0% 31% 18% 19% 8% 9% 21% 29% 0% 8% 316%
Contains more Vitamin A +26.6%
Contains more Vitamin E +822.7%
Contains more Vitamin C +205.4%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +11.4%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +136.3%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +93.1%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +116.7%
Contains more Folate +410.5%
Contains more Choline +41.9%
Contains more Vitamin K +282.3%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +106.2%

Minerals

Spinach is significantly richer in almost all minerals compared to lettuce.

Specifically, spinach is a great source of manganese and iron, containing around 3 times the amounts found in lettuce. 

Spinach also contains adequate amounts of magnesium, potassium, copper, and calcium. Compared to lettuce, spinach provides 6 times more magnesium, 4 times more copper, and 3 times more potassium and calcium.

Although both lettuce and spinach have low levels of sodium, lettuce contains fewer amounts compared to spinach.  

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Contains more Calcium +175%
Contains more Iron +215.1%
Contains more Magnesium +507.7%
Contains more Phosphorus +69%
Contains more Potassium +187.6%
Contains more Zinc +194.4%
Contains more Copper +348.3%
Contains more Manganese +258.8%
Contains more Selenium +66.7%
Contains less Sodium -64.6%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 30% 102% 57% 22% 50% 11% 15% 44% 117% 6%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 11% 33% 10% 13% 18% 4% 5% 10% 33% 4%
Contains more Calcium +175%
Contains more Iron +215.1%
Contains more Magnesium +507.7%
Contains more Phosphorus +69%
Contains more Potassium +187.6%
Contains more Zinc +194.4%
Contains more Copper +348.3%
Contains more Manganese +258.8%
Contains more Selenium +66.7%
Contains less Sodium -64.6%

Glycemic Index

As lettuce and spinach both contain low levels of available carbohydrates, consuming enough of these vegetables to calculate an exact glycemic index is exceedingly difficult. For this reason, the glycemic index values for lettuce and spinach have not yet been calculated.

However, these leafy greens are considered to have low glycemic index values.

Acidity

The pH value of spinach falls in the range of 5.50 to 7.18, depending on its state and cooking method. This makes the acidity of spinach slightly acidic to neutral. Frozen spinach has a more neutral acidity, while fresh spinach is relatively more acidic (1).

Fresh lettuce is similarly slightly acidic, with pH values ranging from 5.9 to 6.2. These values can differ depending on the season the vegetable is grown in. Lettuce grown in winter is somewhat more acidic than lettuce grown in the summer (2).

The potential renal acid load, or PRAL, is an alternative way of measuring the acidity of foods. The PRAL value demonstrates how much acid or base the given food produces in ide the organism.

The PRAL value for spinach is -11.8, while this value for lettuce is -3.1. This shows us that spinach is more alkaline-forming compared to lettuce.

Weight Loss & Diets

Leafy greens are famed for their important role in weight loss diets, and spinach and lettuce are no exceptions. While both are very low in calories, lettuce contains fewer calories.

Between these two vegetables, lettuce is the better choice for low-calorie, low-fat, and low-carb diets.

Spinach is rich in compounds called thylakoids. Thylakoids in spinach have been found to reduce hunger, increase satiety and reduce cravings for palatable food in overweight women (3).

Eating low-energy-dense salad, such as lettuce, before the main course has been studied to reduce meal energy intake (4).

Lettuce and spinach contain no notable amount of starch and are low in sugars. For these reasons, both of these leafy greens can be consumed on keto and Atkins diets (5).

Naturally, these vegetables are also a great addition to paleo and Mediterranean diets.

Health Impact

Health Benefits

We all hear about how good leafy vegetables can be for our health. In this section, we will delve into some of these beneficial effects.

Cardiovascular Health

Section reviewed by cardiologist Astghik Grigoryan Article author photo Astghik Grigoryan

Most studies have suggested that the intake of leafy greens, spinach and lettuce, particularly, has strong cardiovascular health benefits, potentially reducing the risk of fatal and nonfatal myocardial infarction, stroke, and overall cardiovascular mortality (6).

The high content of nitrates found in spinach may also contribute to beneficial hemodynamic effects, improving vascular health by decreasing arterial blood pressure and arterial stiffness (7).

In animal studies, lettuce has been researched to improve blood serum lipid levels, decrease liver cholesterol, and depress the apparent absorption of dietary cholesterol, which may have an important role in atherosclerosis prevention (8).

In summary, both spinach and lettuce offer cardiovascular benefits as part of a healthy diet. However, spinach stands out for its higher nutrient density, particularly in potassium, antioxidants, and dietary nitrates, which contribute to its greater potential in supporting heart health and reducing the risk of CVD. Incorporating a variety of leafy greens, including spinach and lettuce, into your diet can contribute to overall cardiovascular wellness.

Diabetes

We have already stated that spinach and lettuce are low in sugars and have low glycemic index values. In addition, these leafy greens have certain properties that may contribute to the prevention of diabetes.

Nitrates found in spinach have been researched to ameliorate insulin resistance by improving nitrate status and blood lipid levels, relieving inflammation, and enhancing protective endothelial function (9).

Spinach leaves also demonstrate hypoglycemic qualities by decreasing blood glucose levels after a meal (10).

Red lettuce, high in polyphenols and antioxidants, has been researched to have anti-diabetic qualities, potentially reducing hyperglycemia and improving insulin sensitivity (11).

Cancer

There is probable evidence that foods high in dietary fiber, such as spinach, decrease the risk of breast cancer (12). Studies have also shown that raw salad vegetables may protect against breast cancer (13).

There is probable evidence that non-starchy vegetables reduce the risk of aerodigestive cancers, such as mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophageal, lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers (12).

Mental Health

Research has shown that mental well-being responds in a dose-depends fashion to increases in both the quantity and the frequency of the vegetables consumed (14).

Downsides and Risks

Leafy green vegetables have very few downsides to be aware of, especially when washed well and consumed in moderation.

Spinach and Medication

Green leafy vegetables and spinach, in particular, contain high levels of vitamin K. Several blood thinners, such as warfarin, function by inhibiting the role of vitamin K in the creation of blood clots. Due to this, some have recommended being careful when consuming high levels of spinach while on these medications.

However, available evidence does not support the advice to modify dietary habits when starting therapy with vitamin K antagonists (15).

Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: June 27, 2023
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan

Infographic

Spinach raw vs Lettuce infographic
Infographic link

Carbohydrate type comparison

Carbohydrate type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Contains more Sucrose +∞%
Contains more Galactose +∞%
Contains more Glucose +227.3%
Contains more Fructose +186.7%
16% 26% 35% 23%
Starch: 0 g
Sucrose: 0.07 g
Glucose: 0.11 g
Fructose: 0.15 g
Lactose: 0 g
Maltose: 0 g
Galactose: 0.1 g
46% 54%
Starch: 0 g
Sucrose: 0 g
Glucose: 0.36 g
Fructose: 0.43 g
Lactose: 0 g
Maltose: 0 g
Galactose: 0 g
Contains more Sucrose +∞%
Contains more Galactose +∞%
Contains more Glucose +227.3%
Contains more Fructose +186.7%

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the rightmost column. It displays the amounts side by side, giving a clearer understanding of the difference.
Spinach raw Lettuce
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in price ok
Rich in minerals ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in Glycemic Index Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Spinach raw Lettuce Opinion
Net carbs 1.43g 1.57g Lettuce
Protein 2.86g 1.36g Spinach raw
Fats 0.39g 0.15g Spinach raw
Carbs 3.63g 2.87g Spinach raw
Calories 23kcal 15kcal Spinach raw
Fructose 0.15g 0.43g Lettuce
Sugar 0.42g 0.78g Spinach raw
Fiber 2.2g 1.3g Spinach raw
Calcium 99mg 36mg Spinach raw
Iron 2.71mg 0.86mg Spinach raw
Magnesium 79mg 13mg Spinach raw
Phosphorus 49mg 29mg Spinach raw
Potassium 558mg 194mg Spinach raw
Sodium 79mg 28mg Lettuce
Zinc 0.53mg 0.18mg Spinach raw
Copper 0.13mg 0.029mg Spinach raw
Manganese 0.897mg 0.25mg Spinach raw
Selenium 1µg 0.6µg Spinach raw
Vitamin A 9377IU 7405IU Spinach raw
Vitamin A RAE 469µg 370µg Spinach raw
Vitamin E 2.03mg 0.22mg Spinach raw
Vitamin C 28.1mg 9.2mg Spinach raw
Vitamin B1 0.078mg 0.07mg Spinach raw
Vitamin B2 0.189mg 0.08mg Spinach raw
Vitamin B3 0.724mg 0.375mg Spinach raw
Vitamin B5 0.065mg 0.134mg Lettuce
Vitamin B6 0.195mg 0.09mg Spinach raw
Folate 194µg 38µg Spinach raw
Choline 19.3mg 13.6mg Spinach raw
Vitamin K 482.9µg 126.3µg Spinach raw
Tryptophan 0.039mg 0.009mg Spinach raw
Threonine 0.122mg 0.059mg Spinach raw
Isoleucine 0.147mg 0.084mg Spinach raw
Leucine 0.223mg 0.079mg Spinach raw
Lysine 0.174mg 0.084mg Spinach raw
Methionine 0.053mg 0.016mg Spinach raw
Phenylalanine 0.129mg 0.055mg Spinach raw
Valine 0.161mg 0.07mg Spinach raw
Histidine 0.064mg 0.022mg Spinach raw
Saturated Fat 0.063g 0.02g Lettuce
Monounsaturated Fat 0.01g 0.006g Spinach raw
Polyunsaturated fat 0.165g 0.082g Spinach raw

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Spinach raw Lettuce
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low Glycemic Index diet Equal

Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score

The summary scores indicate the extent to which this food can fulfill your daily vitamin and mineral requirements if you consume 3 servings, consisting of 100 grams of each (an approximation of 3 serving sizes).
Vitamins Daily Need Coverage Score
168%
Spinach raw
69%
Lettuce
Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
45%
Spinach raw
14%
Lettuce

Comparison summary

Which food is lower in Sugar?
Spinach raw
Spinach raw is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.36g)
Which food is cheaper?
Spinach raw
Spinach raw is cheaper (difference - $0.3)
Which food is richer in minerals?
Spinach raw
Spinach raw is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Spinach raw
Spinach raw is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food contains less Sodium?
Lettuce
Lettuce contains less Sodium (difference - 51mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Lettuce
Lettuce is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.043g)
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
?
The foods have equal glycemic indexes (32)

References

All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Spinach raw - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168462/nutrients
  2. Lettuce - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169249/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.